Sam Venable 

Department of Irony

Heads? Tails? Where?In more than 40 years of officiating high school football, Benny Blackstock has pretty much seen it all.

Horribly busted plays that go for a long touchdown. Cupcake passes inexplicably dropped. Missed blocks. Muffed tackles. Wrong-way punt returns. Wildly caroming pigskins graphically illustrating the term “that’s the way the ol’ ball bounces.”

But Blackstock says the Number One entry in his list of bizarre on-the-field experiences occurred before an opening kickoff.

“Craziest coin toss in the history of the game,” he said with a broad grin.

You may know the event of which I speak. You may even have seen it on YouTube. If not, Google “Jerry Rice coin toss” and prepare to laugh yourself to tears.

This occurred August 27, 2011, at the much-heralded Alcoa-Maryville game. Maryville prevailed 26-19, breaking Alcoa’s 44-game winning streak.

The buildup to this contest was huge. For a solid week, it’d been hyped via local newspapers, radio and TV. The aforementioned Rice—pro Hall of Fame receiver with perhaps the greatest set of hands the modern game has ever witnessed—was selected to flip the coin.

“He did more than flip it,” Blackstock recalled. “He launched it.”

The 50-cent piece went so high, it got lost in the bright sunshine. Thus ensued a spirited search by everyone, not the least of which was Referee Blackstock.

“We couldn’t find it!” he said. “It flat-out disappeared! Finally, one of the Maryville players said, ‘I think it went down my shirt’.”

As you can see by watching YouTube, the vanishing act catches everybody off guard. Rice nearly falls over with the giggles as Blackstock digs furiously, albeit fruitlessly, in the back of the player’s jersey.

“That was the only coin I had,” Blackstock said. “There wasn’t anything to do but ask if anybody else had one. The TV camera guy reached in his pocket and dug one out. Just as Jerry was about to flip again, the kid said, ‘I think it just fell out’.”

Indeed, it had. Somehow the coin dislodged from hiding and came tumbling to the turf at the player’s feet. Blackstock quickly waved everyone aside and peered into the grass.

“Maryville had called tails, and that’s what it was. I hollered, ‘TAILS!’ Maryville wanted to receive the ball, and so we were able to start the game. I sure didn’t want to go through another coin toss like that. Ever.”

Blackstock was a tough-as-a-pine-knot, 145-pound blocking back under Coach John Clabo at Knoxville’s Young High School, 1960-62. Reminiscing, he wonders if the 2011 fluke wasn’t simply par for the course.

“I often called the toss for Young during my senior season,” he sighed. “We went 4-6 that year.” 

Sam Venable is an author, entertainer, and columnist for the Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel. He may be reached at