I was born during an Alabama game. I have a Polaroid photograph of my father wearing scrubs and surgical cap.
The photo is faded. He’s eating spaghetti, nose pressed against a television which sits in the corner of a delivery room.
It happened like this: my mother called him from her delivery-room phone. He was at work.
“I’M IN LABOR!” she said in all caps.
And, like any proud, soon-to-be father, he jumped in his truck and broke the sound barrier to get to the hospital in time for kickoff.
Alabama was playing Illinois. It would be the Bear’s farewell game. I was born during the fourth quarter.
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. My father passed twelve years later.
I don’t want to talk about the particulars because this is New Year’s Day. And while I write this, Alabama has just won the Sugar Bowl.
The day after my father’s death, I quit watching sports altogether. Even baseball. In fact I didn’t do much after he died, except stare. I was good at staring.
One day, my uncle arrived on our porch with tickets in hand. “You wanna go to a football game?” he said.
“No,” was my response. I was a very busy boy, I had a lot of staring to do.
My mother shoved me out the door. “He’d love to go,” she pointed out.
It was a long drive. We picked up my friend, Danny, who had irritable mouth syndrome—he could talk the wires off telephone poles.
Thus, we sat on my uncle’s tailgate while Danny talked. And talked. And talked. And it was the worst day of my life, second only to my first colonoscopy.
My uncle stood at a grill, poking a hamburger.
“How ya want your burger?” he asked. “Medium-well, or boot leather?”
I didn’t crack a smile.
You can’t blame an uncle for trying.
Throughout the game, Big Mouth Danny and my uncle got along famously. They shouted during touchdowns. They chatted about coaches, point-spreads, and bad calls.
I stared straight through the field.
Later that night, my uncle carried me home. It was cold and dark. We were quiet. I thanked him, then hopped out of the vehicle without saying anything more than, “Good night.”
He stepped out of his truck and hollered, “I miss him, too, you know.”
I could see his outline in the glow of the headlights. I’ll never forget it.
At any rate, I promised I wouldn’t make you sad. So I’ll tell you this:
When I got married. It was my father-in-law who invited me to an Iron Bowl party. There were cheese dips, hams, and dangerous amounts of shellfish.
I sat outside, watching a small television, staring through it.
My father-in-law manned a grill and said, “How ya want your burger?”
He removed his crimson cap and placed it on my head. He said, “Start talking, boy, or I’m gonna deep fry you.”
“You GOTTA talk to me, you know,” he said, “You’re wearing MY hat.”
And he helped me use my voice again. And he helped me get over a staring habit. They buried him in that hat.
So you must understand that when I say what I’m about to say, it has nothing to do with a football game Alabama won tonight.
It’s about a lot more than football. It’s about the good men who brought me back to life again.
Roll tide. Roll.