Here we are with the wives of the Maryland football coaches. We're in a little room alongside the press box and on the field Steve Atkins is running loose. He's going 30 yards, 40, now 50, and this little room with six women sounds like the inside of a siren on its way to the end of the world.We're talking heavy noise.
Ideally, a guy would report what each of the happy women did when Atkins finished his 98-yard run for a touchdown. Cyndy Strock was seen on a window sill, her exhortations threatening to propel her into space.But that was it. Suddenly, the world went dark. A coat was over a guy's head. All the guy knows is that he never heard so many screams this far from Englebert Humperdink
The coat belonged to Faye Claiborne wife of the boss, Jerry. She had leaped from her chair as Atkins moved 60 yards, then 70, and landed atop your faithful servent's head. "I'm sorry," Faye said, "but, you know . . ."
Football wives are angels assigned to guide possessed men through this vale of tears. For about 35 years now, the bright and bouncy Faye Hooks of Hopkinsville, Ky., has been either Jerry Claiborne's girl friend or wife. When the coach's big tailback goes 98 yards for a 21-14 lead in a game for the conference championship, Faye Claiborne can leap onto anyone's head in celebration. She's entitled.
They all are. "It's an exciting life," amid Irma Devlin, whose husband John coaches the linebackers. "But life is all on the wife. If there are leaves to rake, it's on you. If the roof leaks, it's on you. John leaves the house at 7 a.m. every Sunday and comes back at 11:30 p.m. From Sunday through Wednesday, it's that way. He goes into each of our children's bedrooms and kisses all four goodbye.
"Wednesday nights, he comes home and calls his recruits. Thursday nights, he goes to high-school games. On Friday, he's with the team."
This life has consequences, Irma Devlin said.
"Eighty percent of coaches' children are born in November," she said with a smile. November is about nine months after recruiting season ends.
Cyndy Strock, whose husband Terry is the secondary coach, said. When my youngest was born, Terry never missed a coaching meeting. The birth was at 5 o'clock and he went to the 7:30 meeting. Our first baby, I had to stay in the hospital seven days. There was nobody to come get me."
These are war stories. Football coaches as a class are workaholics. Cyndy Strock drove to the Penn State game an Terry could ride home with her. "He slept in the back seat all the way," Cyndy said. The wives share the common pain. It isn't always easy.
"I didn't go to school Wednesday," said Cyndy Strock, a high-school teacher. "The kids asked me why the next day and I said, 'I was mentally ill.'"
Faye Claiborne heard that and smiled. "I've been mentally ill the last three weeks," she said.
From December to September, Faye Claiborne is a dream, all smiles and good cheer.
"But I really don't like November," she said.
That's when the pressure of college football is heaviest. She goes to the Maryland home games, but she watches only selected parts of them. On every punt and kickoff, she closes her eyes and puts her head on her purse. If it's really a critical situation, she covers her ears with her hands.
When Jerry Claiborne was an assistant at Alabama, Faye did not see a single play one season. She sat next to another assistant's wife, Martha Bradshaw, who watched the action through a rolled-up program. "Martha, bless her, would tell me that happened," Faye said.
Martha with her spyglass programs became a superstition. Faye always sat on the same side of her and they made the same sandwiches every week. Cyndy Strock wears a turtle pendant, and Brenda Hout does not wear red but does put on turtle earrings and a turtle pin ("Anything with a turtle," she said, the Maryland nickname being Terrapins).
"I listen to my stomach," said Irma Devlin, "and I won't sit next to Faye. She goes berserk."
It is late in the third quarter and Faye Claiborne, who began watching football games even before she knew anyone named Jerry, notices that Clemson has two wide receivers spilt to the same side of the field. No novice, this angel.
"What are they going to do?" Claiborne said worriedly.
"They're going to send one over the middle," said Cyndy Strock, the secondary coach's wife.
Sure enough, Clemson sent a receiver over the middle and the pass went for 62 yards and a touchdown that tied the game, 21-21.
And early in the fourth quarter, Clemson begins an offensive drive that reaches the Maryland 40-yard line. Irma Devlin is a native of Germany who doesn't know everything about football. But she knows her husband's passion fo the game. And she knows where to turn for help.
"Please, God," she says, "or whoever up there is in charge of fumbles."
She sits back, a hand covering her face. Clemson is marching. Faye Claiborne puts her head on her purse. Marcia Romaine, whose husband Gib coaches the defensive tackles, shouts, "Defense, defense!" Brenda Hout, the wife of receiver coach John, watches a pass. "Did he catch it?" Brenda says. "I can't stand it."
And Clemson scores. Maryland is behind, 28-21. Not a sound from the women. At game's end, beaten, 28-24, Irma Devlin says, "Oh, my God," and Faye Claiborne says, "Irma, it's a game," Irma says, "Faye, you can talk until you're blue in the face." And Faye knows, Irma is right.She says nothing more.