Game Changer

Run as fast and as far as you can, throw up your hands, and believe.

I like sports. Always have. One of my first childhood memories is sitting in front of the television in my Dallas Cowboys helmet and shoulder pads, tearing open a package of Ding Dongs, watching the Cowboys play the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football. I was five.

In elementary school, every waking hour was spent playing a sport, pretending to play a sport, or dreaming of playing a sport. Football, basketball, baseball, tennis — you name it. I loved it all.

But I was not naturally athletic, and I was a shy, unconfident kid around my peers. I hung out with the “jocks” — Bailey and Preston and Greg and George — and was always a part of their pickup games, but only as a player to fill space. A needed extra, enabling them to have their game that belonged to them. I was one click above background noise. And I quietly wished to be so much more than that.

When I was in the third grade, our PE teacher was a gregarious New Yorker named Coach Fox. Think Tony Danza with a thick 1970’s mustache. He was loud, and always smiling. He had an accent I’d only heard from Vinnie Barbarino on “Welcome Back, Kotter.” One crisp fall day in PE, Coach Fox let us play touch football. No crab-walk relays or push-ups or mindless running. Football! Coach Fox divided us into teams, and took the ball as “all-time quarterback.” It was glorious.

Now, understand, each and every boy on that football field wanted to catch EVERY PASS that Coach Fox threw. When Coach Fox yelled “hike!” every kid — me included — would take four or five steps, stop, turn around, and wave their arms wildly, yelling, “I’M OPEN, I’M OPEN!” And then be disgusted when Coach Fox chose to throw to another, seemingly less-open kid on th