My father, Gene Austin, was a football player. I, of course, never knew him as such. He was born in 1915 and was 41 years old when I was born. But I did hear about his playing days from time to time. Those were happy memories for him.
One of my father’s aunts who had no children of her own followed his football career faithfully. She made this word collage for him before such things were considered popular. My dad always cherished it. It is now almost falling apart, but it hangs on the wall of our son’s room.
After only one year of college, Daddy came home and coached some teams. After that, Daddy worked as a football referee for over fifty years. He loved the game more than anyone else I know. It was a huge part of his life and he knew the game inside and out. He had no male family member to pass this along to, until….
Our son was also a football player. His freshman year in high school the team won the state championship. Mark got to “go in” at the end of a few sure-win games, and that time on the field was as exciting to him as the state championship ring he received at the end of the season.
Sadly my dad attended only one of Mark’s high school football games. It was a big rivalry game and one of only two that freshman year in which Mark did not get on the field at all. Still the excitement over being there and the important win for Mark’s team was thrilling to Daddy. Then, that October, my dad passed away.
We lamented the fact that Daddy couldn’t see the boys win State. Or that he couldn’t follow Mark through the rest of his high school football career. Yet the advice Daddy left with Mark served him well, and he felt his granddaddy’s presence with him through the next three long lean years when his team won only two games. Yes, only two victories in three years, and one of them was a forfeit.
Fortunately there were other benefits, lessons learned along the way. Playing as a team, never giving up, and, at last, a victory in the very last game of Mark’s high school year. Nothing like going out on top! And we always said that Daddy was looking down from above, whispering advice in Mark’s ear, and shining down on #66, sharing his love of the game.