EDITOR’S NOTE: The following was written by Oren Wood ’74, a football teammate of Hall of Famer Bob Carson ’73, who began his career as a walk-on running back and was awarded a full scholarship after his freshman year. The 1972 team captain who was voted the team’s most valuable player that season, Carson was a former All-Southern Conference selection. He was active in The Citadel Football Association and was enshrined in The Citadel Athletic Hall of Fame in 2002. He lost his battle to cancer on April 19, 2012, and in his memory, the football team last year wore a No. 41 sticker on the back of their helmets.
By Oren Wood ‘74
I could probably write a book on Bob Carson easier than I could this short story. There’s so much to say, how does once compact it?
There are some things you need to know about Bob upfront. First I wouldn’t say that Bob loved The Citadel more than anybody else but I will guarantee that nobody loved and understood that place more than he did. You should know that in the community we call “The Citadel Family,” nobody was more respected or more admired. Grown men adored him. There, toward the end, old gray-haired, overweight teammates and classmates held his hand, looked him in eye and with an unhesitating passion reserved for our mothers, wives and children said through tears, “Thank you Bob, I love you.” You should know that.
There are so many superlatives to use about Bob. As a teammate there was no stronger leader. Bob simply was “The Man.” On the field, in the locker room, in the weight room, on game day or practice, Bob was “The Man.” Bob was a powerful and explosive force as a running back. He was also an outstanding blocker. The Jacobs Blocking Trophy is an annual award given to the best blocker in the Southern Conference. It is always won by an offense lineman. During Bob’s senior year as a blocking/running back, he finished second in the balloting. He was All-Southern Conference, All-State and is in The Citadel Athletic Hall of Fame.
But his proudest honor was that he was the team captain because that was by a vote of his teammates.
Bob was the kind of teammate that would break three tackles for a two-yard gain and come back to the huddle and tell the linemen how good they were blocking. He also could give you that look if he had to. Don’t ask me to describe it, but the meaning was very clear: “Pick it up, and now.” And you did.
Bob was on a higher level than most, if not all of us. To stay in his huddle you had to play hard; 100 percent effort all the time. Bob never dogged a play, never and would not tolerate a teammate that did. In his mind he couldn’t understand how anyone could. To take a break, slack up, choke down was the ultimate sin as a teammate and on the field Bob gave his all for his team.
He expected no less from us. You didn’t always have to play well; you just had to play hard.
Let’s put it this way, Bob raised the bar just by being there. You had better rise to that level or you needed to find another team to play for. I never ever heard Bob say anything negative to any teammate about their play. He just gave you that look. He led with his feet, and we followed.
Bob was fun. My word, did that man enjoy life, his family and his friends. There just weren’t too many dull times with that guy. At his roast to raise money for his scholarship through The Citadel Brigadier Foundation, teammates, classmates, coaches and others told hilarious story after story about times with “Bad Bob.” I think back often of our times together and we were always laughing wherever we were. Cutting up, telling stories, getting in some kind of trouble and always there was laughter.
We have told Bob Carson stories for years and I suppose we always will but know this: In every one of those stories, no matter how funny or how hard we laughed, there is the constant theme of respect and admiration. I think back on that night of his roast and while I was laughing as hard as anybody, I recall looking over at Bob and wondering, “What must it feel like to be this admired, held in such genuine regard and loved this way by your friends?” I was humored and greatly warmed by the comradeship. I was in awe of the compassion.
Bob was fearless. Of course, when he was on the field, others feared him! But I say “fearless” in his willingness to show his feelings. He may be the most macho stud I ever knew, but in his heart he was as loving and caring and as forgiving as any child. In a time and culture where it was fashionable for a man to be distant, tough and reserved, Bob showed his family and friends measures of love, empathy, tenderness and understanding that few men dared exhibit. And he offered these mercies quietly and personally. Unconditionally, without fear. If Bob cared for you, if he were your friend you never had to question it. You knew it.
And that brings me to this: Bob loved. He loved deeply. He was a devoted son to his parents and he idolized his brother and sister. Bob, by all rights, considered himself a patriot and a true citizen to his country. He treasured his Citadel Family that included his teammates, classmates, fellow alumni and our wives and children. He tried to live a life that reflected his reverence and love for his God. Strangers, business associates, family and friends alike were treated with dignity and respect. No one close to him was attended to from a distance or in half measures.
With Bob you experienced the full extent of his love and affection and, Lord, what an impact that was! Bob understood that love is an action verb and he showed it in its finest, purest most sacred ways. Bob’s love, friendship and example were so powerful it changed lives. Trust me.
Bob’s capacity for friendship is the ideal that many of us will forever try to achieve as friends ourselves and humbly some of us will have to admit we may never reach.
We miss our friend, daily. We will think of him always. Sometimes when we do we will laugh, other times we will brush back a tear. There may be a soft sigh, a slight smile. I suppose either way would be OK with Bob. He never concerned himself with what others thought of him. His consistent display of high self-esteem, unshakable confidence, honor and integrity was firm and set and was not contingent on what anyone thought or said about him.
We should all learn from that. So, using the football field as a metaphor of our time with Bob let me offer this: It was a supreme honor, an unexplainable time of good fortune and a most generous act of undeserved grace from a benevolent God that many of us can look back with pride, awe and wonder and say, “Once on a cool and splendid autumn Saturday afternoon in a packed and thunderous Johnson Hagood Stadium, we were privileged to be in the same huddle, stand pad-to-pad, hear the same play and snap count and fire off the ball with Bob Carson.”
My God, what would I give to be able to do that one more time!
Oren Wood ’74