Fair: Sure miss the good ol' days

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Remember the good old days?

I'm talking about the days of high school football playoff games in the '80s and '90s, days when teams like Riverdale hosted McCallie in the first round, Dobyns Bennett in the second and Farragut in week three of the post season.
That same year, 1993, Gordonsville hosted F.R.A. in round one, entertained Cloudland in the second round and played South Pittsburg in the third week

Earning a chance to participate in the playoffs didn't only mean that you had a chance to win a state championship, it meant your favorite team would be competing against championship level teams from other parts of the state, whether your favorite team was playing at home or on the road.

Loading up the van and traveling three or four hours to meet a team you knew little about was part of the magic of the playoffs. The journey to unchartered territory was as much a lesson in geography as it was another Friday night on the gridiron.

Trying to find the best route to a new destination was always an adventure. We didn't have a GPS in those days to help us find our way to a high school we had never before visited. We often found ourselves lost and then barely getting to the game in time for the opening kickoff.

For the most part, teams from the same district were put into opposite brackets much like they are at the state basketball tournament. You didn't have to line up against your next-door neighbor until at least the third round in most cases.

It seemed to be the logical way of doing things. If two or more teams from the same district were among the best in the state, why should they have to try and eliminate each other before semifinal round play?

But then came expensive gasoline and other issues that have taken a lot of the post-season luster from the game we all love so much. What's the point of playing two, sometimes three, of your first games against teams you just met only weeks earlier?

In several cases involving first round action last week, teams met each other for the second time in eight days. The second meeting was rarely in doubt. Pearl Cohn beat Maplewood, 59-20, in Week 10. The Firebirds beat those same Panthers the following week, 30-14. Do you honestly think either team was fired up about that second meeting?
Will the playoffs ever be the same as they were 20 or 30 years ago? Probably not. Coaches and players don't really mind the long trips. But administrators, the people who have to pay the bills for such costly excursions, take a different approach because of budget constraints.

That's a shame. Those trips to new destinations were just another part of what made high school sports so special back then.

Murphy Fair has published Tennessee High School Football for 25 years. His statewide syndicated radio show (Murphy’s Matchups) can be heard locally Fridays just before kickoff on WBRY.)

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