I believe in savoring the moment. I believe in stopping to recognize when a milestone in your life is passing you by, even if it’s only stopping for a second or two, and only to silently acknowledge that moment to yourself.
I played football all through high school, at a small single-A school in southern Illinois. The Carmi Bulldogs was not a great team in my four-year era. Honestly, you couldn’t even call us “good”: My senior year, our record was 4-5, and that was the best we ever did. Even still, my buddy, Jason, my co-captain of the team, the strong-side tackle to my strong-side guard on the offensive line, absolutely loved playing. We lived for the Friday night lights, and dreaded the Saturday morning practice, which usually started with us watching tape from the previous night’s game. “The eye in the sky does not lie,” Coach Wicks would yell, emphasizing the rhyming of the phrase, and he would grill us over our video-captured fumbles, missed passes, missed blocks, and missed tackles.
But like I said, Jason and I absolutely loved playing. We showed up to practice every Monday convinced that this week was the week we would turn it all around. Each week, we battled side by side on the line of scrimmage, regularly getting our proverbial lunches handed to us.
Our last game was an away game against Christopher-Benton Township, a game we actually won pretty handily.
I don’t remember the bus ride home that night. I don’t remember clearing out my locker. The last thing I remember from that night is sitting on the tailgate of Jason’s truck, and us talking for a long time after our teammates had left. We talked about football, we chatted about school, we said anything we could think of. We just kept talking, with our home football field sitting behind us, like it was a perfectly framed scene in a movie. We eventually ran out of things to say, but we just sat there and kept talking nonetheless. I don’t remember which one of us actually said it out loud first, but we finally acknowledged why we didn’t want to leave: Once we got in our vehicles and drove out of the lot, then that would be it. Our football careers, as underwhelming as they might have been, would officially be over. An important era in our lives would be finished. So instead of leaving, we sat there in the brisk autumn night air, savoring the moment.
That moment passed when Jason’s girlfriend pulled into the parking lot. Jason leaned over to me and very seriously, quietly said, “Hey man, you mind getting out of here? I think we’re gonna go spend some time together.”
I knew the significance of the time Jay and I had just spent together, but I also knew that the lure of a pretty girl trumps everything. I briefly greeted her, said my goodbyes, and got in my car and drove away; treasuring the last time I’d drive by the field as a gridiron player.
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