I’m thankful for the opportunity to have played organized football as a young man. Most former players would probably agree that there’s no greater sense of being alive than on the field in a game. All of your senses are heightened, and on every single play, your physical abilities are tested against someone else’s. There’s no way to explain it to non-players. Like many of the greatest things in life, like becoming a parent for the first time, this experience is ineffable. Unless you played, you simply can’t understand just how much fun it was.
Yes, it took a physical toll on my body. My right knee is held together by scar tissue and wishes; my left shoulder has some nerve damage; from nowhere, my body sometimes reminds me of an old injury I had forgotten about. But I wouldn’t trade the memories, experiences, and lessons earned on the field for a pristine body with no aches. These physical ailments are just part of the price for wisdom and strength, and I gained both of these from having played the game for eight years.
At least once a week, I dream about being back on the field. Usually, I’m at practice, preparing for an upcoming game. Sometimes, I’m in the middle of an important game. Regardless, I always wake with a yearning to be a teenager again, back out on the field with my chinstrap buckled tight and my teeth clamped down on my mouthpiece. I lay awake for a few moments, savoring the dream, reliving the hits I got to dish out on ball carriers and quarterbacks. There’s always a mix of joy and sadness after I awaken from this dream. Happiness that I got to experience it. Sadness that those days are gone forever.
I’m thankful for my experiences as a football player, for my coaches, for my teammates. I loved being part of the game as I’ve never loved any other experience, and I will cherish my memories for as long as I draw breath.