I am the story teller.
Gather round all and listen to my tale.
Football’s Defining Moment
August 1975. We were in the midst of two-a-days—practice early morning and practice late afternoon. I had grass stains underneath my eyelids and cleat marks on my heart, liver, and kidneys . . .
You see, I’d had the brilliant idea to join my high school football team, a tall but skinny sophomore not exactly fleet of foot who’d never played organized sports. I felt like a scarecrow in one of the cornfields Sherman burned on his infamous march to Atlanta.
At first my father joked about the smell of horse liniment as I rubbed Ben Gay on my sore muscles. Unfortunately I didn’t have any salve to sooth my bruised ego or an Ace bandage to wrap around my sprained confidence.
As much as I loved the sport, I was beginning to think football was dumb.
On most days my father swung by the high school and picked me up after practice. He knew I was struggling but he held his tongue. As usual. My father was so laconic he made Clint Eastwood look like a chatterbox.
Finally, after a particularly rough afternoon on the field, he told me, “It’s okay, Tim. You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. I won’t think any less of you.” A long silence followed as he drove through town.
My father quit only two things in his life: smoking and the desk job he came to hate. Yet here he was giving me permission to toss in the towel.
I suppose some guys would’ve acted angry and defensive, and some would’ve jumped at the chance to throw their hands up right then and there and walk away. I felt a tremendous weight lift from my shoulders.
My father had given me permission to fail.
Strangely, that provided the spark I needed to hang tough. It wasn’t to prove him wrong. I didn’t need to prove to him that I could do it.
Knowing that he wouldn’t think any less of me if I couldn’t cut it on the football field allowed me to succeed. Well, succeed in this case meant survive, though I did get better, and confidence returned, and I played through my senior year.
My father died in the fall of 2000. Like everyone, I have regrets, and one is never telling him that twenty-five years earlier he’d provided me with a defining moment. As soon as his words settled in my mind, I knew I wouldn’t quit. My confidence and determination popped up from the field as if that linebacker’s hit hadn’t hurt at all. I brushed the grass from my eyes. I ignored the cleat marks. I knew I wouldn’t be run off.
My father had given me a game plan that carried me far from football. It was okay to try something new. And it was okay to be afraid because, of course, in the beginning that is what I was.
As I told my own teenage son when he was struggling, “It’s okay to fail. I won’t think any less of you.”
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