Like most things in life, football is not perfect. There are many things about the game on both the college and pro levels that could be better, but last weekend, I was reminded of the importance and power of the game, what it teaches us and how it can inspire us.
I flew to Columbus for Michigan-Ohio State late Thanksgiving night because leaving on Thursday night instead of Friday was a difference of $400. A wise man once said “A penny saved is a penny earned,” so I earned more than $400. Getting together with my fellow Buckeye Moms and the epic time we always have was worth every penny. Though we text every day, the last time we were all together was my birthday party in Manhattan in June so this was a big reunion. Here we are reunited again and it felt so good.
Our Buckeye Moms went to the team hotel to see the boys, as was tradition. Because it was a big game, the boys weren’t given time with family. After driving 17 hours from Wichita Falls, Texas to see her son, Ohio State quarterback JT Barrett, Stacy Barrett, was pretty unhappy not being about to partake in her pregame ritual of hugging and encouraging both her son and his teammates. Though JT did come down, his mother wanted to see the other players, too. It’s customary that the moms who are in town also hug and see other guys whose families couldn’t make the trip. We make each player feel like he’s with family, even when his family isn’t there. Coaches have their routine. This is our moms’ routine and that night it was interrupted.
After our covert operation of hugging a few guys that were able to came down to the lobby to greet us, we headed to a local karaoke bar to pay tribute to some good music with some bad singing. When I say bad singing, I mean the other moms. Last time we were at this karaoke bar, they didn’t have Werk by Rihanna which was outrageous. They since rectified this problem. Glad someone was able to transcribe those lyrics and I was able to make Rihanna proud. My usual go-to karaoke song is Donna Summers’ She Works Hard For The Money and anything by Shania Twain or Destiny’s Child. The Buckeye Moms' group karaoke classic is Scrubs by TLC. Stacy Barrett, Urica Jones, Stephanie Webb, Allison Brown, Dawn Elliott, Candice Lee and myself sang and danced till well after midnight. We were loose but knew the next day would be the biggest game of the year. For moms with kids still on the team, we knew it would be an overwhelming day.
On game day, Dawn Elliott and I faced our own challenge. While on the set of ESPN’s College Gameday we noticed a grill with lobster tails and shrimp. I asked the woman babysitting these delectable looking foods for just one shrimp. One! She told me no and that it was for a ”different level” than I was. I generally don’t ask for food especially from strangers, but it felt like those grilled shrimp and lobster tails knew me. We’d met before. They looked so delicious and healthy. It’s like my mouth requested them before my brain knew what was happening. But the grill protector wouldn’t let my shrimp dream prosper. Dawn and I cracked up remembering when we were on a steamboat in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl two years earlier, the Sugar Bowl committee gave a luncheon for both Ohio State and Alabama families. We thought we’d get seafood gumbo and some shrimps but we got no shrimp, just jambalaya and hot dogs, but no. Apparently NCAA rules list shrimp as a food over the allowed budget. Fast forward two years later and still no free shrimp for us. We walked away from the smell of grilled lobster tail to a breakfast burrito where people of “our level” were welcomed.
We left College Gameday set to go see our boys walk to the stadium, another Buckeye family tradition. There we got to hug them and remind them to kick butt in the game. Michigan-Ohio State was more than anyone expected. Along with former Buckeyes players, Lebron James and his Cavs teammates, there were also more than 110,000 fans in attendance. The game was filled with so much emotions, not just because of the double overtime but because for most of those kids playing, this would be their last game in the Shoe. I know that feeling too well.
In college football, things change and you have to be willing to adapt. During the Buckeyes game, Detroit Lions rookie offensive tackle and former Buckeye Taylor Decker sat behind me and we talked everything from his new life with the Lions to how he used to know everyone on the Buckeye team, but a year removed, he only knows probably about ten guys, and the following year, he’ll know even less. It was a stark reminder that you just have to hold on to the memories you have as everything changes.
The next day meant a road trip to Cleveland. Candice Lee and Stacy Barrett accompanied me to see Black Eli and the Giants take on the Browns. It was my first time in Cleveland. The fans were very nice and realistic of their team’s weekly doom. Browns fans walk to a Browns game the same way people walk to funerals, in very solemn fashion. I got a kick out of the merchants selling “Factory of Sadness” t-shirts outside of the stadium.
Black Eli played well against fellow Buckeye receiver Terrelle Pryor, including an interception that was called back. Pryor is a 6’6 defender and Eli did a great job staying with him. Every great receiver will get his moment but it’s the defender’s job to keep him limited as much as possible. Black Eli did his job. I was so proud of him. We came away with the win.
Football game is a microcosm of real life—when you’re trying to reach the end-zone or accomplish anything, there will always be opposition. You just have to have a short memory and focus on the next play, the next moment and what you can control, remembering also that everyone has an opinion. When I want to read what anyone thinks about Black Eli, I go to the Bible where God calls him “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Knowing whose words to listen to and ignore is key to drowning out the noise of hype and hate. Don’t get caught up in either, keep your faith and your poise, focus on your process. Remember who you are. Remember what's important. Remember how good life is even when things aren’t going your way. That’s what two games in Ohio reminded me of this weekend.