Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Football Memories

I've been writing at my other blogs of my friend Phyllis, who died last week.

I think it shall be hard for me, this fall, to watch a football game without thinking of Phyllis.

Last night, I was on the phone with a mutual friend, also named David, who is in my hometown making preparations for Phyllis' memorial service. We only recently reconnected through Facebook — largely because of Phyllis' illness and death — and much of our conversation focused on people and places and things I really hadn't thought much about since I was in high school.

Sports played a modest role in my relationship with Phyllis. She was in the marching band for many years so she was always performing at football games. I wasn't in the band, and, to be honest, I rarely went to my high school's football games when I was a sophomore or a junior — but I will admit that my attendance rate did go up considerably when I was a senior and I was dating a girl who also was in the band.

Phyllis enjoyed sports, but we didn't always share the same passions — in her later years, for example, she apparently became a NASCAR fan, which seems to be a very Southern thing even though it is a sport I've never really been able to appreciate. Phyllis tried to tell me about it, and I'm going to try to watch it in the future. And, when I do, I will pull for Jimmie Johnson — Phyllis' favorite driver — but I doubt I will ever be able to work up the kind of enthusiasm for NASCAR that Phyllis had.

At one point, our conversation turned to Phyllis' mother, who told David to ask me if I remembered staying at their house one New Year's Eve when I was in college. I had been visiting my grandmother in Dallas during the Christmas holidays, and an ice storm came through at the end of December.

My parents were living in northwest Arkansas. Before the year was over, I made the decision to transfer there, but on this occasion, I was going to college in my hometown, and, when the dorms were closed, I had no place to stay.

That put a lot of pressure on me because the dorms were set to reopen the day after New Year's. At some time on New Year's Eve, I made the decision to drive to Conway (with my car loaded down with my stuff) and spend the night at Phyllis' house.

(I figure I must have had at least one phone conversation with Phyllis before I left my grandmother's home, but that memory escapes me now.)

As I recall, it was a pretty low profile New Year's Eve. I didn't drink any champagne — guess I was still too young to buy alcohol in those days, and I was tired from my 300–plus mile trip, anyway. I don't think any of us stayed up to see the new year in.

But the next day, I remember watching the Cotton Bowl game on TV with Phyllis' mother — and marveling that I had driven from Dallas to Conway the day before.

The game was a classic. Joe Montana led Notre Dame to a stirring come–from–behind victory over Houston. Notre Dame scored 22 points in the final quarter, including a touchdown on the final play, and I remember watching it all with Phyllis' mother — and yelling until we were practically hoarse.

A year later, I was living in Fayetteville, Ark., where I finished work on my bachelor's degree.

But, before I left Conway, I returned to Phyllis' home that fall to watch the Arkansas–Texas game with Phyllis, her mother, and a friend and high school classmate named Ellen. Others may have been there, too. I simply don't remember.

We were all Arkansas fans, and the Razorbacks had lost to Texas for seven straight years. But they prevailed that afternoon.

The way we all yelled and hugged, you would have thought we were on the sidelines or at least in the stands and not watching in Phyllis' living room.

Those are memories I will always cherish.

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