Before the fiery, redheaded orb makes its daily appearance my father is already awake, already driving to work in Washington, D.C.
For 15 years, the God-fearing head chef relentless work ethic and vicarious sacrifice has provided food on the table for the loves of his life: his mother, wife and two sons.
Oh the irony.
Lately I noticed the wrinkles worsening on the corners of my father’s eyes. Narrating the toil that he’s suppressed throughout the years are these marks, stretched longer than run-on sentences. The unspoken adversity he’s overcome in recent past has drawn lines on his mild-mannered palette. My father is exhausted, yet musters up the last bit of energy to laugh and smile – a grin warm enough to light a candle.
In 2000, I asked my mother for a ride to Ashburn, Virginia, where the Washington Redskins were holding Training Camp. Her response was a simple, “nope.”
I dealt with her reluctance. A week later she acquiesced, and chauffeured us to Ashburn – an hour-long trip from Silver Spring, MD. At the time this was a newsworthy headline for a woman whose excursions basically consisted of maneuvering a crusty Plymouth van to a church 12 minutes away.
I recall standing in awe while defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield, quarterback Jeff George, and little-known backup Todd Husak signed pages of my Redskins team guidebook.
“Is it clear yet?”
Joshua and Young (my best friends to this day) are watching the Dallas Cowboys game while I, as ordered, am adjusting the silver rods to improve the fuzzy images for their viewing pleasure.
I fiddle around with the antenna some more, “how about now?”
We munch on cheap, microwaved chocolate chip cookies inside Bella’s, a place most would describe as a hybrid pizza shop and a lousy convenience store. We’re the only three present.
“That’s Troy Aikman,” informs Josh, “great quarterback.”
Quarterback. This leadership role that traveled through space before landing on my lap; a position my peers beseeched me to play only because my arms flapped and stubby legs stumbled when I ran routes.
(I’m grateful for these wobbly chopsticks.)
Whether it was tackle-football in the rain during the summer months or brawls amid the November flurries, we – Josh, Young, Jee, and Da Bin – would practice for countless hours after Sunday service. On the grass or on street, “The Three Musketeers” shared a telepathy that no monitoring equipment ever created could sense. Football gave us the powers of concentration and synergy that professional players get paid for, but rarely achieve. Labeled as the PQB, or “Permanent Quarterback,” I’d captain our classic two-on-two battles – sharing half the glory and half the blame.
After my parents discovered that some kids at the elementary school were bullying me (for my Coke bottle-thick glasses), they panicked, packed their bags and moved our family to an apartment complex in McLean, Virginia. Their disposition to relocate to another state hurt; running away from the bullies meant jogging into more.
In eighth grade, to console my heartbreak, they allowed me to play football for the McLean Mustangs – 125-pound division. Fate or not, Coach Ed assigned me to start at quarterback.
We lost a majority of our games. The lone touchdown pass I threw all season – a game-winner with no time left – was called back due to a holding penalty by our center. Through every drubbing, my dad cheered from the sidelines. He, however, witnessed me return an interception for a touchdown against Braddock Road.
At a young age I learned that you can never practice enough.
To sharpen my accuracy, I threw Jenny (named my ball) at stop signs, poles, and the squirrels perched on trees trunks (no animals were hurt). For a while I fetched my own rebounds. In solitude, I challenged myself to refine my footwork – taking three, five, seven step drops – and beaming the football at the exact block on the brick wall that I hit on my first attempt. My compulsive behavior led to marked improvement. Alone I polished my skillset, believing that soon my chance would come.
An Eye for a Vision
I’ve been infatuated with Donovan McNabb ever since he and the Eagles obliterated the Chicago Bears in the Divisional Playoff Game in January 2002.
After (again) relocating to a new city, I begged my parents to let me try out for the West Springfield High School freshman squad. They complied. I auditioned for the lead role but was knocked down to fourth string. My height – no – experience was my downfall. Coach Mac placed me at cornerback, and I channeled my frustrations by destroying ball carriers.
My life however, took an intense U-turn during the middle of the season.
With a tearing retina, I could lose my eyesight with one vicious head-to-head collision. My concerned parents urged me to quit as the doctor advised me to refrain from playing contact sports.
Post-retirement, my friends and I gathered at local fields to play pick-up games. Moving to three cities in a span of six years required me to build rapports with awesome people, and quickly adapt to dynamic wide receivers (Andy, Dwight, Antonio, David).
When a handful left for Virginia Commonwealth University, I served tables, studied at a community college, and attended the University of the Nations in Kona, Hawaii before transferring to VCU in 2008 (I was throwing around my football in Egypt). Upon my arrival, my football-loving buddies put me under center, my second home.
Better than quarterbacking for six championships, the timeless memories of hardship and happiness compiled during the four-year stint will remain with me for a lifetime. I apologize for the occasional stress I caused my teammates (especially in the huddle) and appreciate your (Chris, Joe, Danny, Brian, Joe C., Suhan, Narae, Alex, Sooji, Anna, Stephanie, Soyeon, Sonya, Abby) encouragement.
I will cherish your mentorship (all the screaming in my left ear to make smarter decisions), until I reach my career goal: to write for the NFL.
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