More Than a Game
By Sheryl McAlister
The Carolina Panthers played their last home game of the season Sunday. And as usual, some little boy ended up in tears in our section of the stadium.
It’s an area of the stadium where Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton routinely handed out touchdown balls. During his tenure with the Panthers – which is currently in question – he freely passed out footballs after the Panthers scored. The kids would push and shove for a coveted spot. Most of them wearing a Panthers’ jersey. Hands outstretched. Waiting. Hoping. Dreaming of an official NFL ball.
There weren’t any footballs on this day, because there weren’t many touchdowns. Newton was nowhere in sight. But a little boy was leaning over the rail near our seats trying his best to receive a gift from Sir Purr – the Panthers’ mascot. Some other kid got the prize. This kid left in tears. His Mom did her best to console him.
The scene took me back a few years. My nephew, who had followed Newton at Auburn University, had developed what he thought was a fool-proof strategy to get a ball. On this particular Sunday, he did just that. Until at the last minute, some smaller kid took a dive over the whole group and snatched it from his hands.
The jumbotron showed the two boys trying to wrestle the ball from each other before the cameras quickly moved away from the scene. The other kid’s parent didn’t intervene so neither did I. My nephew finally gave in since the kid was smaller than he was.
As expected, he walked back to his seat in tears. Dejected. He was about 8, I think.
I hugged him and let him release all the frustrations and grief he felt. “But Cam gave it to me,” he said. “He handed it to me …. And that kid took it out of my hands.”
As ridiculous as all this may sound to most people, this was a big deal to him. So I didn’t laugh or tell him it didn’t matter. That other people were watching didn’t bother me in the least. It took my nephew just a few minutes to collect himself and say that we needed to leave. (We didn’t.) And that he couldn’t possibly stay any longer because this was the worst day of his life.
I remember saying to him then: “We aren’t going to leave. We’re going to stay and watch the rest of the game.” I empathized that while it was okay to feel extremely disappointed, I promised this was not to be the worst day of his life – even if he felt that way at the time.
You see, football is its own religion in these parts. And football continues to play a big role in my nephew’s life. But in the many years since then, his football experience has taught him much about life. Including perspective.
For his past two football seasons, his Dad has been battling an aggressive form of cancer. And this past season, my nephew’s high school team honored his Dad as an honorary captain before the start of a playoff game. My nephew had the opportunity to escort his Dad, who was in a wheelchair, to mid-field before the start of the game.
As high school kids are wont to do, he posted on Instagram a few days later. Not about his fine performance that evening. He posted a photo of the moment when, with his family behind him, he shared the captain honors with his Dad. The caption read something like: It’s more than a game.
Perspective … is a powerful thing.
Throughout his family’s battle, faith over fear has been their mantra. Football has been the medicine. And a young boy is growing too quickly into a young man, with all the burdens and blessings that kind of battle brings with it.
So to the kid who was crying about not getting the prize or a coveted football, you’ll be okay. Unfortunately, though, this won’t be the worst day of your life.
Not by a long shot.
Copyright © 2019 Sheryl McAlister
Photo courtesy of A.C. Flora High School.