You know what's missing from this year's football?
There's plenty of football news, but that isn't of course the same thing. We've got head injuries and drug abuse and the latest spate of domestic violence.
But what we don't have is the game itself.
I know it sounds naïve, even corny, but for me, the changing color of the leaves and the corresponding football of the season always make me smile.
For me, football is all about nostalgia.
That's what's missing this fall, or at least that what's missing for me.
Thank goodness, then, for those kids at my local high school.
Today, in the little town center where I live, two guys on the team sat at a table in the low autumn sun and called me "sir". They were raising money for the high school football team. I could buy a discount card, they explained, and in showing my loyalty to my town and to the high school that it governs, I could both support the local football team and patronize at a bargain an impressive collection of pizza and ice cream shops.
I know it's corny. I know my friends will ridicule me for this piece. Hell, at the end of my freshman year in college, my dorm actually gave me an award for the "guy most likely to talk about high school football." (That's a true story.)
Nevertheless, it is worth noting this: football, for all the criticisms we might levy, is soundly and profoundly rooted in the authenticity of the past. When done well, at least as it is played in high school, football looks as good in black and white as it does in color. Whether I'm watching Leave it to Beaver or Friday Night Lights, I think of football. Its fundamental values are especially timeless.
Again, I know there are many who will object. Readers will understandably be quick to remind me of the off-field and often sordid behaviors that are sometimes associated with the game, but take a deep breath before you do that. Be fair. That's not what I'm talking about here, and you know it.
Honor, camaraderie, dignity, humility... even heroism. These are themes that might seem best suited for a summertime movie, but if you play football, and if you don't experience these things, then you aren't playing it right. I suppose one could argue that the same could be said about any team sport, but football is where hundreds of thousands of kids learn this stuff, and these lessons have never left me. These are the lessons that my coach, that my game, taught me.
So, this note is for the kids who are now facing what will likely be the last season, their last season. This note is for the seniors on the varsity team.
In other words, this note is for the kids who called me "sir" in front of the coffee shop today.
Every practice, every game, every time you open your locker and every time you wrap your hand with tape... just stop for a second. Don't stop for too long, but stop just long enough.
This is it, fellas. This is the last time you'll play this game.
This is the last time you'll make sure your shoulder pads are tight. This is the last time you'll sit on your front porch and clean your helmet after a game. This is the last season you'll take those monster hits, the ones you don't even see coming, and then you friends will help you back up.
This is the last season that you'll mob your buddies in that frenzied end-zone celebration.
This is the last time you'll play this game.
Call someone sir or ma'am.
Make yourself proud.
When you're old and crotchety, when you have bills to pay and when you get up early to have the house just to yourself for a least an hour before the chaos of the day begins, make sure you have memories that are good ones.
That's when you want to call out those memories.
That's why we play the game.