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The program stands upright, encased in plastic, holding a prominent place on a bookshelf in my office. “Kansas City Chiefs vs. Boston Patriots, Municipal Stadium, November 20, 1966, 50 cents (including tax),” is written in bold letters, displayed on the front of the program. Beneath that announcement, a black and white picture shows Chiefs’ quarterback Len Dawson rolling out, behind the block of fullback Curtis McClinton.
I have to admit it: I love football; it occupies more of my time during the fall than I care to admit. If I’m not glued to the television when my favorite college team, the Oklahoma Sooners, are playing, I’m looking to see if my alma mater, Baylor University, can win one. And in between those moments, I usually have my eye on whatever good game happens to be televised.
But, I’m not as fanatical as I once was; the time was if OU lost, I would have to pray extra hard to get my preaching face back on before Sunday. And pro football is only a casual interest to me now, with the exception of one pro team: the Kansas City Chiefs. That’s because of my Uncle Don, Don Krouse. He died last week at the age of 86.
My Uncle Don once lived next door to Jack Steadman, who for four decades was chairman, president, and general manager of the Chiefs football organization. Knowing how I, as a young boy, practically idolized college and pro football players, Uncle Don, with the help of Mr. Stedman, made some things happen for me. For beginners, he took me to watch the Chiefs practice. Then, my older brother, Mark, and I were allowed into the Chiefs locker room where head coach Hank Stram smiled at me, shook my hand, told me to grow a little, and come play for the Chiefs. And, to this day I have a football signed by members of the Chiefs team that played the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl I. I cried when the Pack beat the Chiefs.
But I didn’t give up on the Chiefs, nor did I quit football, not even when I stopped growing and realized my 5’6’’ 140 lb. frame wasn’t going to grab either Coach Stram’s or my high school coach’s attention.
I stayed with the sport because of something I learned from Uncle Don. It was a small thing, and he probably forgot about it, but I never did. It happened on one of our visits to Kansas City. The main reason we went, as far as I was concerned, was to go to a Chiefs football game. Uncle Don had done it again; this time we were to sit with Lamar Hunt in the owner’s suite. And after the game, Don told me, I might actually have the opportunity to meet some of the players. For a kid from southwest Oklahoma, where football reigns supreme, this was a dream come true.
Unfortunately for me, as soon as we arrived I got sick. As much as I tried to convince mom that I was well, my 102 degree temperature said otherwise. I missed the game.
But the lesson was learned after that game I didn’t see. Uncle Don tapped on the door of my sick room. “How ya doin’ kid?” he inquired in his raspy smoker’s voice, now even more hoarse from yelling at the game. “Thought I would bring you something.” It was a program from the game, with autographs of Len Dawson, Jerry Mays, Bobby Bell, Chris Buford, and Jim Tyrer. Forgotten now to most sports fans, they were my heroes then. And along with that autographed program, Don handed me a play by play synopsis of the game. I watched the replay of the game the next day and had fun “predicting” what would happen with each play. Uncle Don had helped a disappointed young sports fan feel better, and more significantly, in the process he taught me a valuable lesson.
As important as it is to make every effort to win, the relationships formed as one person cares genuinely for another trumps the won-loss record. Forged on the gridiron itself — as players fight for one another to be their best on any given game day — or strengthened in the stands or at home as fans cheer their team, something bigger than the final score happens: friendships are made and deepened as shared moments of a common interest bring people closer together. And true friends show they care for one another.
Football is football most of the time. But on occasion it becomes something more than just a game. Whether or not you know what a first down is, you can understand human compassion, expressed most often in small ways, in little actions, like giving a dejected kid an autographed program, a play by play summary, and a tender smile.
I thought about that just the other day as I hung up the phone, having received the news of my Uncle Don’s death. Staring at that program in my office, I recalled that moment with Uncle Don when I missed the game, but learned a lesson. And for the life of me, I couldn’t remember who won the game.
Life Matters is written by David B. Whitlock, Ph.D. His Web site is, www.DavidBWhitlock.com.