Fry Fest, Miami of Ohio, the last of firsts
This week was the big kick off of the 2016 football season and as it has done now for the last few years, this year started with Fry Fest in Coralville. As a former player, and since moving back to Iowa, I have been involved with the Iowa Football Club (IFC) and am now a board member. The purpose of IFC is pretty simple: (1) Support the University of Iowa, its athletic program, and in particular football, (2) Raise money for various children's organizations in the state, and (3) Support and assist its members in a variety of ways including reconnecting, networking and giving back to not just the University of Iowa but to their communities as well. For more information please check out IFC website at http://www.iowafootballclub.com.
Last year IFC helped organize a reunion of sorts with Coach Fry out near his home in Nevada. It was well attended and many former players made it back to see him. Many former players are very close to Coach Fry because so many of us "old timers" played for him during his coaching tenure. In fact, I was on the Iowa team when Coach Fry was first hired and was part of that entire transition. So over the years we have certainly tried to stay in touch with Coach and when he was back in Iowa City this past weekend he was able to see many former players and coaches. A few of us actually had some time with him after his panel discussion.
It is always good to see Coach, who at 87 is pretty amazing in the way he still remembers people, events, game scores, even the details as to who fumbled and who had a holding call in a particular game!! So he was busy telling stories and telling all of us how old we all looked! Well we do, and I do not need too many reminders of that. But seeing Coach again in person and getting a chance to talk with him (also saw Coach Dan McCarney, who recruited me out of high school while on the Bob Commings staff) certainly reminded me of those old days gone by and how fast time keeps zipping along. Those were great days for me, as I think they were for most players. To be part of something bigger than ourselves, to be part of a team, to represent our university, to play Big 10 football in some of the greatest stadiums in the county. And if you can win a conference championship and/or get to a great bowl game all the better.
Remembering how fast all of this went for me it pushed me into maybe a little deeper reflection on approaching this last season for George. I want to make clear that I am at my core primarily a realist and see pretty clearly on what life is and what it is not (at least in my mind!). One thing I appreciate is the fact that time passes, things change (always), and we need to be grateful and appreciate what we do have and the people in our lives. But people change, grow, move on, and as we know eventually die. I am not sad about that. I at times may grieve the passing of time and the loss of opportunities to do certain things with certain people. But life is what it is and without the losses it seems to me the rest would not be so sweet. So I embrace those losses, the changes, the ways life forces us to adapt and change, and to say goodbye to some and hello to others. It is truly a Circle of Life.
So it was with eyes wide open as I prepared for this weekend opener verses Miami of Ohio. I came to it with many emotions. As a former player, a former coach, and now as a father of a senior player. I have had to work hard at suppressing the desire to analyze the "X's and O's" of a game, and rather to try to just enjoy and watch the games, to cheer for Iowa as a fan, and support my kid. That at times is harder than it seems it should be.
So this was George's last "home opener" as a player at Iowa, and thus our last one as a parent of a player. We stood, as we always do, where the buses unload the players before the game and waited by the Kinnick statute for George to get off the bus. It reminded me of the multitude of families and players who had gone through that same experience over all these years, who had their 4-5 years at Iowa, just like I did in my day with my parents, and then all of sudden they were done.
In the next 4 months we will experience many "last times" as part of this season. I am ok with that and ready for it. It is that way with all of life as we constantly experience something for the last time. The last time we speak to certain people, the last time you change your kid's diaper, the last time you coach their junior high football team, the last time you have to drive them to school or practice, the last time they live in your house, the last time of whatever. Sometimes you know it is coming and are prepared for it. Sometimes you do not know that what you are doing is the last time you will ever do it until much later, when suddenly with the urge to do that thing, or a memory of how great it was, you realize that it is gone and will not be coming back.
Sounds kind of bleak, or so my family tells me sometimes, but it doesn't feel bleak or sad. It makes me see clearly (or at last I try to) the events I am engaged in, the people I am with, and to always remember how fragile life is and how quickly time passes. How all of this is just part of different stages that we pass through and you hope you are paying attention enough to see the opportunities, to appreciate the people, to offer thanks, to hold the moments in your mind as they pass through, so you can reclaim them, touch them, maybe even feel them just a bit later down the road. Never in quite the same way but if you knew that was your last time at something, you can frame those moments and experiences in your heart, mind, and soul, so they feed you later and so when in the right space you can hold the magic of those moments and people again.
So week one of this season is gone, an Iowa win, solid performance with lots to work on but as you know (if you watch Iowa football) that is the way of things here. We develop, we grow, we seek to get better each day in some little component of the game. When all players are doing that and do it faithfully for the season, you continue to get better and hope to finish the season strong and playing your best (kind of like each of us in our own lives). So it is our hope for this team. They beat a team they should have, in a solid performance, but fully realize they will need to continue to improve for the games they will play not only in November (and hopefully December) but even next week!
So may you also see clearly in the events and moments of you life. What last moments, events, or occasions might you be approaching and not even know of? What people in your life might you not have seen for a while or may not see again? Who might you want to say hi to, shake hands with, give a hug to, tell them thank you for being there for you, or even offer a reminder that you love them?
Life is so many things but transitions with beginnings and endings is a constant. May all of yours go as smoothly as possible, with an awareness that will help those memories carry you into the future you are still dreaming of.