A Final Conversation on Football and Life

I recently started writing for a friend’s site, Rebel Storytellers. The stories are meant to spark hope and action for their readers. My first post, “A Final Conversation on Football and Life” details a heartfelt conversation I had with my father one year before his death. The perspective on football and life is striking.

A Final Conversation on Football and Life

The brisk October wind tickled the back of my neck as Dad and I strolled inside a small pizza restaurant located in downtown Sandusky, Ohio. A lone bartender nodded his head, sprayed Coke into a glass, and handed it to one of his few patrons. Dad and I followed a young hostess through a narrow front room full of neon signs and sports banners and into a larger room in the back. We reached our table and set our coats across the backs of wobbly stools. The hostess left, promising that our server would soon return with two Miller High Lifes.

I relaxed in my seat and listened to the room. Pool balls collided, an old jukebox sang a new tune, and—when I listened closely enough—the whispers of long ago football greatness wafted from the black and white memories framed and hung along the wall. Dad and I had been here before, maybe 15 years earlier. I was 27 now and much had changed, I thought, as I watched Dad drift through his own memories. His eyes, once vibrant, carried the soft sight of his slight sadness. Each breath seemed slower, more labored than it should. The once mighty NFL running back appeared to me defeated.

“Still a star,” I said in mocking reference to why we were sharing pizza in Sandusky. Earlier, the Great American Rivalry Series had honored him for his star play in the Fremont Ross vs. Sandusky High football rivalry from 1969-1971. Dad had received a plaque and acknowledgment on the field in a small ceremony just before kickoff.

“Still a smartass,” Dad said.

I tapped my High Life against his and beer bubbled to the top of the yellow-tinted bottle. I took my first sip, the beer a cool nightcap after a warm evening spent watching a football game with my father under Friday night’s brightest lights.

We sat together for maybe 90 minutes. Our words zigzagged but settled on football.

“I loved the game, Kelly. It didn’t matter to me if I was practicing in the hottest two-a-day in August or playing on a night like tonight, you know, when the air smells like fall and the grass feels cool, almost wet. Man!” Dad shook his head, then continued. “Even when I was on the operating table or getting my knees shot up so I could play—those were hard days, but I never wanted them to end.”

Silence stoked the bond between us until Dad spoke.

“And I don’t think I blinked and missed it or anything like that. It was a grind getting to the NFL. And I lived it all. I felt everything. Look at me, I still do.” Dad raised his hands to reveal 10 swollen fingers, all broken during his career and all now pointing in unnatural directions. “I guess I wonder if I appreciated it enough. Or did I take some moments for granted? Hell, I just miss the game.”

Dad died 13 months later. And although we spoke every week, this is one of our last heartfelt conversations. I know that Dad was right that night, not just about football but about life, too. Sometimes it isn’t until something (or someone) is lost that we finally think to ask ourselves, “Did I truly appreciate what I had or could I have appreciated it just a little more?”

 

 

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16 comments

  1. Hello Kelly, My husband is one of the Beier boys from Fremont, who played at St. Joe, was recruited to Michigan, and also coached high school football after college. Our three sons all played at St. Johns Jesuit and Michael continued on at Fordham, along with three of our grandsons participating in the sport. Thus the football thread has weaved it’s way though our lives. As I read your post I could hear pieces of the same conversation in our home. I am not quite sure how I landed on your post, but glad I did. You have a gift of writing…… keep up the good work!

    1. Hi Shari – Thank you for commenting. I certainly remember hearing stories of the “Beier Boys.” I think this is a conversation that most families with deeply rooted ties to sports can relate to – especially from the father and son. I’m glad you enjoyed and I look forward to sharing more stories in my pending book!

  2. Kelly, I remember your father playing for Michigan and the Denver Broncos. He played along side another individual from Ohio, Randy Gradaishire who was a friend of friend. Your moment with your dad is what the memories that we have of our parents are all about. Great article…!

    1. Michael, Thank you for your note. Yes, Randy was a teammate and friend on the Orange Crush Broncos of the 70s and 80s. You are right that these are the special moments we have and will carry with us. My full memoir discussing my relationship with my father is now available. More information is now on my site. There are many more stories like this one in the full book. Thank you again for the note!

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