“Dad, I want to be an NFL player when I grow up.”
Seven years ago, I was just your average eight-year-old boy who had fallen in love with the game of football. Oblivious to all of the obstacles that stood ahead of me, I pursued my passions with no second thoughts.
The idea of ending my young football career never crossed my mind until February 22, 2012. Many of my teammates say this date just represents a game, but to me it was more important than that; it was a life changing moment. I knew that day, towards the end of my 8th Grade year, was going to be the last time I ever strapped my helmet on to go to battle with my brothers.
It wasn’t official yet, but something inside of me reminded me that Dublin was calling my name. Dublin was my dream school: good academics, small school, and no distractions. The only thing they didn’t have was what I cared about the most: football. The future, though bright, would be different.
The hour and a half ride to the Bedford, New Hampshire sports complex from my home in Lawrence, MA seemed to drift on for days. My emotions were out of this world; I couldn’t even think of my last game without a tear dripping down my face. The only thing that would satisfy me would be to hold up the 1st place trophy with my brothers as the clock hit 0:0. My stomach had been in knots that entire day. As we got off the highway, I began to notice familiar stores and restaurants. I knew that we were close when we passed Dunkin Donuts, Texas Road House, and the gas station. When we reached the last left to enter the complex, my throat suddenly began to itch and swell. I couldn’t hide it anymore and despite my efforts to hold back, all my emotions came out all at once. The car was silent, the only sound the hiccups and muffled sobbing coming out of my mouth.
As my Dad parked the car, he told me,“Papi, it’s time, stay strong.” I picked my head up from my pants, embraced my dad, and gave him a huge hug. While tears streaked down my cheeks, I managed to make out a measly, “I love you dad.” His calm words that followed became the cure to soothing my soul. “I’m going to love you regardless of the outcome…”
Those were the last words he told me before I entered into the building to suit up. I remember being the first one there. As I walked in, I saw the clock on the scoreboard. It remained blank; it represented what I was feeling, stuck in time between two moments. I sat down in the middle of the field, taking everything in.
My brothers began to enter slowly, one, by, one. It was game time, but everyone was silent. As the ticks on the clock wound down, everyone peered at it, as though they could see the gears turning inside, realizing that it was no longer a fantasy: we were playing for the championship.
The whistle was blown.
“Coach can I have your captains.”
“Danny, Mikey, Marcus, Kenny, JJ, Omar, and Mann”
He didn’t have to say anything else; we all knew what was coming. We stood lined up and held hands like the brotherhood that we were; nobody said a word.
“Boys come on over.”
He signaled for us to walk over, and as one unit we walked to the center of the field. It was the best feeling ever, and all of my brothers got to share it with me.
“Shake hands boys…
I want to have a clean game, no pushing or shoving. Maulers you guys are the away team you will be calling the flip. Who is going to be your speaker?”
Everyone looked towards me and said, “Danny.”
“I will.” I replied.
“Son look closely, this is going to be heads and this is tails..” He said showing both sides of the engraved metal coin, “Call your pick before the coin hits the ground.”
He wound up, about to flip the coin into the air, and my thoughts, my mind spun. I didn’t know what to choose, heads, tails, heads, tails.
“Heads.” I finally blurted out of my mouth.
The coin landed on tails and the other team elected to receive. We were going to be kicking off the ball.
From the beginning of the kick off, the coin didn’t fall in our direction. It was evident this was going to be a tough game, but I can proudly say we battled hard, and intensely, until the last minute. We gave those sixty minutes our all. We left our blood, sweet, and tears all out on the field. Though in the end, my brothers and I did not bring home a cup, I can say today that I wouldn’t have wanted to go to battle that day with anyone else. We all might have gone on our separate paths—some pursuing football, some not, some going to public school, others to private school— but we all have this special connection to each other that we will have for the rest of our life. And, that is a win that can never be taken away.