Whiling Away the Day with Wolford

Just when I thought my esteem for John Wolford could go no higher, the guy gives me something worth watching while whiling away another interminable pandemic-stricken Sunday afternoon.

More than that – much more than that, in fact – he gives me a reason to care.

Most folks, I’ve noticed, tend to get smaller with age. The older they get, the more cranky, judgmental and hard-bitten they become.

Which is why I’ve made my vow to at least endeavor to become bigger with each passing year, more enlightened, more understanding, more accepting of the fact that roughly half the people with whom I co-habit this planet are not going to see life the same way I do.

I’m not saying the effort is easy, nor is little worth accomplishing. And I recognize that, at 68 years old, I’m still a work in progress.

So if there are those who, say, want to play or coach football, basketball or baseball during a pandemic, and there are those who want to watch them do so, then to me that’s their business. All along I’ve considered said attempts akin to trying to drive a square peg into a round hole. No matter how hard you beat on that peg, it’s never going to fit in that hole.

That said, it at least give us something to do during a time we’re looking for something, anything, to get us through the long drawn-out days and empty hours.

So my problem is not that games are being played. My problem is how little any of it means. How much significance can I attach to any result from any endeavor, when so many of the participants are unable or unwilling (or both) to participate.

Alabama will play Ohio State a week from today in the college football championship. Alabama has played 12 games. Ohio State has played seven.

The conclusion is hard to escape that the powers that be in their selected sports are making this stuff up as they go along. And what they decide today might have so little bearing on what they do tomorrow.

Remember when the Big Ten canceled its fall football season, the same Big Ten that made damn sure Ohio State would get a crack at the title?

I rest my case.

So it did this old heart good to hear that Wolford was in line to start for Los Angeles yesterday in the Rams drive for a playoff spot. He’s one of my favorites to ever play football for Wake Forest, and would have remained so if he had never taken another snap after college.

As the beat reporter for the Winston-Salem Journal, I saw first-hand and personal the brutal pounding Wolford took as quarterback for the Deacons. When Dave Clawson became head coach in 2014, he was bequeathed a relatively solid ACC defense and an offensive cupboard left frightfully bare. Wolford, who Clawson was able to pry away from East Carolina, started as a freshman not because he was ready to play college football, but because there was no one else. And he started for an offense that Clawson had to not rebuild – but build – from scratch.

Wolford impressed me early on, for what he could do but much more so for who he was. Never in my career did I see any player pick himself up off the ground more often from the kind of punishment that would have convinced most people to give up the sport for their salvation, much less sanity.

But his most impressive performances, at least early on, came after the game, in the post-game sessions. Never once did I hear John Wolford complain of his plight. Never once did I hear him blame a teammate. Never once did he fail to take full responsibility – and then some – for his performances as the Deacons suffered through successive 1-7 ACC seasons.

So those of you who were watching along with me remember how heart-warming it was to see the quarterback John Wolford became by his junior and senior seasons, the bowl victories over Temple and Texas A&M, the five touchdown passes and 461 passing yards while out-dueling Lamar Jackson of Louisville, the 468 total yards against the Aggies in the Belk Bowl, his selection as second-team All-ACC.

And like me, you were probably watching yesterday afternoon when John Wolford got his NFL shot. We grimaced when Wolford’s first pass was picked off, and he looked so shaky at the controls of a pro team.

But I know John Wolford, and the steel in his spine so I didn’t despair. And before halftime my faith was well rewarded.

Even with the barest semblance of a running game – said to be a pro quarterback’s best friend — Wolford made the plays the Rams needed to win and advance to the playoffs. I loved every minute of it, and got the greatest kick to see him walk off the field a winner.

But John Wolford has never been anything other than a winner. So how can I be surprised?

Thanks John for giving me something to watch.

Thanks most of all for giving me a reason to care.

7 thoughts on “Whiling Away the Day with Wolford

  1. Great read – thanks for posting

    I am still upset that Grobe and his staff were simply mailing it in after the Orange Bowl.

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  2. I have always heard that character is not shown by how one reacts when one does something well, but how one acts after doing something not well.

    John showed such great character coming back Sunday after throwing that interception with what many say was a complete and leadership driven game by an NFL QB, in his first game to boot. And he showed it at Wake coming back from several terrible and lackluster years, losing his job to Kendall Hinton, to single handily having one of the greatest years at QB ever his senior year, at Wake or any place for that matter.

    Thank you John for showing us old guys how it is done. I want you in my foxhole covering my back when the shots are fired around me.

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  3. Dan, as usual, you are spot on with your comments! I had two reasons to cheer for Wolford. As a lifelong Chicago Bears fan, I figured the Bears best shot at making the playoffs was a Rams victory over the Cardinals…not the Bears beating the Packers…as badly as I wanted it to happen.

    And the second reason, of course, is the many thrills he provided in his time at Wake Forest.

    You said it without saying it, but John didn’t have an ACC caliber offensive line to protect him his first two years and took an absolute beating.

    I heard one football commentator say he looked like Alfred E. Newman…but that kid is tough as nails!

    I posted the Rams score on Facebook with pride yesterday.
    He’s not the prototype build for an NFL quarterback, but he absolutely can succeed!

    It will be interesting to see if he gets the nod in the playoff game next weekend against the Seahawks. I don’t see how Goff could be 100% and ready to play after thumb surgery.

    Regardless, one of the things so inspiring about John’s story is his persistence. It didn’t work out as an undrafted free-agent with the Jets and then he succeeded in the ill-fated arena league. Now, he secured a playoff spot for a talented team in a high profile city in his very first NFL start.

    John is really easy to root for.
    I wish him continued success.
    This Wake Forest alum is very proud of John the Deacon!

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  4. Thank you, Dan, it was great to see back with another uplifting article about Wake Forest. It was almost an emotional experience watching John Wolford start and play with such poise in a pivotal game for the Rams. Also, living in Atlanta, I was also pleased to see Greg Dortch re-surface and sign a contract with the Falcons this past week. First former Deacon to become a Falcon since Tyson Clabo last helped to anchor the front line back in 2012. Also, I want to recognize defensive backs Essang Bassey, who inexplicably went undrafted but eventually started for the Broncos before an ACL injury, and the Bengals’ Jesse Bates, who should have been selected to the Pro Bowl.

    Hopefully, Dave Clawson will have the team moving in a positive direction again in 2021. This past season was a challenge losing to both N C State and UNC late in the fourth quarter, along with the frustrating finale against Wisconsin… a bit of a disappointing feeling despite the many COVID issues throughout all of college football, and well beyond.

    Best wishes to you and all for a safer and healthier New Year.

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  5. As my wife and I sat down that warm late summer day in 2014 to watch WFU play Gardner Webb we looked the the scoreboard showing the starting offensive line up. When it showed John Wolford, the starting freshman QB, my wife screamed, ” OMG he looks like the paperboy!”. The nick name stuck, at least with us. He looked more like a 14 year old but like a good paperboy…. he delivered and soon found that sweet spot on the top step just out of the rain. Later my wife’s conversations with Dave, coach would tell her about John’s wisdom and film study habits. I kind of hope that he is back on the bench so his 1-0 professional career stays intact but who knows.

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