I watched the last two minutes of the Alabama/Auburn game last weekend. Maybe you’ve seen the replays of the missed field goal attempt in the last second of play by Alabama that resulted in the ball being caught in the end zone and carried all the way back for a touchdown by Auburn.

For the most part, unless the Golden Gophers are playing (and actually winning) I’m not much of a football fan. Furthermore, if my son and nephew hadn’t been caught up in the excitement taking place on the television last weekend, I wouldn’t know anything about any of this. In fact, if you’d asked me before last Saturday where Auburn University is located, I would have told you Georgia.

This is ironic, considering that I spent the better part of my career as an educator pounding grammar and punctuation into the heads of football players who could recite every team and player statistic without even breaking a sweat.

The students I taught back then are real live adults now, not college freshmen. Many of them keep me up to date on their college graduations, marriages, job promotions, and sometimes even the games they’ve won if the planets aligned perfectly for them and they still play the game they love.  Once in a while, late at night when I’m on the computer, a message will pop up from one of them just checking in just to say hello.

When I first knew them, I found that they shared many things in common besides their passion for the sport of football. For the majority of them, the absence of a father was one.  They were men raised by women.  Strong, loving, determined, Godly mothers, or aunties or often, grandmothers  who toiled and sweat and tried really hard to fill the gap for their sons and nephews and grandsons.

I think about those women a lot when I see the pictures my former students post of their own children.  Photos of newborns in the delivery room…and birthday pictures of toddlers covered in icing.  Family pictures and first day of school pictures and Christmas morning pictures of those young men with children they’ve not only fathered, but have stuck around to raise.

I know when I see these pictures that they know that there’s a big difference between a Baby Daddy and a Father. A huge difference.

These are young men who are in the game of their lives.  It’s called being a father. It’s no game of inches.  These are the guys who show up, suit up, and stay.  They not only pay for diapers;  they are man enough to change ’em, too.  They aren’t just passive spectators in the lives of their children.  They are the best kind of father.  The type every child deserves.  The kind that is there not just on birthdays, but every day.  The kind of father my father was…the kind my husband is…the kind I hope my son and nephew will be someday.

I never watched a single one of those football players play a game like the one I saw last Saturday, in a huge stadium. I never saw our community college hillside with its handful of spectators cleared and celebrating a one second victory on the field. No announcer ever predicted that any one of them would be named Player of the Year.

That’s okay.  I couldn’t be prouder of them than I already am.

Football is a game. College football is sometimes other things, too.  It can be a tool, a ticket, or a life ring thrown in the direction of a young man with very little direction or support who just might be looking to get an education, too.   Sometimes, the smartest ones grab that life ring and hang on. This changes everything.

I know this. I’ve seen it happen. These guys are proof.

And if there was a Heisman for fatherhood instead of football, I’d have a long list of young men I’d sure like to nominate this year.

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