You probably don't know who I am, but I know you extremely well. You're someone who I fell quickly for. Very quickly. Someone who I gave my heart to early without knowing the twists and turns you'd put it through.
I used to dream of putting on elite uniforms, catching game winning touchdowns, and taking in the cheers that erupted in our stadium. Before I even truly met you. Taking a young, lanky kid that only knew you through the streets and fields that were located behind the houses. I knew no real goal line. There were no penalties. We made our own end zones and every touchdown came with a dance. A dance that no audience cheered to, that no cameras recorded. The trees and occasional neighbors looking out of their windows were the only ones who witnessed our fun.
That's all it was to me. Fun. I never knew you'd take me in and help mold me into the man I am today. I was scared to put my all on the line for you. But I did it anyway in hopes that the early morning workouts, injuries, and tears that came with it helped make you realize that I was worth bringing along for the ride.
Each year I learned so much from you. X's and O's could go without saying, but I learned even more about the things that truly matter in life. The things that make you a man. Trusting one another, working together for a common goal no matter the trials and tribulations. Being able to compromise with people you don't necessarily want to compromise with. Nothing was ever perfect, but it made all of us stronger. I can't say that the way you presented teachings were always in the nicest way. Nor in ways that felt great. But they worked.
The teachers you placed in my path were not only coaches or athletic trainers. They were my teammates as well. They were my opponents. From personal to business standpoints, I learned more than I ever could in a classroom. You made life the classroom, the field the classroom. Which to me is the best one there is.
I can pinpoint experiences in our relationship that you created. Creating the person writing this letter today. You brought me stillness in a game that rarely allows that. You brought me the ability to find the light in every situation I find myself in. You have allowed me to bring joy to others that truly need it which in return brings me even more joy. You've helped me discover passions that were deep down in my soul. Ones I never knew existed that I was able to release into the world.
You brought the young kid that watched teams like the Raiders, Colts, Seahawks, and Bucs growing up, all the way to wearing their true logos on the field. And I will always be honored that I was given the opportunity to do so in any capacity. Honored to interact with the fans of those teams to the point where I enjoy it still to this day. Without actually even being on the team they cheer for anymore. You allowed me to see places in the country and world I didn't ever expect to visit.
You brought locker room brotherhood to me. The memories that I will miss forever. The best times were throughout the facility in between meetings and interacting with the guys you busted your ass with in between those white lines. The times heading to study hall before practice. The time we had off during camp where lockers became luxury king beds. Memories that stick with you.
You made my relationship with my now wife stronger. You tested us. Made our love stronger through our love, and also the occasional understandable hate, of you.
I will never wear a gold jacket. But I learned from those who do and will.
I will never be considered as one of the greatest to ever play. But I shared the same field with those who are.
I never broke records that you'll applaud for decades to come. But I was motivated by the ones that still stand today.
I never got to create my own touchdown dance on Monday Night Football. But I helped create some of my brothers'.
I reached heights trusting you that I never imagined. And even though I worked and worked to accomplish some things on my list that in the end I never did, I accomplished goals that are considered near impossible. I had damn near my entire family come together at one of my first games. I did things that I was told I couldn't do and you made me realize that I wasn't actually doing it to prove them wrong. But rather to prove myself right.
I've been in over my head with you.
I've been humbled by you.
I've been pissed at you.
I've been overjoyed with you.
I've been terrified because of you.
It's been a hell of a ride. A rollercoaster that majority of people aren't tall enough to ride. But shit, it was a wild one. No matter the downs endured or the trials gone through, the highs of the game you brought me keeps my love for you at an all time high. I can't thank you enough for what you've done for my life and the people around me.
Most importantly, I'll always be the fan, the kid that had that mailbox in sight. That end zone on the street, hungry for the game winning touchdown. Just in time to make it back inside for the 1:00 kickoff. I had my dreams turn into reality. And now it's time that reality turns back into the dreams that roll through at 3 AM. And that's okay. Because this time I know it's happened. I've lived those dreams. So it' more like "remembering" instead of dreaming, right?
This decision wasn't easy, but it was necessary. For me. For many reasons but none more important than the fact that it just was. All us players are playing this game at different paces. In and out at different times. It's just part of the business. It's not because I lost my love for you. Don't worry. What lies ahead has a lot of unknowns. Which I'm okay with. I don't want to start feeling comfortable now. Whatever's next I'll attack at the same speed I attacked this game. You've prepared me the right way for my next journey. It's a bit scary, yeah. Hits the nerves a little different, sure. But I'll be just fine.
Thank you for always letting me stay that lanky, clumsy kid that never wanted to grow up inside, but at the same time making me into the man I am today. Thank you for changing my life.
The skinny kid who didn't know what he was getting himself into