Funeral for a Friend

985a8414-2We all have that one friend, the one who brings the group together.  The friend who is the glue, the one that without, we wouldn’t be a group.  We come from all different backgrounds, yet this friend made us so comfortable, it was as if we had known one another forever.  When it all began, it was made clear that it was a terminal relationship. That friend was only going to be around for four years, and we knew it, but we all rallied in our denial and pretended that the end wouldn’t come.  And even after knowing for all of that time, the end hit us so hard, so fast, and just like that, it was over.  We said the final “good-bye” last week; farewell to Football.

Four years ago, we all came together, driving our kids to practice every day and then picking up the smelliest of all creatures afterward.  Our laundry increased exponentially, as did our food bills. We bonded over the life we had all taken on when our sons became football players because when your son joins the team, the parents join their own team. It becomes a lifestyle rather than simply an event.  We sat in the stands together, cheering on those boys through sun, rain, sleet, and snow.  Postal workers have nothing on a football mom.  We spent so much time together from tailgates to banquets to meeting at local establishments after the games. We shared our frustrations, our smiles, our tears.  We watched these boys become young men, eventually driving themselves to practices and games, needing us a little less with each season.  Still, we clung to each moment we did have, wanting it to last forever.

They were The Boys of Fall.  Those gangly little freshmen walked into that locker room that first day, scared of the unknown but excited to be a part of this great club.  Many of them did not know one another, but they became real close real quickly.  That first summer consisted of hours upon hours together on the field, and it didn’t stop there.  You’d think they would have wanted a break from one another, but that wasn’t at all the case.  Every weekend, it was pizza and poker in the basement.  Someone once asked me if it bothered me to buy pizza every single week, and I replied that no, someday I would miss it. I already do.  They went to haunted houses and apple orchards.  They went out to eat after the games.  This Band of Brothers grew.  They were like brothers, too. They fought like brothers, grew frustrated with one another like brothers, but they always had one another’s back like brothers.  They loved like brothers.  They formed bonds that will continue through life all because of that common friend, Football.

Just like that, senior year arrived.  As the season rolled by, we avoided the inevitable.  Senior night was postponed due to weather, and it was actually a bit of a relief. We weren’t ready that night. And then we realized that we never really were going to be ready. The day came, we lined up with our young man, carnation in hand, and strolled out on the field arm in arm.  We all smiled ear to ear, while inside we ached.  With a deep breath, we continued off the field and prepared to watch the game.  At least it wasn’t the last game.  We had one more week.

Then the final game day arrived. The first three quarters rolled by without much thought, but when the clock began ticking off the seconds of that final quarter, we watched the life slip away from our dear friend, the friend who brought us all together four years ago.  There was nothing anyone could do to extend the life; it was over.  The clock buzzer sounded, like a monitor signaling the ceasing of a heartbeat, and the tears began.  Parents and players alike choked back the sobs, and we forced painful smiles at one another as we exited the stadium. Our friend had died.

Looking back, though, we are grateful for what we did have in those four years.  We formed friendships we probably would not have otherwise made.  We grew to know and love so many young men and their families.  We had an opportunity to be a part of this sport, this lifestyle.  We watched our boys learn so much more than fundamentals. They learned about character, integrity, grit, perseverance, and teamwork.  They learned to never give up, to fight through adversity, and to push beyond limits they never knew they had. For that, we are so proud.

As with any funeral, it is a time of reflection. We remember the good times and everything that made that relationship great.  We smile through the tears at the wonderful memories, and we know that we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Goodbye, Football.  Thanks for everything.

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