Three words. Three simple little words can change everything.
I. Love. You. Those three are the ones that most everyone is thinking about. For me, though, I learned perhaps my greatest lesson when I once said…
Now, the recipient of said three words had often said to me that he loved me and I often reciprocated that feeling. On this night, though, love and football intersected at the corner of “Dad Knows Best” St. and “I’m an idiot” Ave. So, with Father’s Day right around the corner, it’s a great time to show respect to the great men in our lives, so I will with Daily Brew StoryTime.
I was a freshman in high school and got called up to play for the Sophomore team at my high school Lamar Consolidated HS out in Rosenberg (30 miles from Houston). That was a MASSIVE deal back in the day and it was an honor. But, it also meant that I would play for my dad, the team’s defensive coordinator, for the first time. Now, don’t get it twisted, he ALWAYS coached me no matter the sport, but this was the first time that he was my coach in an official capacity. Things went fine throughout the year because I played well and produced, which shut down any nepotism talk from the group of sophomores one year older than me.
So, in the final game of the season, we were playing at home and I was, at that time, really ready for basketball to start. In my narrow 14-year old mind, just play this one last football game and get ready for hoops on Monday. The game was relatively close as we were near the end of the first half and we called a time out. As we trudged over to the sideline, our defensive coordinator had come up with a brilliant play call. Yes, my dad. And, lo and behold, it was for me to go deep and catch a touchdown. Great, just put it all out there, Pops.
He started drawing on the back of his play card and said…
“Johnny, widen out and run this straight to the goal post, Donnie (QB), throw it right to the post”
Ahh, yes, a post route but this one was literal as he wanted me to run right to the post.
So, I go line up and run the route and as I do I can see the safety staying deep…or so I thought. As a result, I turned my route into a dig, thinking that Donnie would see me. I watched as the ball was thrown way over my head and nearly hit the goal post.
Okay, no big deal, right? Well, we called another time out and as I ran the deepest route, I was the last one to come back to the huddle. Standing there was five foot/nine inches of madness and fury waiting for me to get into the huddle. Upon arriving and grabbing a water bottle, I hear, quite adamantly…
“I TOLD YOU TO RUN TO THE POST”
Instead of trying to explain myself, I just yelled back
Instantly, I mean, not a millisecond after “THAT” came out of my mouth, I felt the mild sting of a manila folder right in the kisser. That damn play card. It never hurts at all and I TOTALLY deserve it, which of course, I can completely understand lo these many years later. But, BUT, I was 14 and was SUPER angry. He then reiterated
I didn’t say anything but I left the huddle thinking…
“Watch this, I’m running this exactly like he said and HE’LL be the fool. That’ll show him.”
So, I lined up in the same spot and took off on the post and the same thing happened as the safety seemed to be ready for it. But, I wasn’t about to change my route after that interaction on the sidelines. Then, as if The Man knew all along what was going to happen, the safety seemingly settled and as I continued to the post, I was wide open. Donnie dropped the ball in the bucket right in the back of the end zone to me for a touchdown. It might’ve been the most upset I ever was to catch a touchdown because the Old Man was right, absolutely 100% right.
That happened right before halftime, so as the team walked off the field for half, he was in front of me and, being a stubborn, competitive teenager, I didn’t say a word to him. That said, he knew I didn’t have to. He was right. He had always been right. Then again, I wasn’t about to let him know that. You think I was nuts? I’m pretty sure he was smirking as I ran by, but he had every right to after that situation.
I think about John Harris Sr. a lot because I see Cal McNair a lot in this building who was hip-to-hip with father Bob for the first four years I was in the building. I see Texans head coach Lovie Smith and Miles Smith nearly every day. I see the relationship those two have in coaching together. Looking back, 35 years later, though, I’m reminded of how lucky I was to have Sr. Coach me on the field, and off. Nowadays, we get on the phone together and it often goes like this…
“How do you do?”
“Hey did you see how we’re trying to stop that wide zone against the Rams?”
“Listen, we tried to play it like that a few years back. The 2i has to play with his outside hand…” and the silence is gone and I get a clinic on defensive play for the next 20 minutes. And, I’m as thankful as I could be.
So, whether your dad coached you, instructed you, hired you, chided you or smacked you with a manila folder when you talked back or just flat loved you, here’s a tip of the cap to all of ’em out there…one, in particular.