I played my last organized football game on Thanksgiving Day 1978. I was a senior in high school and, as tradition had it in Massachusetts, Thanksgiving marked the end of the regular season and for our team, an abysmal 1-8, the last game of our season. Growing up I had dreams of football glory and had actually displayed some signs of gridiron proficiency, but as time went on my 5'5" frame made it clear that a future in football would be relegated to the world of dreams. I was deep on the depth charts, but on Thanksgiving Day every senior got to play. This would be the day I would prove everyone else wrong. This Thanksgiving every coach would rue the day they overlooked the diminutive #18. And I did get to play
I was on the kickoff team and my primary goal was to make a tackle and hear my name announced over the public address system. To hear "Todd Catteau makes the tackle" echo through the chilly New England air would be at least some consolation to a disappointing career.
It was the start of the second half and we were kicking off. I took my place to the left of the kicker and raced downfield. Receiving the ball was the opponent's star running back. He was at least 6 inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than me, and I had him in my sites. What happened next was better than I could have imagined. I sized him up perfectly and made a text-book tackle on him (I think they are still showing that tackle in instructional films to this day). I drove him backwards into the turf. The crowd oohed and ahhed and I waited for what would come next - my name announced for all to hear. What happened next was worse than I could have imagined.
The public address announcer had misread my number. Instead of giving credit to me, #18, the name called was that of the starting linebacker who wore #13! He was having his name called all the time. Everyone knew him! I trotted back to the sideline in stunned disbelief - my downsized dream was dashed. What happened next was a lesson I will never forget.
As I approached the sideline a coach made his way onto the field. It was coach Blood (that's his real name - what a name for a football coach!) He had known me for years, back in the day when I was pegged as a blossoming star. He knew my disappointment and he knew my heart. As I got closer he continued in my direction and when we met he grabbed my facemask in one hand, and with the other slapped me across the helmet and with a big smile on his face said, "Great tackle Catteau!" That one, brief word of praise meant so much more than the roar of any crowd. My effort was acknowledge by a coach who really knew me.
So often we play to the crowd. So often we live for the approval of many. I've learned that crowds are as fast to desert you as they were to embrace you. The same crowds who cheer one day boo the next or even worse they fall silent as you drift into anonymity.
When comes that day when I trot off to my last sideline I hope to see my coach, my Master, approach me and, with a big smile on his face, embrace me with his nail-scarred hands and whisper in my ear the words that will mean so much more than the applause of the largest crowds - "Well done, good and faithful servant."
On a cold Thanksgiving Day, on the sideline of a football field I changed my dream. Instead of living for the roar of the crowds, I try my best to live for the approval of one.