'He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother'

Glenn Franco Simmons@fotodifrancoAnalyst IMay 28, 2009

1984:  Portrait of Jack Youngblood #85 of the Los Angeles Rams as he sits on the sideline during a 1984 NFL game.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

I do not mean to be overly sentimental, but hear me out, as I attempt to regain that passion for sports I lost when my dad, Lee, died in December.

He was my last sports buddy.

His loss has been devastating.

Sixteen years earlier, I lost my other sports buddy, my brother Mario.

My dad taught me to throw a 40-yard spiral to softly land in the receivers' "sweet spot" on the dead run; only problem was, I was allergic to grass and had to stop playing football.

I would have given anything for the rubberized fields of today.

That's why football is my favorite sport. Perhaps I still see myself as a would-be Joe Montana or Steve Young, even though I'll soon be 50 and my hip hurts and my knees are shot.

Who says sports is rational?

My dad inspired me to try to be the best, but when you aren't, to be the one who hustled the most.

That's why he whistled his outlandishly loud whistle whenever my hustle drove me to dive after balls—scrapes, bruises and all.

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My Dad taught this skinny kid to be the one who charged the key before the defender set, knocking him on his butt, and laying it in for a banked two plus a foul.

One time, my dad was shocked when he saw me dive for an errant pass into a line of rival cheerleaders.

Hey, all is fair in love and war, eh?

For that, I sustained the kicks, pinches and taunts that came with it from those gentle "creatures," only to have one of my twin daughters then become a cheerleader at this same high school in the same uniform nearly 20 years later.

I found myself cheering for the blue and white of the Huskies, as I reluctantly shed the red and green of the Loggers, as I was then this town's weekly newspaper editor.

God must have a sense of humor.

At that arch-rival school, my son became a star basketball player—much better than I ever was—and my other twin daughter a multi-sport athlete.

This was at the same high school where, as a crushing and bruising defensive end who attracted college scouts, my brother created a melee in enemy territory.

With a lightning-fast, deceptive move that preceded an unblocked, legal and devastating hit, my brother broke the arm of that same arch-rival's star quarterback in the 1970s.

Dashed were that team's hopes of a championship and state playoffs.

For that crushing reality, he was attacked by a mob as he trotted off field.

He got the better of them, as Jack Youngblood, his idol, would have done.

Youngblood, who once shook my brother's hand and thereby immortalized it in our household, would have been proud of my brother.

Rey Maualuga, who played for the same high school as my brother, would have admired my brother's ferocity, as my brother would have admired Rey.

About 13 years after that melee and circumstances that prevented my brother from having a future football career, I wrote many stories of games played and I shot thousands of photos on the same field my brother was once attacked on.

Life is filled with ironies, eh?

My dear brother was also my sports nemesis.

He was an L.A. Rams, Dodgers and Lakers fan.

His teams almost always beat mine, but I got revenge when the Warriors won it all.

I remember calling him after the Giants Joe Morgan hit that homer in the early 1980s, destroying the Dodgers' destiny of that year.

And then my beloved 49ers took fire.

The rest is history.

While my brother was in the hospital for months with a terminal illness in the early 1990s, I remember telling him, "It will be OK, but my 'Niners will still kick your ass."

He smiled, but shook his head "no."

For the second time in my life, I saw tears stream from my brother's eyes as he said, "Glenn, I'm gonna die. Keep writing. You're good. You made me proud."

Goose bumps and tears.

In two hours, he succumbed to a coma from which he never awakened.

The brother I could not play on the same team with in pick-up basketball and football games in our neighborhoods because we were too good together became the brother for whom I cleaned daily with my dad as he lay dying in a hospital bed.

In his mid-30s, he died a slow, agonizing death.

When my dad and I agonizingly watched and heard his last, long exhale, my dad closed his eyelids.

I wrapped my dad in a bear hug as I am huge compared to my late dad, just as I did when we pulled the plugs on my mother and she took her last breath.

I said a Bahai prayer, and then my silly sense of humor got the best of me.

I said, "At least he won't have to see the Rams run out of L.A."

Call it a premonition. Within two or three years, the Rams were in St. Louis.

Now I am less than 10 minutes from the 49ers in Santa Clara.

I am very close to Candlestick and Pac Bell Park.

After all those years of being too far away geographically to see my teams play, I'm here without my buddies.

I'm trying to find the passion.

This post—two times my usual length—was prompted not for your pity, but to share a story that I hope touches you personally for the sake of you and those whom you love.

It occurred because I'm converting all of my CDs to iPod at last, since I am now the one quite ill, and it's about all I can do.

A song by The Hollies came on, but please let me digress momentarily.

My brother was a big man, with a bigger heart, and my mom must have bought the heaviest casket she could find.

When two of four casket-bearers could not carry their weight on my side, I took up the load in front.

Here are the lyrics to the song, "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother":

The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows where
But I'm strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain't heavy, he's my brother

So on we go

His welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bear
We'll get there

For I know
He would not encumber me
He ain't heavy, he's my brother

If I'm laden at all
I'm laden with sadness
That everyone's heart
Isn't filled with the gladness
Of love for one another

It's a long, long road
From which there is no return
While we're on the way to there
Why not share

And the load
Doesn't weigh me down at all
He ain't heavy he's my brother

He's my brother
He ain't heavy, he's my brother

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