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Guess I wasn’t destined to be an NFL father

Guess I wasn’t destined to be an NFL father Guess I wasn’t destined to be an NFL father

Editor's note: Watching the NFL draft last week, I recalled that I once had high hopes for my son's name one day being called. In doing a little math, I realized this would have been the year. Well, yeah, I watched all seven rounds just to be sure, but no luck. Don't blame me, though. I tried, as this entry from April 2007 shall prove.

My son, a doctor? I doubt it. A famous trial lawyer? Not very likely. A corporate business magnate? Naa. A 5-star military general? Heck, he hates to hurt a butterfly, much less bomb an insurgency. How about a punt returner? Hey, now we're talkin.' Yeah, well, you have your dreams for your kids, I have mine. If you want your pretty little princess to grow up and be a highly-trained specialized registered nurse who saves lives and eases people's pain and suffering, well, you just go ahead and be selfish then. Or if you think your little Johnny is such a hot-shot that he can grow up to be president and lead his country into the next millennium, see if I care. My boy, he's catching high football kicks and running them back against superbly-conditioned athletes who can rip his head off with flicks of their forearms. Either that, or he's going to be a Gregorian monk. I just love the way those dudes sing.

You may have noticed Benjamin and me out in the front yard much of last weekend, practicing for what I have decided will be his choice of a life's avocation. See, I've been reading the newspapers lately, namely the sports section (because it has the biggest pictures) and they've been talking about the National Football League draft a lot. Seems that the rich professional teams choose the best college players to play for them and they pay them tons of money to wear cool uniforms and sign autographs for adoring fans. One article I read said there are a lack of quality punt returners in this year's draft class, and if there were one, he'd be sure to make millions.

'Hey Ben,' I asked. 'Want to play pro football someday?'

'Sure!' he squealed.

Done decision.

So out we went into the spring wind, youthsized blue and gray foam football in hand. I was going to kick a regulation NFL leather ball to him, but I figured it'd be pretty discouraging if we bruised his face too much during the first practice sessions. You know, his hands are sort of small yet, and while we'll take care of that concern by tying his fingers to bungee cords and stretching them while he sleeps, we don't have to be in a rush. He's only 9. His draft day is a dozen years away.

As we warmed up on the lawn, I thought ahead to the day when Ben will cash his first NFL punt returner check and will remember the sacrifices his father made to turn him into a professional. Of course, he'll want to give me most of the money in the form of a new house or a fancy boat, but I'll ask for it in cash, small bills mainly.

'I know, Dad,' he'll say. 'Harder for the IRS to trace.'

But, hey, there's work to be done now, I realize, so I send Ben down the lawn and show him the proper punt-catching techniques. Catching a plunging football is much like saving a puppy that's falling from a 10-story window, I tell him, you keep your eye on it, put your elbows together so it doesn't slip through your arms and go 'splat,' and you squeeze it when it hits. I thought of the puppy analogy all by myself; figure it sort of drives home the urgency of catching every kick. Pretty smart, eh?

I back up about 20 yards, grasp the football firmly in my hands, take a 3-step approach forward and drive my right foot into the tip of the ball so that it strikes the ground 8 inches in front of me and squirts under a spruce tree. Pain shoots from my hip joint down through all the nerve endings in my thigh, down into the foot muscles and back up the leg into my neck.

'Uuuughhnnn,' I yelp.

'What's wrong, Dad?' Ben says.

'Oh, nothing a year of traction and some ultrasound treatment won't fix,' I say through tears, fully aware now that at age 44 it's been about 16 years since I last punted. But I persist through the pain, because, after all, this is my son's forced chosen career and I've got a bagful of cash (small bills mainly) riding on it.

My punting improves in a short time, and soon I'm booming high, spiraling kicks to the kid and he's circling under them like Wile E. Coyote under an anvil shadow just before it flattens him to the thickness of a crushed beer can. Making matters worse is a strong south wind that fools Ben into thinking the ball is coming down in the clear but ends up landing in the birch tree top. I'm thinking I probably should warn him when those trees are closing in and he's running full-bore with his eyes staring toward the sky, but then, I won't be there to yell to him when NFL headhunters are bearing down. Better to learn such lessons now. They stay with you better when you get them young, I've always said. By late Sunday afternoon, Ben has shown much improvement. He's catching probably one of every four punts now, with the other three mostly banging off his chin or hitting the ground first and bouncing up and catching him in the gut. He's a trooper, though, and I promise him there will be supper for any little boy who can catch 150 straight punts. In rewards, there is motivation, I know, so we kick on.

We'll probably take a break from our training this weekend to watch part of the NFL draft coverage on TV. When a player is selected, and for the first time they don the jersey of their new team, I'll say, 'See, Ben, if you work hard enough, that could be you someday.' Assuming the swelling in his eyes from the birch tree collisions has come down enough, he'll be able to see the athletes in their draft day glory, and I'm guessing inside he'll be thinking to himself, 'By golly, I'm gonna' do it.'

Either that, or he'll be thinking 'I've got to find a way to escape from this lunatic before he decides I should be a bullfighter.'

A bullfighter? So how much do they make, anyway?