Real Southern Rules: Playing Hurt

This was one of those weeks where I had great things planned for this site: lots of new Twanglish Lessons competing for screen time, a meditation on the uses of kudzu, a debate on the greatest college sports program in the South (any bets on which side I was taking?), a funny tale about a friend and fellow RSM who scammed some scammers, and a treatise on Yankees’ inability to endure heat and humidity (yes, I am going to get to that one … eventually). Instead, I’ve posted one link to someone else’s story and now written this one. Not a stellar outing.

After a vacation week cooped up with my sick kids, I’m now ailing myself. It’s my fault, really. I always did teach them to share. This is one of those insidious illnesses that lets you think you’re fine … so long as you’re lying down and not trying to do anything strenuous like holding up your head or opening your eyes. Otherwise, you’re dizzy, nauseous, struggling for breath and sleeping. A lot.

Sadly, this situation is just further proof of the fact that I’m no Real Southern Man, because …

Real Southern Men play hurt.

Several years ago, when my daughter was a newborn, we arranged a beach trip for us and our parents. When my dad showed up, I noticed he was clutching his thumb and grimacing when he thought no one was looking. When I asked about it, he showed me his ad hoc bandage made from paper towels and electric tape. Then he slid the bandage off to reveal the wound underneath. It was ghastly.

“Near ’bout cut my thumb off.”

“How’d you do that?” I asked.

“With a circular saw,” he replied matter-of-factly.

“Did you go to the hospital?” It was pretty obvious by the black tape and Bounty holding his thumb in place that he hadn’t.

“What would I do that for?”


Southern men are notorious for this kind of thing. What’s a half sawn-off thumb to keep a man from doing what he needs to do?

I don’t think it’s bravado so much as a mentality born of necessity. For so long, the South was farm country. There were no doc-in-the-box clinics on every corner, no pharmacy at the local Walmart. If it didn’t kill you, you did your best and kept moving. There was work to be done.

As a University of Alabama alumnus, I’m a bit of a student of Crimson Tide football history. Two of my favorite stories in Tide lore deal with literally “playing hurt.”

Van de Graaff Generator

Van de Graaff Generator, invented by Hargrove and Bully’s younger brother, the famed physicist, Robert van de Graaff ¬†(Photo credit: Hadleygrass is asparagus)

In a 1913 tilt against Tennessee, Alabama player Hargrove van de Graaff (other reports indicate it was his brother, “Bully,” Alabama’s first All-American) got up after a particularly rough hit to find his ear dangling from his head. Incensed by the hit and ready to exact vengeance, van de Graaff reached up to rip the ear from his head. Fortunately, teammates stopped him.

A few decades later, again against Tennessee, a tough-as-nails end scored two touchdowns while playing with a broken leg. It wasn’t future NFL hall of famer Don Hutson, but that “other end” … named Paul “Bear” Bryant.

There are no doubt thousands of similar stories of Real Southern Men playing hurt. Share your stories in the comments below.

Meanwhile, I’m going to take a nap.

3 Responses to “Real Southern Rules: Playing Hurt”

  1. It is different in the South. I cannot attribute it to character or skill, so much as a natural way of life. I remember playing high school football, dislocating my shoulder for the first time, being taken off in an ambulance, but then the shoulder popping back into place as I bounced on the gurney. I asked if the ambulance could take me back to the game (we were not far away), and they did. I jogged from the ambulance to the sideline and never stopped. I ran right back onto the field. This may sound brave or machismo, but it was not. It was natural. None of my fellow players thought it unnatural, and my coach hardly commented on it at all. Pain is not fixated upon by Southern men growing up and working in the South. Our role models, (mostly our dads) just modeled it for us and we knew it as the norm. Pain is a nuisance, but it also helps us focus on the important.

    As we leave our farm existence, I recognize that we are departing from this norm. My kids are more focused on pain, which probably means that me, as their dad, have not modeled the “work through it” mentality that my dad did.

  2. I know this post is kinda old but I have a great example. My pawpaw, now 85 is the toughest person I know. I’ve always known him to super glue deep cuts instead of getting stitches, but what I’m about to tell you is a big deal.

    One day a couple years back, he was laying under his International 354 changing the spark plugs. While still under it, he reached up to start it and make sure it was going to run better. Well he left it in gear. It ran him over, collapsing his rib cage and narrowly avoided his head. Keep in mind, this is no light tractor. Well he got up, chased it down, parked it in the tractor barn, went inside and changed, and then drive himself the 45 minute drive to the hospital.

    Two years later, he’s fully recovered and gets out there and works on the ranch. (but I do most the work on the tractors now)

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