The oral history of Turnover Chucky, a wrestling belt and 'two claps and a Ric Flair'
NICEVILLE — Individually, Chucky and Ric Flair have nothing in common.
One’s arguably the best wrestler of all time — “the stylin', profilin', Rolex wearing, limousine riding, jet flying, kiss-stealing, wheelin' and dealin' son of a gun” who's held a world championship belt a record 16 times.
The other’s the murderous doll of the American slasher franchise, “Child’s Play.”
Somehow, through the brain trust of Niceville head coach Grant Thompson, "Juice” McNulty and defensive line coach Clint McCrory, Friday Nights on the Niceville sideline have forever changed because of a doll, a belt and “two claps and a Ric Flair."
This is the oral history of how the former two debuted a year apart on Friday the 13th and how all three came to define a Final Four run for the ages.
Thompson, who grew up watching Niceville football on the Hill and started at center in the last two years of Frank Sorrells’ lauded run at Niceville, is hired to replace John Hicks.
He immediately introduces the "two claps and a Ric Flair," followed by the trademark "Wooooo!"
“I’ve been doing that from Day 1,” Thompson said of the celebration coined by Sergio Brown during the Indianapolis Colts’ AFC championship run in 2015. “It’s just fun. Practice doesn’t just have to be rigid, so why can’t practice be fun too? We can work hard and grind and be mentally tough and make plays in practice, but there needs to be a celebration of that.”
Juice, having long witnessed a Chucky recruiting tradition take hold at the University of Florida, decides to order a Chucky doll unprompted and of his own volition.
“Really, I just wanted to provide some motivation to make a play on the defensive side,” Juice said. “It was before Friday the 13th and Crestview was the first game I brought it out. Everyone was excited.”
Well, almost everyone.
Keep in mind Juice is just a junior at the time who hasn’t made a name for himself at cornerback, so he doesn’t exactly have the clout to make executive decisions.
“I wasn’t sure about Chucky,” laughed Thompson, who does have the clout.
So that Sept.. 13th night, Chucky just a random prop being passed around the sideline at Crestview in the midst of a 24-13 win, Thompson is asked about the doll.
“When you see a great idea, even if you didn’t come up with it, you don’t want to take credit for it. That was all Juice," Thompson said. "But when people started asking me about it, I said “That’s Turnover Chucky. Why wouldn’t we have a Turnover Chucky?”
Ever since, every player responsible for a recovered fumble, interception or safety has triumphantly hoisted Turnover Chucky on the sideline.
Still just a motto behind the scenes for Niceville, "two claps and a Ric Flair" gains added importance as COVID-19 affects the way offseason practices are held.
“We’re in the weight room, guys social distancing and separated at opposite ends, so 'two claps and a Ric Flair' was how we communicated,” said co-offensive coordinator Adron Robinson, the 1989 Niceville grad who had 89 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in the 48-14 state title win in 1988 over Bradenton Southeast.
“It was a rallying cry.”
All it needed was a companion to become the definitive rallying cry on Friday Nights.
McCrory, Niceville’s defensive line coach, is a lifelong wrestling fan.
“Heel or hero, I love Ric Flair,” he said. “I was a little boy watching Ric Flair at the Farm Center in Dothan, Alabama. I was there watching Hulk Hogan when he was Terry “The Hulk” Boulder.”
So when Thompson brought the Nature Boy’s “Wooooo!” to the team, coach McCrory was thrilled over the nod to wrestling.
But he also had a bone to pick. There was an imbalance created by Turnover Chucky.
“I saw our defensive guys running around with a dang doll,” coach McCrory said. “The offensive guys thought it was cool and they needed something to get them going.”
So he spared no expense. Coach McCrory went to a business synonymous with class and opulence.
“We went to Walmart and got this plastic belt,” he laughed. “It was almost a zip tie.”
To be fair, that was just a backup plan.
Coach McCrory’s son, Will, had earlier that year seen a post-game interview with an MLB pitcher who’d just thrown a no-hitter. A championship belt was around the pitcher's waist as he sent a shoutout to the belt's maker, Undisputed Belts out of California.
Coach McCrory contacted the company, designed the maroon leather belt online and placed the order by Tuesday before Friday the 13th. It arrived on Thursday, the belt featuring the Flyin’ N center stage above “two claps and a Ric Flair,” and flanked by a Niceville helmet and a portrait of Flair.
The offensive players finally had their trophy: the Ric Flair TD Belt.
The idea was that the player scoring the touchdown would hoist the belt to the crowd and ask for “two claps and a Ric Flair.” Trey Wainwright was the first to break the belt in after a 65-yard touchdown run, the crowd in unison answering his request for "two claps and a Ric Flair."
Ever since Wainwright's score, part of a 56-20 region quarterfinal win over the rival Dawgs, not once has that Ric Flair “Wooooo!” not been answered by the maroon clad faithful.
“Now you have kids fighting to score, fighting to get the Chucky doll,” coach McCrory said. “It lights a fire underneath them.”
Added Thompson,” Competition is fun. It makes everything better.”
Juice, like many others on the Niceville sideline, was in love with the belt's design.
"The belt has Chucky beat," he laughed. "That thing is undefeated."
As for coach McCrory's selfless act, it didn't go unnoticed by his head coach.
“Here you have an offense with nothing, and coach McCrory is a defensive line coach leaving his side of the ball to provide this trophy for them," Thompson said. "That's pretty amazing.”
Last Friday, coach McCory saw about 10 similar wrestling belts in the crowd that had driven 700 miles roundtrip to Fleming Island for the region title.
In a 35-18 running-clock win, Preston Murphy, Michael Carruthers and Keylon Leno each hoisted Turnover Chucky.
Azareyeh Thomas hoisted the Ric Flair TD Belt twice and Shawn Parker, Roland Clay and Dom Annichiarico each once.
The Tradition was in full celebration as the 11-0 Eagles advanced to the Final Four with their 10th running-clock win, setting up Friday's 7A state semifinal with Edgewater at Eagle Stadium.
Now “two claps and a Ric Flair” is on billboards around town and every faculty meeting features the mantra.
“I did not envision this,” laughed Thompson. “It’s special, right?”