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Don Hansen's Football Gazette Blog of information, comments, notes, and tidebits on Small College Football. NCAA 1-AA & Mid Major, Division II & Mid Major, Division III, NAIA, and NCCAA

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

One last cheer from proud dad on the sidelines

Rob Kasper/Baltimore Sun
Today I wrap up my career as a football dad, a guy who sits in the stands on Saturdays cheering for his offspring. Our younger son, a senior at Johns Hopkins, straps on his helmet for the last time as the Blue Jays take on the McDaniel Green Terror in the final game of the year this afternoon at Homewood Field.

In some ways, the experiences of being a sideline parent are the same regardless of the sport being played. Over the years of watching my two sons play various sports, the four horsemen of emotion - pride, elation, frustration and worry - have often kept me company.

When your kid plays football, however, you have to come to grips with the fact that collisions, planned and unplanned, are central to the game. "They all go down in a pile," I recall one middle school mother saying years ago as we watched our sons play their first football game. "But as long as they all get up, I am OK."

It is a mantra I have silently repeated to myself a few times this year as my son's body disappeared from view under some 300-plus-pound opposing lineman. But my kid would emerge from the pile seemingly unscathed, sometimes getting credit for a tackle, which in the world of defensive linemen, is a prize.

Today's game is Division III football, where there are no athletic scholarships, where there are always plenty of free seats on game day, and where the members of the spirited John Hopkins Pep Band are volunteers.

It is not big-time college football, but it is big enough. The players are skilled, serious and far from tiny, a fact that was reinforced when I wandered onto the practice field a few weeks ago. There, in the deepening dusk, I looked around for my "little boy" and all I could see were square-shouldered giants. Eventually I found him. But as I was standing next to him, with the sweat pouring off him, I had a hard time believing that not so long ago, when he was a toddler, I used to carry him up three flights of stairs. Now I couldn't lift his leg.

After several highly successful seasons, the Blue Jays have struggled this fall. They need a win today to finish at 5-5. All of the games have been tight; the outcome was often determined late in the fourth quarter. This tightrope walk has made for a series of drama-filled, if sometimes disappointing, Saturday afternoons.

Beyond the wins and losses, playing college football has been good for my kid. It is hard work, requiring discipline and time management skills. Even with all the work, there is no guarantee of playing time. The level of competition is high. My son did not see much action until he was a senior. Now he is one of a series of players rotated in the middle of the defensive line.

Still he stuck with it and liked it. Many of his friends are on the team. Several of them live in a Charles Village rowhouse. They help each other out. A few weeks back when my son had a job interview, one of his housemates, tight end Kevin Smith, lent him a suit. When my son wanted to move a large box spring and mattress up several flights of stairs, Chris Whitehorn, another defensive lineman who has been knocked out of football action with knee problems, lent my son his truck and a hand with the move.

In the academically demanding and sometimes-frosty environment of college, the football boys have found fellowship. High school rivalries, which loom large in Baltimore, lose much of their edge in college. For instance, back when my son was playing high school ball for St. Paul's, wide receiver Anthony Triplin was playing for Gilman and was regarded as "the enemy." But in college, the two have become teammates and friends.

After looking at colleges up and down the East Coast and spending his freshman year at Dickinson in Carlisle, Pa., my kid ended up at a campus so close to our home that I sometimes ride a bike to the home games. Parents of other players, however, travel considerable distances. Brian Cook's family is one of many clans that drive down from Pennsylvania, Zach Rupert's parents fly in from Ohio, Anthony Woodard's dad motors in from Virginia. It's what football dads, and some moms, do on game day.

My wife is not a fervent football fan. Last weekend, for instance, she worked a crossword puzzle while sitting next to me as Hopkins beat Hampden-Sydney. She was concentrating so hard on completing the puzzle, the difficult Saturday New York Times version, that she missed Mark Nesbitt's game-clinching touchdown. She did ride along with me in mid-October to Gettysburg, Pa. For her, the highlight of that outing was the halftime performance by the Gettysburg College marching band.

For me, the Gettysburg game was frustrating. In the fourth quarter, the Blue Jays were moving toward the end zone and it looked as if they were either going to score a touchdown or rely on kicker Ben Scott's foot to knock through yet another field goal. But there was a fumble, Gettysburg pounced on it and to its credit marched down the field and put the game away.

I was bummed. But I often take the outcome of a game too seriously. It is, after all, an extracurricular activity, a part of the college experience, a pleasant way to spend an autumn afternoon.

James and Will Margraff seem to have the right perspective. They are the young sons of the Hopkins head football coach. At every game, they get their hands on a football and play catch. At halftime of the Gettysburg game, for instance, their mom, Alice, was throwing them passes. Those boys and their dad have a lot of football adventures ahead of them. But for me and the other parents of senior players, today is our last chance to hurrah. (Editor's Note: Johns Hopkins defeated McDaniel, 48-7)


  • At 1:29 PM, Blogger Maddog said…

    CATS IN THE CRADLE - Harry Chapin

    My child arrived just the other day
    He came to the world in the usual way
    But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
    He learned to walk while I was away
    And he was talkin' 'fore I knew it, and as he grew
    He'd say "I'm gonna be like you dad
    You know I'm gonna be like you"

    And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
    Little boy blue and the man on the moon
    When you comin' home dad?
    I don't know when, but we'll get together then son
    You know we'll have a good time then

    I've long since retired, my son's moved away
    I called him up just the other day
    I said, "I'd like to see you if you don't mind"
    He said, "I'd love to, Dad, if I can find the time
    You see my new job's a hassle and kids have the flu
    But it's sure nice talking to you, Dad
    It's been sure nice talking to you"

    And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
    He'd grown up just like me
    My boy was just like me

    And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
    Little boy blue and the man on the moon
    When you comin' home son?
    I don't know when, but we'll get together then son
    You know we'll have a good time then

    As the rest of the team departed the football field on this crisp November day in Minneapolis, my oldest son remained behind kneeling on the field with his head bowed. Mike had just completed his final collegiate football game, a 44-14 victory. I walked towards him to give him my traditional post-game hug. For the last 8 years, I had watched a chubby, high school freshman mature into a strong, complete team leader.
    What a journey !! From that first practice, where he didn’t have a clue what or how to play football, to a complete, all-league warrior defensive end at the collegiate level. 8 years of going to every game and walking onto his battlefield for our pre-game prayer. We never prayed for victory but for protection from injuries for all the participants and strength and energy to bring glory to the Father. 8 years of driving & flying all over this country to see God’s master plan unfold in Mike’s life. At this moment in time, I was filled with pride but more joy !!

    You see, if it wasn’t for the Lord, who knows if I would have ever seen this or Mike’s life wouldn’t have turned in another direction. 15 years ago, I was an addict consumed with the world and its offerings. I had become a man just like my father. The boys were still young when I asked God, if you are real, to hit me a 2 x 4. God answered my prayer and transformed me into a man that seeks the truth. I became a new man in Christ Jesus.

    As I stood above my son kneeling on the field, he rose to greet me with that big, broad smile and tears rolling down his cheeks. He had grown to a large man and he wrapped his large arms around me and hugged me tightly. We cried together, holding each other tightly. He thanked me for always being there, from the first day until today. My heart was overwhelmed with joy & pride for the young man that I got another chance with. I could have lost it all but through the grace of God, I experienced a lifetime of joy in this moment.

    Nothing against my father, because I loved him, but my son had become just like me, the new, transformed, filled with Christ, me !!


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