It is impossible for me to separate memories of football, especially the Jacksonville Jaguars, and memories of my father who watched every game to the last play. Yesterday as my wife and I exited the stands after a failed 4th and 1 play I couldn’t help but think that 8 years previously my father would have stayed for that last kneel down, knowing the game was over but not willing to leave until the last second had ticked away. I can’t look out at the transformed Everbank Field with the magnificent scoreboards, the signature swimming pools, and the brand new Assure Club’s without thinking that he would have been proud of the changes the city and the team have made to the facility. My wife and I can’t get through a game without commenting on my father’s penchant for watching the cheerleaders through his binoculars and pointing out that he wouldn’t even need them with larger than life images on the 100 yard wide video screens. His presence is there at every game and that is both comforting and heartbreaking at the same time.
The opening of football season is always a time of mixed emotions for me. Intermingled are hope for a good year, fear of disappointment, and expectations of the entertainment that I get out of the game. This year opening day fell on September 11th. This date brings up a whole other set of emotions for most Americans even a decade and a half after that infamous day. The uneasiness we all get on this date, the pride we take in the stories of bravery and survival of the event and the still present simmering anger at the callous murder of thousands of our fellow citizens. And every year for the past eight years the start of football season is also the reminder that my father who practically lived for sports is no longer there at the games.