Transcript of Episode 9, Nov. 20, 2017
King Kaufman: Hey it’s King Kaufman. I want to welcome our new listeners who heard about us on NPR’s Only a Game. You’re going to hear a longer version of the story of Mike Porter in this episode. And I want to remind everyone that this first season of Can’t Win 4 Losing ends on December 11th. I would love to do Season 2, but I can’t do it without your help. Please go to Patreon.com/losing and pledge, even just a few bucks a month. The rewards start at three dollars, so there’s good stuff for you — and for me, it’s a chance to tell more of these stories. Go to Patreon.com/losing and keep this show alive by pledging now. And thanks for listening.
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Sound: Football game
Kaufman: When Mike Porter was a senior at Jefferson Davis High School in Houston, he was a pretty good football player.
Chuck Arnold: He was good. He was a hard-nosed running back. He could get short yardage, good yardage, and he could run inside or outside.
Kaufman: Chuck Arnold was a rookie head coach that year, 1991. When you’re a new coach, it’s nice to have a good player. The thing is, it’s even nicer to have more than one.
Gerald Garcia: We used him for everything. We put him at tailback.
Kaufman: Gerald Garcia was a first-year assistant coach that year.
Gerald Garcia: We put him at — anyplace we needed him that week, we did the scouting, and whatever their strength was, we’d plug Michael in there. I mean, if they had a big-time receiver and all they did was throw it, Michael played corner that week.
Chuck Arnold: There were two seniors, two juniors and the rest were freshmen. So we took a beating that first year. I mean, we scored three touchdowns and Mike had all of them. So it was a rough year.
Kaufman: Yeah, 1991 was rough. Maybe even rougher than 1990 or 1989. And that’s saying something, Jeff Davis didn’t win any games any of those seasons. They hadn’t won a game since 1985. They were six years into the longest losing streak in high school football history, and there was no end in sight. Every week, the Jeff Davis Panthers gave up more points in that one game than they would score the whole season. The final tally: Other guys 437, Davis 22.
Michael Porter: Man, you just wanted to win, man. I mean, I had some really good friends that played ball with me, and man we just wanted to win.
Kaufman: This is Mike Porter, the hard-nosed running back who played wherever they needed him to.
Michael Porter: At that time, school spirit wasn’t the best, so, goodness, you’d come back to class and some kid sitting in the class would make a joke about it. I had to learn to ignore that.
Kaufman: It’s a good thing he learned to ignore it. Because he still had a lot of losing to do. As part of the longest losing streak in high school history, he lost every game he ever played in. And then he went to college, to Prairie View A&M just outside Houston, and he played there. During the longest losing streak in NCAA history. He lost every game in high school, he lost every game in college.
Mike Porter of Houston, Texas, knows a lot about losing. Now he’s the coach at his old high school. And you know what’s kind of funny? They’re glad to have him.
Music: Big Swing Band by Audionautix
Kaufman: I’m King Kaufman and this is Can’t Win For Losing, a podcast about losing. In this episode: What do you do after a high school and college football career where you never win a single game? You become a coach, of course. Meet Mike Porter of Housto, Texas. Strap on your helmet. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride. This is Can’t Win For Losing.
Kaufman: Jefferson Davis High changed its name to Northside last year. It’s in a working-class neighborhood just north of downtown Houston. NBA Hall of Famer Slater Martin went there. He won five championships way back in the day with the Minneapolis Lakers and St. Louis Hawks. His name’s on the scoreboard in the gym. Baseball star Carl Crawford went to Davis, starred in a bunch of sports. And you know who else went there? Kenny Rogers, the singer and chicken guy. Nobody mentioned him when I visited.
For a long time, Davis was just like a lot of other big-city high schools in Texas and elsewhere. They played football. They had some good years, they had some bad years, and then, in the ’70s, things started to go downhill. Here’s Porter.
Michael Porter: Yeah, you already had like white flight, so the neighborhood really started to take a turn, and a lot of people weren’t attending the school. They were going to other places, and it really took a dip.
Kaufman: Gerald Garcia got to Davis as an assistant coach in 1991, Porter’s senior year. He’s still there. He talked about what it was like back then.
Gerald Garcia: The facilities were just horrible. I mean, we had these little T buildings back there that were rotten. It was terrible. That’s why the numbers were so low. And if you know football, you’ve got to have an army. And we were running out there with 15, 16 kids trying to play 5A football.
Kaufman: The losing streak had started in the middle of the 1985 season. By the time Mike Porter got into a few games as a freshman, the streak was in the 30s. When Chuck Arnold was hired before the 1991 season, the Panthers had lost 54 straight. It’s hard to believe, but not a lot of people wanted that job.
Chuck Arnold: You know, one of my goals was to be a head coach and there weren’t that many of them popping up, so I took the chance when I had it. I knew it was a one-time deal, either change the program or I’d never get another shot. It was that kind of deal.
Gerald Garcia: When we first got here we had kids that they wouldn’t even wear their letter jackets because they would get ridiculed by the other students. So that was one of the main things was just to make it so that it was OK to play football.
Chuck Arnold: The first year I was there we passed out T-shirts with Jeff Davis Football, and you’d see kids wear ’em inside out. Literally inside out! I said, ah, man, we got some work to do.
Kaufman: These were the players.
Chuck Arnold: Yeah, that was the players. [Laughs]
Kaufman: For Mike Porter, it wasn’t all bad.
Michael Porter: You know, as a student and as an athlete, it was great for me. I mean, I had a great time. Now I will say — I mean honestly, I was a shy kid, and I made good grades. So you know, in a lot of ways, I guess you could say I was a nerd. So football was my way of — all right. This is what I do. I’m normal, you know. There was a life skills kid — you know, that’s a form of special education — every game, this kid would come up to me, like on Monday or Tuesday, and was like “Good game, Mike.” And man, it’s like I tell — seriously: He couldn’t play. And I’m sure he wanted to. But I got the opportunity to play. So I wanted to play for him, because win, lose or draw, he was always like that.
Music: Dirt Rhodes by Kevin MacLeod
Michael Porter: So, you know, that’s what I did, but we didn’t win. We didn’t win. And it was tough.
Kaufman: Even the longest losing streak in high school football history has to end sometime, and this one finally did. Coach Arnold turned out to be pretty good. He and his staff convinced more kids to play for the team. they built a positive culture, and over the next two years, they got closer and closer. The weekly 51-0 beatdown turned into scores like 21 to 15 and 12 to 10. Coach Garcia.
Gerald Garcia: They didn’t even know what it was all about and they were getting ridiculed, “Oh y’all’s lost 70, 80 games in a row.” I said, “Wait a minute.” We used to preach to ’em. “Wait a minute. Y’all have only lost three or four in a row. I mean, we’re adding to that.” It is what it was. But, “if we’re going to change this thing we’ve got to treat it like this is our time.” And it happened on October 29th, 1993, we beat Wheatley 18-17, and the streak was over.
King: Not that you remember it that well, but I guess that was a big night.
Gerald Garcia: I remember it vividly.
Kaufman: It was really October 23rd, not the 29th, but in a minute Coach Garcia’s going to say the date again and he’ll get it right. Memory’s funny. The final score wasn’t 18-17 either. It was 19-18. But I have to say, except for a detail like that here or there, everybody I talked to about that night remembered it the same way, 24 years later. And if you read the stories in the next day’s Houston Chronicle, they remembered it right. Oh yeah, stories. Plural. It was an A-1 centerpiece in the Chronicle. It was national news.
Chuck Arnold: It was kind of crazy. It was like a state championship game. Everybody had predicted Davis to win, so the media was there in force. There was cameras everywhere. The stands were full. People that had never seen a Davis game all of a sudden were there. It was packed.
Gerald Garcia: October 23rd, 1993. I mean, we’d come close. We were getting better, we were getting better, but you know, people say things like snakebit. That’s just excuses. We just, a little fumble here, play here, play there, but then finally, it all came together that night. The stands were packed. It was like a Super Bowl. The running back, Jackson, he scored and the sportscaster on Channel 11, god I can’t remember his name, he called it “The touchdown heard around Texas.” The neighborhood shut down. The school shut down. I mean hell, the attendance at school on Monday was like about 50 percent because it was a big celebration when we finally broke that losing streak.
Kaufman: Mike Porter wasn’t there. By this time he was playing at Prairie View A&M.
Michael Porter: I was on a bus driving back to Houston. I believe we had lost to Alabama State. I don’t know. The O-line coach, he got a newspaper and he was like, “Hey Porter. Your school won.” And I remember just, “Yeah.” You know. I was like, yes. I knew it was only a matter of time, though, but man I just felt really good. Really good. And I was like, oh, hell, we just lost, but, you know, I was just really happy.
Kaufman: No jealousy?
Michael Porter: Well, almost immediately, I thought. Oh, man, they’re fi’na start looking at us more. And they’re going to find me. Oh man, I was like, ah, crap.
Kaufman: Why’d they want to find him? Because it was 1993 and the Panthers hadn’t won since 1989. Yeah, Prairie View A&M: also the Panthers. They were on their way to losing — you’re going to think I’m making this up — 80 straight games. Exactly the same number as Davis High. It’s an NCAA record. By a lot. The second longest streak is 44.
Michael Porter: I just stopped looking at scoreboards that much. But you know, we still hang out. We don’t talk about it. We like to talk about: We say, you know what, we didn’t win a game, but we kicked it like national champions!
Music: Take Me Higher by Jahzaar
Kaufman: Not long after Porter graduated, Chuck Arnold hired him as an assistant at Davis High.
Chuck Arnold: I respected him as a player and he knew my system. He dealt with the adversity that we’d gone through there, and we were still going through it a little bit, so I knew he could handle it, where a lot of people avoid the losing stigma completely. It was hard to find good coaches.
Kaufman: Porter was the offensive coordinator for the Panthers in 2008 when they went undefeated in the regular season and made it to the second round of the state playoffs. He took over as head coach when Arnold retired four years ago. Maybe all that losing as a player taught him a little something about how to coach?
Arnold: Well, it definitely shapes you. You learn more from losing than winning, of course. You build character, as they all say. Yeah, well, I’ve had enough character building. And Mike has too. Nobody likes to lose. But some people can’t seem to accept the fact that that’s part of life. He’s learned quite well how to deal with it. You know, adversity comes to everybody, some way or another. Maybe not in sports but you’ve got to learn to deal with it.
Kaufman: Gerald Garcia was Porter’s position coach during his senior year. Now he works for him.
Garcia: I was proud of him then, and I’m proud of him now, because he came back, and he kept everything going. He kept it going. He even took it to another notch, because he’s won more games in his first four years than the last six coaches in their first four years.
Kaufman: Porter did not have to wait eight years or 80 games to get his first win as a head coach. But it didn’t come easy. His Panthers lost their first five straight. And then they beat Austin, 31-20.
Porter: I mean I think I jumped up in the air about five feet or something. But it was a wonderful feeling. We played a really good game. We win. Oh, it was awesome, man, it was — it just felt like everybody was with me.
Kaufman: When I go talk to your kids and I say “What does Coach Porter say about the losing streak?” What are they going to roll their eyes and say “Oh man he talks about this all the time. Here’s what he says.” What is it?
Porter: Well, amazingly, we don’t talk about it much. These kids weren’t born.
Patrick Brown: You never hear the end of him talking about himself.
Ja’Michael Jordan: Most of the time after practice, team meetings, in mid-game. He mostly uses it for encouragement though.
Kaufman: Ja’Michael Jordan’s a junior defensive tackle and Patrick Brown’s a running back who graduated last year. Here’s Patrick again.
Brown: Yeah, he mentions it. Especially when we’re down, and the team always say we stay losing and stuff like that. He says “I know. I’ve been through it. Pick your head back up.”
Jordan: “Back in my day, I played a part of the team that had the 80something game losing streak, and I know what it was like.” Just, all kinds of stuff like that.
Kaufman: You ever get tired of hearing about it?
Brown: No sir, because it encourages me. Like, I don’t want to be like Coach Porter. I want to win. [Jordan laughs]
Music: Take Me Higher by Jahzaar
Kaufman: And you guys told me that you make fun of him, not about the streak, just for being him.
Brown: He’s got these little phrases he says, like “Maaaaan …”
[Recorded voices in a montage]
Porter: “Maaaaan …”
Brown: “Man y’all don’t know what y’all talkin’ about, man.”
Porter: “Maaaaan …”
Brown: “Maaaaan …”
Porter: “Maaaaan …”
Brown: “Maaaaan …”
Brown: He talks funny. We always just be laughing and stuff in the huddle.
Jordan: If it’s a really serious moment he might be like “Shut up” or something, but most of the time he just lets it go. Like, it’s nothing really major to him. He laughs with it.
Porter: Don’t just be Davis good, Northside good. Be better than the guy at the other school. You know, try to tell them that. Just conduct yourself as a man, because people are looking at you, again, and how are you going to react? Are you going to do crazy stuff? And people say, “See, that’s what losers do.”
Kaufman: The 2017 season just ended for the Northside Panthers, formerly Jefferson Davis High. It was a tough one, starting with Hurricane Harvey.
Porter: We were very fortunate. We didn’t have any kids that suffered from that, but it just threw a monkey wrench in everything.
Kaufman: The neighborhood escaped the worst of the damage but it took a hit. Classes and activities were cancelled for two weeks, and across the region athletic officials had to scramble to rework schedules. The football season in Houston was reduced from 10 games to eight.
Once they got going, the Panthers were young and they battled injuries. They struggled to a 2-6 record. But Porter says there’s real talent in the freshman and sophomore classes. And there’s no dark cloud hanging over Northside High.
Porter: A couple weeks ago, the anniversary of us breaking that streak actually came. And I stopped practice at the beginning of practice, and I said can anybody tell me what today is.
Kaufman: The kids were all – uh, yeah coach. It’s Monday.
Porter: I didn’t even tell them about it till much later, and i was glad of that. I was like, you know what, they don’t even know about that streak, which means it’s old news. Hey, we all wanted that thing to be dead. Let it be dead.
Kaufman: In his five years at Northside, Porter’s teams are 17-32.
Porter: I haven’t felt like I had a complete team. But kids compete, they’re proud to play. It ain’t the old days where I’m hiding my shirt. You know, they go out and compete.
Music: Take Me Higher by Jahzaar
Porter: So yeah, I don’t know where I would be without that streak. I mean, it made me a stronger person. I genuinely believe that. But I see the struggle in bad teams. I always look for that kid on a bad team that is just balling and going hard. Because I just like: that’s a good football player. That kid’s going to give you what he’s got, all the time. And almost every time, I make it a point to go find that kid, and almost every time, he’s a good kid. Just a really good kid that just likes to play football, and it reminds me, I guess, of myself. Except some of those guys I think are better athletes [laughs].
Cheerleaders: S-P-I-R-I-T — Spirit, we’ve got spirit! We got it!
Kaufman: The Panthers were blown out in about half their games this season. And next year it’ll be a decade since that undefeated record and state playoff run. But they’ve got good players on the way, and they’ve got a coach who knows how to not look at the scoreboard.
Michael Porter: You know, it’s rough to have to go through that, but, you know, if you do, don’t worry, it ain’t going to last forever. I don’t feel like I’m still losing.
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Kaufman: Can’t Win 4 Losing is written, edited and produced by me, King Kaufman, with mastering and production help from Geoffrey Redick. Artwork by Chris Morris. Visit him at ChrisMorrisIllustration.com.
Our opening theme is Big Swing Band by Audionautix at Audionautix.com. The closing theme is “Can’t Win For Losing” by Johnny Rawls, courtesy of Deep South Soul Records. Visit him at Johnny RawlsBlues.com. You can buy his music and find out when he’s going to be playing near you.
Other music in this episode was by Kevin MacLeod. He’s at Incompetech.com and Jahzzar, that’s Javier Suarez. He’s at BetterWithMusic.com. We used it through Creative Commons licenses.
Thanks to Stephanie Stradley, Neal Farmer of the Touchdown Club of Houston, Lisa Gray, Mike Mazvinsky and Clare Palmer.
This is where I usually give you all of our website and social media handles but the one place I want you to go is to our Patreon. It’s at patreon.com/losing. That’s where you can make a financial pledge to help me create Season 2 of Can’t Win 4 Losing. The rewards start at just $3 a month. Please help keep independent media alive at patreon.com/losing.
If you’ve got a story about losing in your own life, call us up and tell it. We’ll give you fifty bucks if we use it. Just ask Jim Morfino. Go back to last week’s episode and listen to his story about growing up in the Bronx, and Fat Nick’s candy store in 1953. It’s worth your time. The phone number: 510-646-1082.
This episode of Can’t Win For Losing is Dedicated to Vinko Bogataj.
Announcer: Oh baby! What a terrible fall!