Each week, I’ll be taking a look at the SEC Network’s programming and reviewing a show, or group of shows, giving my take on the network’s inaugural season. 

In my decision to review some SEC Network content, I was fully prepared to poke some fun at the network, pointing out mistakes or miscues from the sidelines. Well, at least in this case, that couldn’t be further from the outcome. I decided to take a look at “It’s Time”, an SEC Storied production along the lines of ESPN’s “30 for 30” series.

I had an idea of what the documentary was about, but I must admit I was not prepared for the story I was about to hear. Although I have been a fan of SEC football for as long as I can remember, I never had really heard the full story of Chucky Mullins and Brad Gaines.

Interestingly enough, I was watching the game film from Ole Miss and Vanderbilt’s game this past weekend before switching over to “It’s Time.” It opens up with Brad Gaines, a former Vanderbilt fullback, speaking about the day of that game in 1989. It’s amazing how a perfect day for football can quickly turn into a tragedy in just a matter of hours. Chucky Mullins was a defensive back for Ole Miss and on that fateful day, he made a play that would dislodge the ball from Gaines, and alter the two mens lives forever.  The hit that paralyzed Chucky Mullins was just the beginning of the story.  Gaines recalls his thoughts in the moments following that hit, it’s clear that the lives of everyone involved would be changed immeasurably from that moment forward.

The emotion on the faces of each person interviewed is palpable and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get choked up myself when Gaines recalls finding out what happened to Mullins for the first time. It is clear that the feelings he felt, that emotion, is as real today as it was over 20 years ago. A moment that he no doubt dwells on every day of his life.

But what quickly becomes apparent is that this isn’t the story of a tragic injury, but a story of an inspiring figure, a man who would touch the lives of untold people.  The hit, and the following injury was a catalyst for those men, among others, to bond, and to show everyone around them that there was more to life than football.  For a school that had a history of racism, the community stood together in it’s support for a player, regardless of his race, who needed a family. In the coming months and years, those who had provided support for Chucky Mullins, emotionally and financially, found that they were the ones who were receiving support and inspiration. He was just that type of man. A smile never far from his face, he inspired to the end, and even beyond. Chucky reminded all to never quit, and to do everything the right way, 100%.

In Mullins’ memory, Ole Miss gives out the Chucky Mullins’ Courage Award, presenting the player being honored with a number 38 jersey, a jersey that would be worn the following season.

Brad Gaines struggled with the injury, and ultimate death, of Chucky Mullins, quitting football because he could not find the same love he had for the game prior to that fateful moment. To this day, he drives over three hours both ways from his home to Mullins’ grave site to polish the headstone and to talk to his friend three times a year. The day of the hit, the day of Mullins’ death, and Christmas. Gaines sacrifices time with his own wife and kids because he believes that the day is so special, everyone should get to spend it with family, even if it is a brotherhood born in tragedy.

Throughout the doc, there are multiple shots of football action, and further shots highlighting campuses that stir feelings of pride for football in the south. It is huge on Fridays and even bigger on Saturdays. Football down here is like no other. It is almost a religion. But outside of the pageantry, outside of the football, we’re just all a bunch of people going through life at the same time. Men like Chucky Mullins make it clear that there are things more important than football. Both he and Brad Gaines loved football more than anything, until there wasn’t football anymore. We can all learn a lesson from these men. While we appreciate the game, and can’t imagine what Saturdays would be like without the tailgates, without the crowds, without the traditions, outside of all that, is the comradery we all feel as members of the same community. The same community that loves Saturdays in the south.

I am left feeling inspired by the doc, by the men who experienced a traumatic event, and became closer for it.  I can only hope that further inspiring stories are in the queue for the SEC Network, though I’m not sure this one can be topped. If you haven’t already, it is a must watch.