Woolgathering doesn’t quite define it. I wasn’t pleasantly lost in my thoughts…well…the triggering mechanism wasn’t pleasant. Word came that a former player has died and then Aretha left us the next day. Their deaths sent me down the metaphorical pig trails my wife often talks about. I never met Aretha but Pat…Pat played for me and deserved better from his former coach.
I see him with his arms crossed over an ample belly, chin on his chest, his helmet cocked back on his head during a break in practice. His head is cocked to the side as he listens to our diminutive offensive line coach pontificate. They share a joke, both belly laughing and after a bit of back slapping went on about their business. Seeing them in my mind is a prized memory.
He was a big youngster, playing offensive tackle, gregarious and fun-loving…except when he was trying to get in on the defensive side of the ball. A pest with a huge grin enveloping his whole face, “Come on Coach Miller, I can do this. I can make a play.”
He wasn’t the quickest kid, built for comfort not speed. I tended to put runners on the defensive side, nasty folk who could fly to the ball…he wasn’t a runner…nor was he a bird. He could be football nasty on occasion…and was.
Maybe I should have rethought my philosophy. In a goal-line situation, we sent him in to add a bit of beef on the line of scrimmage and he came up with a fumble recovery. I clearly see him running on to the field, chin and face mask jutting forward in determination, arms windmilling. Smiling, I see him fist pumping in celebration as he took his place in what had become the offensive huddle.
His junior year we caught lightning in a bottle six times and had our hearts broken four. The four losses were all heartbreakingly close and as their coach, I should have figured out a way to win a couple of them. The last one cost us a trip to the playoffs.
Six and four was the best we could muster during my four-year tenure…back when I thought I was a football coach. There is much guilt, regret and now sorrow associated with those years.
He is gone, stolen from us in the middle of the night. I’m still regretful…regretful I haven’t kept in contact. I forgot I coached kids, not football. He and the rest of them deserved better because winning was never the only thing.
My pride was hurt and according to the Bible, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” I don’t know about the haughty spirit, but pride made me push the memories aside. My “embarrassments” were placed in a mental “lockbox” and stored in a far corner of my mind. I turned a key and walked away thinking it would hurt less. “Out of sight, out of mind” meant the good recollections and warm feelings were locked away too.
There are too many good memories to hide them away…and too many good friends…the coaches and players. People I should still be in touch with. There is too little time to allow bad memories to overshadow the good.
Pat, I’m sorry it is too late for us. I’m sorry about your beautiful family and their pain. I know they are hurting. I know too, they will have wonderful memories to fall back on when they are ready.
The key has turned and the lid has opened flooding me with memories. The bad ones are still there but overshadowed by the good ones. Bad memories can be handled when you have so many warm ones.
Rest in peace Pat knowing you will be missed…and adored.
The image was stolen from https://www.escapeyourfateup.com/store/p3/Multi-Room_Experience.html
For more of Don Miller’s musings https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM