Keep Fit: Open Letter to Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe

Jim Grobe Football Wake Forest
Jim Grobe, football, Photos: bigstock, Gene Galin (of Grobe)

The other day, the Dan’s Papers edit team debated the merits of posting a Facebook status to commemorate a major event. Does a Facebook status like that say to the world, “I care about this, and it’s important to share my thoughts” or does it simply and vainly say, “Look at me! I have opinions too!”

The debate ended with me leaning toward the latter conclusion.

That evening, I went home and heard the most significant news to befall Wake Forest football in 2013—our coach of 13 years, Jim Grobe, had resigned from his position. My Facebook feed was filled with love notes to a man who changed the face of Wake football, and I began to rethink my position on the great Facebook status debate.

Although many at Wake Forest likely never met Jim Grobe, he had a pervasive presence on campus that made you think of him as the school’s wise grandfatherly figure—the kind of grandpa who brought unbelievable esteem to the smallest BCS (Bowl Championship Series) program in the country. And maybe that is Facebook status worthy.

At the risk of falling into that dreaded opinion-for-the-sake-of-opinion category, here is my open letter of appreciation to Coach Jim Grobe:

Though I grew up a diehard New York Mets fan, I entered Wake Forest in the fall of 2006 a Long Islander naïve to the intricacies of collegiate sports. Between the highs and lows of paying attention to baseball, I vaguely knew college football existed. But I soon learned that one of the great tragedies of growing up in the Northeast is being unable to experience glories of college gamedays.

Not being a fan of Wake sports was not an option, and I loved the Demon Deacons unconditionally from the start. I had no clue that Wake was picked to finish last in the ACC. I didn’t know that most other football stadiums ate our 31,500-seat home for breakfast.

My first-ever college football game was the 2006 season opener, Wake Forest vs. Syracuse. Though I didn’t yet understand the point of tailgating in a sundress, as is a Southern tradition, I was instantly hooked on Wake football and all the intricacies of college sports.

It’s true what they tell you about college—it’s the best four years of your life, but freshman year is tougher than you would think. Grobey, as we liked to call him, rallied an entire school around a sport that often played second fiddle to the parallel sport of tailgating. The season progressed like a great concert, with each game better than the last, providing the greatest imaginable backdrop to cure any freshman blues. The winning games brought us closer to an ACC Championship. And the losing ones proved the level of class Coach Grobe brought to the Deacs.

That year, we finished the regular season 10–2, secured our spot in the ACC Championship game for the first time since 1970 and took home the title. Coach Grobe was named the ACC Coach of the Year and the AP National Coach of the Year.

The most surreal experience of our run was the Wake Forest–Boston College game, which featured now–Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan playing for BC. We beat them and rushed the field. This was apparently not just a unique experience for me, but for all Wake football fans. The stadium was clearly not built for getting people on the field. We had to orderly file down the single staircase before exploding into mayhem. The goal posts would not come down, but not for lack of trying.

I’m not a fair-weather sports fan. But I’d be lying if I said that our run that year didn’t serve as a catalyst for my subsequent interest in football. I went on to be a Wake Forest Campus Correspondent for the ACC, writing a Wake football blog during my senior year. Though years later I would embarrass myself by pronouncing Nick Saban’s name “Nick Sa-bahn,” I wouldn’t have been in a position to even talk about football were it not for Grobe’s leadership.

Thank you, Coach Grobe, for I would not be the person I am today without your guidance. Though we never met, your leadership on and off the field has always inspired me.

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