When I first wrote about my Firstie’s Parade of Lasts, I knew there would be moments both big and small, some we would see coming and some whose importance we wouldn’t realize until they were in the rearview mirror.
This one we saw coming.
I’ve written about my son’s uphill climb to not only earn a spot on the Academy’s Sprint Football team but claim a starting spot on a championship team. This year presented its own challenges, with shoulder labrum surgery putting his starting spot in jeopardy right to the season opener. But as he solidified his spot, we mentally circled Friday, November 1. We had planned to make most all the games, but as it turns out, we couldn’t bring ourselves to miss a single snap.
You see, when my son was considering colleges – his backup plans to the USNA – we had a lot of discussions about balancing things, one of them being football. When he’d look at a bigger school, I’d remind him, “when your 30 or 40 or 50, you’ll be able to find a league to play baseball or golf or basketball. But once you leave college, you’ll never strap on a football helmet again.” I told him it was OK to make that decision, but he should do it knowing the repercussions.
As the Sprint Football team rolled through the schedule, November 1 loomed large. It would be Senior Recognition Night, the final time he would ever strap on a helmet on the field at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium. After a waterlogged road trip to Cornell, the day was finally here.
Despite a harried trip to Annapolis, we arrived at the stadium in plenty of time to find our way to the tunnel where we would accompany our Mid onto the field. As we lined up, I could see the emotions washing over him. I didn’t offer a lot, only saying, “make sure you take a moment to look around that stadium and realize you are doing what many only dream about.”
When we finally walked out onto the turf toward midfield, it was like a dream sequence. There we were under the lights, and one by one, his fellow seniors were called out … Krause, Cookie, JP, Mango. Suddenly, it was over and we were taking out seats for the game. Most games, I find it impossible to sit and find myself pacing, settling in for each play at the line of scrimmage or when allowed closer to the field, an advantageous position near the end zone. This game, I took my seat and settled in, happy to have our trusted Sponsor Parent Mike and Noah’s roommate Anthony along for the ride.
After a slow start, Navy finally seized control of the game and Noah played well – not his best game, but well. We did our best to embarrass him a little with some Fatheads and cowbells, too. As the second half wore on, I told Mid Mom to keep an eye on the field, that Coach would soon begin calling the seniors off the field, so they could have their “moment.” Sure enough, after the officials whistled a play dead, Noah and his linemate Adam jogged toward the sideline. Their time playing at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium had come to a close.
The game played on, of course, and after the clock ran out and the player shook hands, you could sense an extra bit of emotion from the Firsties as they sang the Navy Blue & Gold. There were more pictures than most games, longer hugs than most games. And the players lingered for much longer than most games. Most of all, Noah. He walked up into the stands to see us all and judging from his eyes, the pollen count must have been awfully high on the field.
He then returned to the field for more pictures, more goodbyes, and more hugs.
“They’re going to have to tell me to get off this field because I’m not ready to leave,” he said.
Eventually, one of the assistants yelled over, “C’mon, Smith, time to go. Come on, we have one more game left.”
“Yeah, but not on this field,” he said, his voice quivering just a bit. “Not on this field.”
Most of the lights were out by the time he slowly jogged into the tunnel, and the parade of lasts began moving to another important destination – his last football game, likely ever, in the championship game against Army.
Win or lose, we will be there to take it all in.
* * *
By the way, if you have a subscription to ESPN (it’s only $5 a month and you can cancel at any time), you can watch the Midshipmen defend their title against Army Friday, November 8 at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. If you look closely, I’ll be the once pacing in the stands, though you’re more likely to hear me than see me. 🙂