Once in a blue moon, I’m washed over by a flash flood of memories from the old days, my college football days. I don’t know exactly what triggers these high tides of recollection. Maybe it’s subliminal. Maybe I’ve overheard some simple, almost-forgotten phrase, or caught the scent of fresh-cut Bermuda, or felt an all-too-familiar twinge of pain in my right knee, and the heavens just open up. Today, my subconscious raised Tommy Moffit from the stream and paused.
I want to say: “Tommy Moffit was a great American!” But … while I suspect that may very well be a true statement, the fact is I really don’t know what Tommy was. I knew Thomas Moffit only as an ‘acquaintance’ when he was a teammate of mine at Tennessee Tech University in the late 1980’s, and I haven’t heard from him, or of him, in the past 25 years . In fact, even though I played football with him for two full seasons, for the life of me, I can’t tell you what position Tommy even played. I remember him as being 6’-2 or 6’-3, maybe taller, and weighing about 230 pounds. He was reasonably fit and muscular but not excessively fast or strong. I recall that he had a head full of bushy, dark hair and that he spoke with an accent that was unmistakably eastern Tennessean. So with that description, today here stands Tommy Ballard, as vividly in my mind as if he was physically beside me on the sideline at Murray State or Austin Peay, making ready for what we considered a winnable conference game.
Tommy’s forte, the quirky practice that accompanies this old teammate into my thoughts after three decades, was “Motivation Through HIGH VOLUME Screaming.” Very simply, he was the BEST, better than anyone I’ve ever known.
On a football team, there are always a few guys who are compelled (by genetics, I believe) to yell out verbal adrenaline shots, the purpose of which is to stir their teammates into a frenzy of aggression. THAT was Tommy. Whether he was officially assigned this task by the coaching staff or not, I’ll never know, but Tommy reveled in “Pump Up the Crowd” duty at home games, and, of course, its flip side “Infuriate the Crowd” duty on the road.
In carrying out his mission for Golden Eagle Football, Tommy developed a catch phrase. “O-V-C, baby!” Not very imaginative or unique, true, but it was all his. And he wielded it early and often any time Tennessee Tech played an Ohio Valley Conference opponent. When he said it, at the top of his lungs, sometimes preceded or followed by a “WHOOO,” he would typically be looking some teammate directly in the eye. At that point, the teammate was bound, by the Official Teammate Code, to respond with a “YEAH!” and a nod, so that Tommy could proceed to the next linebacker or split end in need of his inspiration. To ignore the “O-V-C, baby!” was to incur hammered fists to your shoulder pads and a re-boot of the process, now nose-to-nose, and this time with a change of inflection. “O-V-C, baby?! O-V-C, baby?!” Tommy demanded the appropriate response – PERIOD.
As we entered the field for warm-ups: “O-V-C, baby!” Just after the national anthem: “O-V-C, baby!” During the opening kickoff (I’m almost certain Tommy was on either the kick-off or the kick-off return team. If he wasn’t, he certainly was in spirit): “O-V-C, baby!”
As our games progressed, Tommy’s signature phrase usually took on a more plaintive, pleading tone, and the meaning of “O-V-C, baby!” became “This is the O-V-C, baby! How can we have gotten behind by two touchdowns already?!” But any positive turn of events would always rekindle the energy in Tommy’s battle cry, and if we were in the games at all, he was right there to the bitter end (most of our ends were bitter; we were 5-16 in my two seasons at Tennessee Tech).
“O-V-C, baby!” I remember it like it was yesterday. The ineloquence of the phrase always makes me smile. “O-V-C, baby!” The repetitive, random usage of that idiom, containing not a shred of originality, yet persistently echoing over the course of two college football seasons, has seared this unquestionably ridiculous, two-word call to arms, and its creator, into my psyche forever.
I remember Tommy Moffit as a slightly crazed, moderately athletic college football player, excessively enthusiastic, with no apparent awareness of the reality of our mediocrity. My inner cynic tells me that Tommy’s efforts were absurd. Was it reasonable to think that just because we were in a conference game we were somehow going to become a better team? Was it reasonable to think that because he screamed in my face I had a better chance of blocking Eastern Kentucky’s defensive tackle than I did without the scream? No, it wasn’t reasonable. But youthful exuberance, and optimism, and enthusiasm aren’t based on reason. They’re based on hope.
I remember Tommy Moffit as a slightly crazed, moderately athletic college football player who screamed youthful exuberance, optimism and enthusiasm. I wonder if he remembers me at all.