“These are the days, the time is now…”
Dateline: University at Buffalo
The sky was empty.
Not a cloud.
Just blue, all blue.
Except for one tiny dot.
Of brown with traces of white.
The earth below was in turmoil, but above, the sky was tranquil.
It is the sky that cradles the earth, blankets it, provides it life.
Today, the sky was at peace with the planet; deep blue with a pale blue breeze. A gift from the universe.
I watched as the tiny dot grew bigger and bigger. I only saw the dot, focused on the dot as it descended into a sea of blue and white.
Blue and white helmets.
Of the University at Buffalo football Bulls.
Followed the dot into the hands of a big young man running downfield. Followed the dot through the hands of the big young man running downfield.
Followed the dot as it sat spinning on the 30-yard line.
Watched the big young man turn and walk to the bench, head down, hands clutching his helmet, watched as he stood alone, watched as his big shoulders drooped, watched as his big feet pawed the turf.
I watched all of this up close, on the sidelines, watched through the big lens of my camera, watched as the burst mode captured it all in 14 mb for history.
I watched it all replay through the digital screen on the back of the Canon.
Looked up at the big young man on the sidelines, head still down.
Looked at the digital playback, hit the menu button, scrolled to the file, hit menu to highlight file,
then hit erase.
And the blue sky was gone.
And the football in the hands was gone.
And the football spinning on the 30-yard line was gone.
I did it for the big young man in the blue helmet.
I did it for all the big young men in football helmets.
I did it for all the young men.
I did it for all the young women.
Who in life will have their grasp exceed their reach.
I did it so they don’t focus on the drops,
but strive always to reach.
“…there is no past, there's only future
there's only here, there's only now…”
I’m back in Buffalo visiting family and took some time to run over to my old Alma Mater, UB (The University at Buffalo or SUNY/Buffalo as it was printed on the tee shirts when I went here) and see my friend, and avid angler, Jeff Quinn.
Head Football Coach Jeff Quinn.
I first introduced Coach Quinn to you last year in the story “Passion For The Play.” I told you that when he was offered the head coaching job here in Buffalo he opened an Atlas and saw all the “blue water around the area and I told my wife…we’re moving…to Buffalo.”
Coach Quinn came to Buffalo from the University of Cincinnati where he was the Offensive Coordinator and O-line coach…coached the Bearcats to a perfect regular season of 12-0, then when the head coach left, Coach Quinn coached the team in the Sugar Bowl where they lost to Florida.
Coach lives by what he calls the five “Fs” Faith, Family, Football, Fun…and Fishing.
So yesterday, I swung by the stadium to see how the fishing was going…I had heard tales from Coach of 40-50 smallmouth catch days in the Upper Niagara River (he bought a home on Grand Island in the Upper Niagara River “blue all around me”) and continued to “crush ’em around Grass Island off the shore of Grand Island.”
I parked where I normally do and walked in the back gate of the stadium and came around the stands straight into the 2nd or 3rd day of Spring Practice…in pads.
The UB Football Bulls were getting ready for the season, Coach Quinn’s 3rd or 4th season (he told me which one but I forgot).
Frankly, I’m not much of an Alumni of the school…don’t give it any money once I stopped paying tuition, I figured enough was enough. I did buy $50 football season tickets but never lived within 500 miles of the joint but I was told the tickets were given to students so they didn’t have to pay to get in.
I stopped doing that when my own children went to college…and those colleges took all the money we had, and I don’t even think they let my kids free into games.
So, for the past year or so, Coach Quinn has been telling me that when he recruits athletes he tells them about how great an area Western New York is if you’re an outdoor kind of person (it ain’t actually a very horrible place if you happen to be an indoor eating in restaurant kind of person, as well). Coach even told me that he has “gone fishing with some of my players.”
But I never wrote that because of two reasons…he’s a football coach…AND…a fisherman…both been known to, how you say, stretch reality a bit. Put the two together…and you better triple check the facts before you lay the words down in print.
So, after practice, me and Coach are telling stories and tiny fibs when all of a sudden a mountain of a child walks up and says, “Coach and I went fishing. I love to fish for bass, and Coach took me out…it was the first time I was ever in a boat.”
“…these are the days now that we must savor
and we must enjoy as we can…”
Meet Andre Davis...Sophmore…#50…starting Offensive Lineman…6’4”…303 pounds.
Andre comes from a suburb of Buffalo called Cheektowaga where he played for Maryvale High School where he was two time All Conference ON DEFENSE.
Check this out: Playing on the other side of the ball in high school, this kid had 36 tackles, 6 sacks, a blocked field goal and a defensive TD.
Pretty good, until you find out he did it while playing in only 3 1/2 games.
Andre, now at UB in the Business Program, told me that “fishing is what I use to relax… when I fish, I don’t think about the field,” as he said that he nodded in the direction of the gridiron off to our side.
“I took both Andre and my other tackle fishing in the boat, two 300-plus-pound guys. It was funny; both jumped to one side to fish and my Lund 1850 Tyee started tipping…dipping to the side…funny. Andre caught the biggest largemouth but I beat him in the number of smallies.”
Andre doesn’t talk much…not because Coach is there, not because I’m taking notes, but because he is plays the line in football.
In football, most of the noise comes from the skinny fast guys.
Some noise comes from those who throw the ball, or those who run holding it.
Not much noise comes from the linemen.
They are the lunch bucket guys, the brown baggers, the grunts of the game. And if you are a student of the game, you know the game is won or lost in the trenches.
You watch the speedy talkers running down the field…many plays they aren’t even touched if the ball doesn’t come their way.
Not so in the trench.
Play after play, these guys manhandle and get manhandled. It is here where your manhood is tested for 5-6 seconds play after play, game after game, year after year. You take a playoff down in the trench, and everyone in the stadium knows it.
I have had good friends who played the line in the NFL, several in fact; and they were all quiet, hardworking, god fearing, country loving men. When something needs building, they build it; when something needs to be taken down, they take it down.
Do me a favor while you are watching a football game at home, or up in the stands, don’t just watch the pretty boys running, catching, throwing. Watch the guys who stand their ground, watch the ones in the dirty and ripped jersey, watch those who draw the line and those who charge across it…it is in those 2 or 3 yards where the real game happens.
So I’m not surprised I have to pull answers out of Andre, but one answer floors me, “Andre, where do you like to fish…”
And before I finish the question I get his answer, “The foot of Ferry, it’s basically the only place I go.”
The foot of Ferry in Buffalo is where Ferry Street ends…at an old stone wall and iron fence. It is on the Niagara River within sight of the Peace Bridge to Canada.
Andre fishes from the concrete banks of the city.
“I catch a ton of smallmouth right there; it’s my favorite spot.”
Coach smiles…I smile…it is the fishing hole of linemen.
Blacktop and concrete.
Won’t get the fancy press that other spots on the Niagara River will get but, “if you throw a live crawfish, you’ll catch fish. Worms, too.”
And, in a flash, Andre took me back 45 years.
Took me back to when I was a foot of Ferry…wormer.
A friend and I used to ride our Huffy bikes down there during the summer, or Saturdays when school had the gall to interrupt summer, and fish.
At least my friend did; I was in charge of the worms. Mainly because my house had a backyard, and his didn’t. I could fit 4 worms in each of my jean pockets.
For the most part, the bike ride was not conducive to being a worm…usually 3, 4 tops would make it not squished to the foot of Ferry for fishin’.
My buddy threw the squished ones anyway, figured they were about to be squished as it was by the fish he never seemed to catch.
For years, on one Saturday a month, my mother would tell my father at the dinner table, “The damn squirrels were digging in the garden again,” while never checking my jean pockets for dried worms of Saturday’s past.
“…these are the days that will last forever…”
For all the summers to come, I wish for dried worms in my pants pockets. I still hear the click of the Huffy kickstand as it dug into the foot of Ferry blacktop. I still feel the wrought iron and steel fences.
I dream of the red bobber floating in the swift current of the Niagara River, the peanut butter sandwiches stuffed into the leather pouch under the bicycle seat.
The foot of Ferry file in my brain will never be erased.
Those were the times of my life.
As are these times right now.
To the large young man whose grasp outdistanced his reach.
Give space in your lives,
Good and bad.
Give space in your lives,
for success and failure.
Give space in your lives,
Because, in the end, it isn’t about what you caught.
It’s about the fact,
“…and you've got to hold them, in your heart…”
“These are the Days”