The phone rang in the late afternoon of October 18, 2003. Alabama had just lost to Ole Miss, 43-28. Dad and I talked about what the team needed to do and how much things had changed since Bear died. Then he told me he thought he had cancer. He brushed it off as something unworthy of concern but said he was ready to die if it came to that.

I smiled a little to myself. My dad wasn’t afraid to die; had been content with his fate for a long time. A strong faith made the process nothing more than a change of address. But he was also renowned for exaggerating his illnesses. At 81, he had been afflicted with, and survived a lot of things. We had played golf together weeks earlier and I was planning on doing the same at Thanksgiving.

Over the next week I called him three times. He was too tired to talk on each occasion. During a routine doctor’s visit, I asked my own physician what he would do. He told me pancreatic cancer was serious and fast acting. He wouldn’t wait until Thanksgiving. It might be too late.

Thirteen days after our conversation I headed to south Alabama. When I walked into his room I felt like someone had slammed me with a tire iron. Daddy was in a coma and nearly unrecognizable. By any reasonable measure he was already gone. Like a football game long since decided, we were just waiting for the timer to run down to zero and make it official. That happened the next day.

My father was one of the great Alabama fans of all time. He celebrated the glory of past victories but also remembered sitting in Denny Stadium in the mid fifties and cheering for first downs, because that was all there was to cheer about.

He and I watched the parade celebrating Bear Bryant’s first National Championship a half a block from our house. The players were on a float sporting black loafers, white socks, and flattops.

We were together in New Orleans when a goal line stand kept Penn State out of the end zone. He was the first person I called from the French Quarter in 1992 when Bama won their most recent national title. George Cox was the reason I was an Alabama fan.

My dad and I grew up in different worlds and didn’t agree on much. But we both roared with pure joy when Alabama beat Auburn and got chills when the team ran through the tunnel while the fight song played.

Few things in life link parents with their offspring like sports. That bond is especially strong in the South and manifests itself best where fathers and sons are concerned. College football was that link for my father and me.

As I watched this Alabama season unfold, I thought a lot about my dad and how much he would enjoy this. I watched every game in seclusion; locked in the Man Room. I didn’t celebrate like the old days; I was more subdued for some reason. The SEC Championship gave me a lump in my throat rather than laryngitis.

Last Thursday, I watched as my team, the team my father gave me, won another title. At the end of the game, Heisman winner Mark Ingram was allowed to give his incarcerated father a message. He said, “We did it Dad, I love you.”

Sitting alone I felt much the same.

I hope they have Hi Def in Heaven.

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Mike Cox

Mike Cox

Mike Cox currently writes a weekly column in South Carolina for the Columbia Star called "It's Not a Criticism, It's an Observation." He is trying to grow old as gracefully as possible without condemning the current generation in charge to doom. Each day this task gets harder as the overwhelming evidence mounts. He currently has two published books; Finding Daddy Cox, and October Saturdays. His columns have won three South Carolina Press Association awards since 2003. Mike has three sons and two grandchildren and lives in Irmo, Sc, just outside of Columbia.

4 Comments
  1. Mike I have never under stood how a writer can produce the words that bring out emotions especially from of us synical males. Is it hard to type with tears in your eyes? It’s definitly hard to read with tears in your eyes!
    My Dad didn’t care for football except the games when I was playing. He and Mom would even wrap up in my letter blanket and sit on concrete seats at Grady stadium on cold nights and stayed until the game was over. My Mom did tell me Dad made the comment “If any one would have told him sixteen years ago he would sit in the cold for two hours to watch a football game he would call them crazy”. Fathers and sons have a special bond even through the times a teenager’s mind turns to oatmeal.

  2. My son and I rarely agree on anything-except Alabama football. Well, we don’t agree on the plays or the strategy, but we both root hard for the Tide. Sometimes that’s the only thing we see eye to eye on in a day. But we do get along well, help each other when needed and like a lot of men use football to keep up communication.

  3. My Dad, Thomas B. “Red” Keller, would have relished following the Tide this season, though, as usual, he’d have spent time during each game pacing in the back yard after the Tide lost a fumble or interception or did anything else that didn’t live up to his expectations. “Block and tackle — the basics,” he say over and over as he watched a game on television. He loved the Tide with an intensity that I’ve found in other former collegiate players. Dad played football and basketball at Alabama. Seventy-five years ago, he played five minutes in the 1935 Rose Bowl as the Tide defeated Stanford 29-13. He played end, a substitute for two famous ends, Don Hutson, the All-American who later became All-Pro at Green Bay, and for Paul Bryant, “the other end.” Dad stood 6-foot 5-inches tall and weighed 225 pounds, a big man for those days, and he was a captain of the basketball team his senior year. Like an old soldier, though, he didn’t talk about those days often. But I would have loved to have sat with him last Thursday night. My family has a picture of Dad, Bryant and two other teammates standing all dressed up in suits and ties outside the train that took them to Pasadena. I think I could have pulled a few more stories out of him, if he and I and my brother and sister, all Alabama graduates, could have sat there together watching that game. He died in 1994.

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