Father’s Day, Football and Setting the Bar High

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On May 28 of this year, I became a dad. The arrival of Liam means Father’s Day 2014 is my first on the paternal side of the equation, and now I think I understand how Jimbo Fisher felt in his first game as Florida State head coach after the retirement of Bobby Bowden.

Following an all-time great comes with a lot of pressure. But thanks to my dad, I also have a blueprint for bringing up my own son with love, affection, education and a high standard.

The coaching analogy fits especially well when as it pertains to my dad.

Like millions of fathers and sons around the nation, sports helped my dad and I bond. Our relationship through sports took on a somewhat unique shape in that my dad was a 30-year basketball coach, and almost every year, we spent Father’s Day together in gyms at camps or tournaments.

The soundtrack of our Father’s Day was the squeak of sneakers and patter of basketballs on hardwood. Neither of us would have traded it for the world.

As a college student, I joined in a transition much less meaningful than that on which I embark this year, going from camper to coach. That resulted in my most memorable Father’s Day before this year’s. We were paired at Lute Olson’s Basketball Camp as co-coaches, where we spent the holiday working on drills before adjourning to eat hot wings and watch Game 5 of the 2005 NBA Finals.

It was so simple, but so perfect.

That same year, I covered the University of Arizona football team as a beat reporter. It was my first major step in a dream of following college football as a profession. Crazy, right?

With his coaching experience, my dad gave me the foundation to be a great basketball player. That was the dream until various AAU and scout tournaments while in high school taught me colleges were not clamoring for the slow-of-foot with verticals in the 20s.

But another passion shared with my dad gave me a more realistic fallback when the time came to start thinking about college.

I fell in love with college football while watching the Arizona Desert Swarm defense in 1993. With Rob Waldrop and Tedy Bruschi manning the front line, I watched history unfold. The Desert Swarm Wildcats were among the stingiest units of all-time, capping a legendary season with what remains the only shutout in Fiesta Bowl history, 29-0 against Miami.

But Desert Swarm was only one facet of the ’93 season that piqued my interest. That fall marked the release of Rudy, a movie I saw in a theater in Globe, Arizona, with my dad and members of his high school basketball team.

How serendipitous that the Lou Holtz-led Notre Dame Fighting Irish were in the thick of the national championship race that season. Their late-season showdown with Bowden’s Florida State Seminoles was the first of many tilts dubbed as “Game of the Century” in my years following college football.

It lived up to its billing, and remains the true benchmark for such matchups by my completely arbitrary metric. As much as I loved Rudy I was backing the losing Seminoles for one reason: Charlie Ward.

I later discovered I had a predisposition to gravitate toward exciting, dual-threat quarterbacks like Ward. Though basketball was my dad’s true sports love, he won state high school football championships in Arizona and New Mexico.

He jokes he compensated for his lack of football acumen by lining up his fastest, most athletic player at quarterback and essentially letting him freelance. In the small divisions of Southwestern prep football during the late 1970s and early 1980s, my dad was running a rudimentary version of the offenses prevalent in college football today.

Maybe had he stuck to the gridiron, he’d have been the forerunner to Gus Malzahn.

…OK, so maybe not.

But as a dad, he was Darrell K. Royal. Lou Holtz. Bobby Bowden. That’s the standard I hope to meet on my first Father’s Day and beyond.