My Dad, Myself, and Sports

Joel Barker@joelabarkerSenior Writer IJune 20, 2009

I was introduced to sports at a very early age. I can remember my first exposure to baseball being through baseball cards, and the putrid 1988 Atlanta Braves. My first exposure to my beloved UT Vols was right around the same time. They happened to be awful in 1988 as well.

I can remember cheering for Michael Jordan in 1989 with the Chicago Bulls. I was a big time fan of the 49ers and Joe Montana as well. Dale Murphy was the man on the diamond, and it was all about Chuck Webb for the Vols.

Sure, there was a time of being a frontrunner, or a fairweather fan, but I was six-years-old, so it was allowed. And I figure with the Braves being so awful back then I deserved to pull for a real winner.

Of all those names and teams one thing will always stick out in my mind about my introduction to the world of sports—my dad.

My dad grew up a Tennessee football fan. I did not know I was supposed to hate Alabama or anything Crimson red until he told me Alabama was our biggest rival.

I'll never forget the time he entered a contest at JC Penney to guess the score of the Tennessee vs. Alabama game in 1993. The closest to the actual score would win a Tennessee or Alabama shirt of their choosing.

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Tennessee had not defeated Alabama since 1985 at the time. My dad wrote down 17-15, Tennessee. And that was the score until David Palmer scored the two-point conversion at the end of an 83 yard, 83 second TD drive with only 21-seconds left in the game. The final was 17-17 because there was no such thing as overtime in college football in those days. We were crushed. But dad still won the shirt.

Of course that game was officially forfeited to the Vols a few years later when Alabama faced their first in a decade-plus of probation for cheating. But I digress.

Dad and I were planted in front of the TV as John Smoltz and Greg Olson celebrated the Atlanta Braves worst-to-first Division clincher in 1991. Then we cried as we watched Kirby Puckett and Jack Morris celebrate the Twins World Series Game Seven win over our beloved Braves.

In 1992, we were on pins and needles as Atlanta's third-string catcher, Francisco Cabrera, came to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded, down 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth in Game Seven of the NLCS against the Pirates. We went crazy as Cabrera hit the ball past Jay Bell at SS. We went even crazier when the slowest player in the game, Sid Bream, slid safely into home plate with the game winning run that sent the Braves to their second consecutive World Series.

We watched with sheer joy in 1995 as Marquis Grissom squeezed the final out of the '95 World Series to finally bring the Braves a world championship. And of course, we watched a year later as Mark Wohlers grooved a hanging curveball to Jim Leyritz in Game Four of the World Series. Atlanta was up 6-0 in a game that would have sent them to a commanding 3-1 series lead, but that Leyritz three-run HR tied it and the Yankees won it in extra innings. A few days later the Yankees would send us home crying again.

On Jan. 4, 1999 a house full of people, dad, and I watched as our beloved UT Vols defeated Florida State to give Tennessee its first national title since 1951, two years before my dad was born.

Dad was with me for every high school basketball game at Tennessee Temple High School. Dad actually drove me 80 miles to little Clarke Range, Tennessee to watch my school advance to the state championship tournament.

He then drove us 70 miles one-way to watch the Mighty Crusaders in the '98 State Tournament. There we saw Temple get utterly shafted in the championship game against Ezell-Harding.

As a matter of fact, we still go to games at my alma mater together. Of course now I have two kids of my own that we take with us.

We were in Knoxville for the Tennessee-Florida game in 2000 when Florida WR Jabar Gaffney dropped a TD pass for the game winning score with mere seconds left.

We were at the 2001 Tennessee-Georgia game in Knoxville when QB David Greene led the Bulldogs to a last-second game winning TD to send us home in utter disappointment.

Throughout my life, my dad has always been there. Whether it was sports, church, or school, he has always been my hero.

You see, my dad did all of these things with me despite working third shift for the majority of my childhood. When that came to an end, he became the pastor of a church, which he has been with for close to 20 years.

No matter what, he always found time to spend with his only child.

He taught me how to play baseball, how to throw a football, and how to shoot a basketball.

He was my coach, my mentor, and my spiritual adviser. He taught me about Jesus, the Bible, and how to pray. He taught how to treat a lady, how to drive, and how to respect authority. He taught me about life.

Sure, there are times even these days where I don't understand some things about life. Who is the first one there to help me in those times? My dad.

He's the first one to call and check on me, my wife, and boys everyday. Whenever I need help with my car, lawnmower, or house—he's there.

I'll always be thankful for this great man that only God could have arranged to be my father. Sports is only a small portion of what this man has done for me.

My hope and prayer is that my boys can one day say the same about their dad.

Happy Father's Day!