College Football Saturdays: The Empty Chair

Gray GhostSenior Writer ISeptember 8, 2008

It washed over me again this weekend as I was watching my Georgia Bulldogs play football. It was that unexpected wave of inner emotion that always leaves me flooded with memories of days gone by.


In a moment that was driven more by reflex than by conscious thought, I turned to say something to my Dad about the game, and I felt that piercing realization that he was gone.


His chair was empty, and the silence was deafening.


Pop (as we boys called him) passed away several years ago from Waldenström's macroglobulinemia. That’s a $25 dollar word for a multi-million dollar disease. Plain and simple, it is cancer of the bone marrow.


As a boy, he was a star running back at Savannah High School, and was good enough to be offered a scholarship to Georgia Tech.


When I was young, and before I had learned of his gridiron exploits, I remember him smiling at Mom and singing “You’ve got to be a football hero to get along with the beautiful girls!” Mom would smile back, and we kids would laugh.


It wasn’t until after I was grown that I realized how much of a “football hero” this humble man had really been. Searching the newspaper archives took me on a journey of discovery, and I felt as though I had been transported back in time.


There he was, in article after article, applauded for leading his team to another win.


As for the scholarship, Pop turned it down, married his high school sweetheart on Christmas Day, and, like so many boys of his generation, went off to war. He came home a man, and worked like one the rest of his life.


But not on Saturdays! Those were reserved for fishing and college football. We would plot our viewing strategy during the week, and then settle in on Saturday to watch the game together.


Pop was always amused at how animated I would get about a call or a bad play, and he would invariably share some insight into the situation that would bring my blood pressure back to normal. He taught me to recognize good football, regardless of which team was playing.


A father and his son. It doesn’t get any better than that. Those Saturdays together made us lifelong friends.


When Pop’s health was getting worse, and I knew he was slipping away, I would drive the 70 miles to Savannah just to enjoy the time we had left. I can’t remember who was playing in the last game we watched together. At that point, every game was a big one.


He left us in the middle of the season.


I missed him yesterday, and I would trade a lifetime of tailgating, and a seat on the 50-yard line of every championship game I could ever see, just for one more Saturday of college football with the greatest man I have ever known.


I hope you enjoy college football this season, and remember that there are some things more important than the BCS rankings.


Do not take for granted the unspeakable gift of being with the ones you love. Enjoy the togetherness that makes every game a special one.