Gators, Vikings inspired by ailing coach, teammates

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 8, 2001

Robert Erves, with a football signed by the team after last week’s win, relaxes at home Wednesday after getting a pacemaker on Monday. He’ll be back on the sideline Friday, but he has to stay calm.(The Vicksburg Post/Sean P. Murphy)

[11/7/01]Twenty-five years more than 275 games and Robert Erves has been on the Vicksburg High sideline for every single one of them.

Until last Friday.

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Erves spent almost a week in Vicksburg and Jackson hospitals getting tests to figure out an irregular heartbeat.

He was in St. Dominic’s Hospital in Jackson when the Gators suited up against Forest Hill.

On the sidelines?


In the game?


“It was tough,” Erves said from his home on Wednesday. “I was trying to be calm in the hospital.”

Erves first asked his wife, I.V., to get a portable radio in the room so he could listen to the game, but River 101.3 would not come in.

“I wanted to just lay in the bed and listen to the game, but it didn’t work out like that,” Erves said. “I was trying everything, sticking the radio out the window, but nothing worked.”

Then he asked the nurses what the Forest Hill radio station was. That didn’t work either.

“I finally told my daughter to go to the game and give me updates,” Erves said.

Things started getting cluttered and the phone calls were not coming in with the frequency Erves wanted. A guaranteed playoff spot was on the line.

Up stepped his sister-in-law and her husband. Brady and Fannie Tonth drove from the Jackson hospital to Vicksburg, turned on the radio, put a cell phone in front of it and Erves had a first-row seat for the rest of the Gators’ 27-24 win.

The team dedicated the victory to Erves and planned on giving him the game ball autographed by the whole team.

“I was real emotional about that because I love those kids, and I love being around them,” Erves said. “It made me feel proud that they felt that way about me.”

After a battery of tests and the ultimate decision to put a pacemaker in his heart on Monday, Erves returned home Tuesday.

On Friday, in the biggest game of the year in front of what is expected to be the biggest crowd in years, Erves will be back on the sideline with certain restrictions.

His doctor told him he could coach from a designated area behind the bench. He can’t lift his arms and get excited, but can still dish out advice and adjustments for a defense that has jelled the last four weeks.

Getting overexcited won’t be a problem, he promised.

“I have a whole different outlook on life,” Erves said. “I have to figure out what’s best for me. I know already what I have to do.

“I’m not going to get emotionally upset, but I am going to do what a coach needs to do to get his players ready to play.”

Through the ordeal, Erves never thought there was anything wrong. High blood pressure and diabetes runs in the family, but he thought he just needed to get his blood pressure checked.

“Everyone knows their own body,” Erves said. “My heart would speed up, up, up and then drop way down.”

What he thought would be a quick trip to a local hospital “I thought I’d be there for an hour or so,” Erves said turned into an overnight stay.

That was Oct. 30, a Tuesday, so he didn’t think he’d miss any game time. More tests on top of more tests showed Erves had an irregular heartbeat.

Before surgery, he said he was telling the nurse about his two brothers who played at Ole Miss. That was the last thing he remembered until waking up several hours later.

Vicksburg coach Alonzo Stevens, who has kept in contact with Erves, said anything the longtime assistant can add to Friday’s game will be an advantage for the Gators.

“Coach is a warrior,” Stevens said. “We can’t wait to get him back. His absence has been rough on me because he’s always been there. It was kind of lonely on the sidelines.”

Assistant coach David Tadlock will also be on the sidelines Friday night helping coordinate the defense.

Players are awaiting Erves’ return for the playoffs.

“By his presence, it will make us play harder,” defensive back D’Eldrick Taylor said. “It was very weird without him.”