You made a bad call.
Every ref in every sport everywhere in the world should be throwing a flag.
The air should be full of nothing but whistles.
Roughing the passer—barely a shove.
Late hit—just a tap.
Your call was the crappiest call of all crappy calls.
And you should know.
You could spot one a mile away.
Pitiful. Just Pitiful.
You wanted me to love football for as long as I can remember, because you were Little Number 10.
Little Number 10 and those white shoes when nobody but Joe Namath wore white shoes.
You wanted me to love it so I could love it with you.
But I didn’t really love it, because I didn’t really understand it.
I always liked football, though, because I knew you were good at football.
I knew you were a hell of a quarterback at Canton High School.
I knew you played at Mississippi College, and you played hard.
You were little. You were little and quick. You were little and quick and had a good arm.
You just weren’t SEC material.
I didn’t care.
But you loved the game.
You knew the game.
You played the game.
But you never taught me the game. Not for a while.
You may have tried to teach me how to punt, but you never sat me down and taught me the X’s and O’s. Not when I was little.
I pretended I understood it, and I did like it.
But I didn’t love it.
I just loved it in you.
And then one day, I was in the stands at Vaught-Hemingway, and I watched Deuce McAllister leap over a human wall at the goal line and make a touchdown.
Deuce made me love it.
And when I fell in love, I fell hard.
I fell flat, head over heels in love with Rebel football.
And I knew when I fell in love with it, even if it was because of Deuce and even if it was just the Rebels, you smiled inside.
And with that smile came the X and O lessons. I wanted to learn about the positions, the plays, the players, the rules.
Even though I am a girl, and even though there was always that little smirk on your face when I asked a really dumb question, you answered it.
Things were fixing to be different.
You knew it.
I knew it.
It became a thing with us.
We watched games together.
I only wanted to watch Ole Miss. You wanted to watch everybody.
But I would ask. You would answer.
You would pause. You would rewind.
You would call the penalty before the flag was thrown, and every single time, I would marvel at how you could possibly see the hold as it happened.
I guess I was just a girl who loved football, so I watched the football.
You saw the entire field, and I never figured out how.
But after several years, I didn’t ask so many dumb questions.
After several years, I learned how to see the field better than before, but never, ever, ever like you could.
I learned to see the field because I learned to love defense.
That was because of Patrick Willis.
So often, in the middle of basketball season, I would google that hit on LSU. Just so I could watch it one more time. Just so I could endure basketball season.
After several years, every once in a while, if we weren’t watching together, you would call me after a turnover or a crappy call or a freaking amazing pass completion in double coverage or a smackdown by a Landshark, and I didn’t have to ask a question.
We would just talk about how unbelievable it was or how crappy it was, and you knew I knew what I saw and what it meant.
You never got upset over a loss, but you got mad as hell over a bad call.
You never got pumped up over a win, but you lit up after a great play.
Because you just flat loved the game.
When I started dating Scott, you loved telling everybody you saw about my new boyfriend, former Auburn defensive end.
I wasn’t crazy about the fact that he played for Auburn, but I liked that he had to have been big, strong, and tough enough to play there.
I loved that he was big, strong and tough, still.
You didn’t care where he played. He played SEC ball.
That was cool to you.
And you thought practically nothing was cool.
Cool wasn’t really in your vocabulary.
Except that. That was cool.
Oh, and that his uncle was Lee Roy Jordan.
You had watched him play.
You had probably watched Scott play, too, but you didn’t know, at the time, you needed to be paying attention because one day, that beast on the Auburn line would ask you for my hand in marriage.
So about the time he did, you figured out what cool was.
But the very, very most super cool part came when I married that former Auburn football player, because that pretty much guaranteed we would have children.
And one may end up being a boy.
A boy who would play football…
…with Jordan/Stacey genes…and maybe a little bit of Weems sprinkled in there, even though they skipped a generation.
I even started to write a book about it.
I told you about my idea, and you actually thought it was pretty cool, which made me think I would, most definitely, give it a shot.
It mattered that you thought it was cool. But I kinda knew you would.
It started out as a story about Scott and Lee Roy, former Alabama great who went on to play for the Dallas Cowboys, and how hating a team loved by someone you love isn’t all that easy. Sometimes, it is nearly impossible. Sometimes, it makes you hate the person just because they love the school.
Then, the story took a turn. It morphed into tales of having to endure my love of Ole Miss football while being married to a former Auburn defensive end. I have lots of tales.
But to get there, I had to start way back. I had to start with how I came to even know who was on offense and who was on defense.
I had to start with you.
So I had begun to write about your football life, and how your football life shaped my life as a football fan.
I had begun to write about you and Steve and y’all’s friendship that, in his words, was so close because you didn’t care who won or lost. You didn’t rib him when State had another bad game or when Reed’s team took a fall. You honestly didn’t care so much about the end result.
And he loved that about you.
You liked the micro-minutes. You liked the seconds it took for a ball to fall squarely into the right hands at precisely the right time. You watched for the plays to dissect, the game strategy to discuss. And you and Steve took every one of them apart, no matter if it was because y’all had just run the clock at a Canton Academy high school game or if you were watching in your recliner on a Saturday afternoon, the remote glued to your hand so you could catch all of them, no matter the conference, no matter the team.
And so, I have more memories than I can count of you on the phone with him, figuring out how the refs got it wrong, how the player screwed up the route, how the penalty should have been caught, how the coach should have known better than to call that play or substitute that player.
How on earth a team could get three off-sides penalties in a row.
“Pitiful,” you would say, shaking your head into the phone. “Pitiful.”
There was a whole chapter that was going to be called, “Pitiful.”
Now, that word just describes us.
And so now, here we are.
It is finally August, and football is just a hair’s breath away.
Mac has started practice. That dream you had, that dream of Stacey/Jordan/Weems genes wearing a uniform has come to fruition.
And you aren’t here to see it.
You aren’t here for me to see you see it.
And I have to watch those games, but they are going to hurt like hell.
Because you made a bad call.
And no matter how hard I try to dissect it, figure it out, make it make sense, it doesn’t change the final score.
And then there are my Rebels.
Even with all of the negative media attention surrounding Ole Miss football right now, I still would have watched. Of course I would have.
You would have, too.
You would have come to my house no matter game time, and you would have watched the first half on my couch.
I still would have gotten mad and stomped around, and you would have laughed.
You would have left at half-time, and at some point in every second half, I would have texted you or you would have called me.
And if the game ended in a sorry loss, you would have left me alone to stew.
And if the game ended in a scrape-by win, you would have left me alone to celebrate.
Because you didn’t care about the ending.
You just loved the game.
So did I.
But I don’t anymore.
To be honest, I absolutely dread the start of the season.
I dread Sportscenter.
I dread GameDay.
I dread the Are You Ready?
I dread the busting through the paper sign.
I dread the coin toss.
I dread the pee-wee loss.
I dread the pee-wee win.
I dread the front page of the Clarion-Ledger.
I dread the posts on Saturdays Down South.
I dread The Season, the show.
But really, I just dread the season itself. Football season.
I wish I never had to look at a football again.
Because of your bad call.
Because your bad call ended the most beautiful game in the history of games.
And it ended because you took the football and walked off the field.
So I don’t want to watch, and it has nothing to do with what kind of season Ole Miss may or may not have.
I don’t want to watch, because every time I see a football, any football, I think about you.
Peewee. High school. Ju-co. College. SEC. Non-SEC. NFL. Arena ball.
It’s all you.
It doesn’t matter that I’m married to a former Auburn defensive end.
I may have come to love football because of Deuce McAllister, but I really loved football because football reminds me of you.
I never saw you play, unless you count the silent video reels I’ve watched dozens of times.
But I didn’t have to.
I didn’t actually have to see you be Little Number 10.
You always were.
And I was there when you threw a football to me.
I was there when you threw a football to Scott.
I was there when you watched the Saints.
I was there when you watched Ole Miss.
I was there when you watched Canton Academy, while I was a cheerleader and a zillion times after, when you ran the scoreboard, and when you didn’t.
I was there when you took that call from Steve, no matter how many times the phone rang during one single quarter.
And mostly, I was there when you threw a football to Mac, over and over and over and over and over again.
You stole my football.
Crappy play, Daddy.
Bad call, Daddy.