Friday, June 19, 2009

for the record, Dad's great

I said a "blog-free" weekend, and I meant it. Since it's Father's Day on Sunday, I'm being a self-promoter and pulling an old Father's Day column from a few years ago.

Thanks everybody, and have a good one.

Dads pass on more than love of sports to children

Will Heath

Nearly everyone remembers the night they fell in love for the first time. For me, it happened in elementary school. I know most people can't fall in love in elementary school; most people aren't even sure what love is in elementary school.

Still, that's what happened.

Back then, my dad and I were going to football games every Friday night in the fall at old Senior Stadium in Eufaula. I'm almost positive they don't use that place anymore. Which is really too bad.

Anyway, back in those days, Eufaula's head coach was a guy named Wayne Woodham, and its biggest rival was the vexing Smiths Station. Both of them always found a way to ruin Eufaula's season every year.

The best player in those days was a do-everything cat with a surprisingly generic name: Fred Smith. Some Auburn fans (although probably only the real die-hards) might remember Smith, vaguely. He played four unremarkable seasons on The Plains, mostly as a nickel back (if I'm not mistaken, he ran back an interception for a TD against LSU in 1994 … then again, so did everyone in the stadium).

At Eufaula, though, Smith was unequivocally the man. He played quarterback, ran back punts, played all over the field on defense, sold popcorn at the concession stands and directed the band at halftime. If I'm not mistaken, he showed up to every game on Friday with a giant cape on his back, which he used to drag his teammates all over the field.

Fred's greatest moment - and one of the greatest moments of my young life as a fan - was the night I fell in love. With football.

See, Fred separated his shoulder that night in Eufaula against Smiths Station, with the area title on the line. Dad says he can still remember seeing Fred holding his arm up in the air between plays, trying to relieve the pain.

The game went to overtime. There was a sense of fear and trepidation from our seat in the bleachers. Smiths was going to win. They always won.

Still, I can see Fred trotting out onto the field to start the extra period, left arm hanging limply at his side.

As I've grown older, him staying in the game becomes more unbelievable. How can anyone compete with that kind of pain?

But Fred did. In fact, not only did he score the go-ahead touchdown in overtime, he intercepted a Smiths Station pass on the Panthers' possession to preserve a victory.

I think we skipped home that night.

You could say that I'm sitting at this desk now because of that night.

I owe that to my dad. Back in those days, we didn't have any relatives on the team or anything like that. In fact, the only connection I had to any of the football players was that my first girlfriend's older brother was the backup quarterback. I think, anyway.

Still, we were there every Friday night we could be. And we watched every Saturday as well. I can still remember nearly hitting my head on the blades of the ceiling fan after my dad lifted me up in the air when Philip Doyle connected from 50 to beat Tennessee.

We're nearly 20 years and several towns removed from those nights at Senior Stadium in Eufaula. But we still talk on the phone a lot. And nearly every conversation winds up being about sports (even if it's after we've discussed things like mortgage payments and whole life insurance).

I learned nearly everything about how to be a sports fan from my dad.

I learned that it's OK to be passionate, to live and die with your favorite teams, but that's it's never OK to let that passion define you as a human being - the games are fun, but they're not life.

For that, I can only thank him. Hopefully I can pass that down to my kids someday.