My brother turns 50 this next week. That’s hard for me to write, much less believe. In my mind’s eye, we are still kids running loose in the front yard on Lakeshire, embroiled in a bitter neighborhood match up. Tackle football at its finest. I’m hanging by the sidelines just hoping to get the call. I’ve run that post route a thousand times, judging the velocity and grasping at that tight spiral as it hit my chest with a thud. I know I can catch it. With my blue Ole Miss jersey and my buster brown haircut, I’m watching my quarterback brother for the nod. There’s a five year difference between us, and the team is a hodgepodge of school-aged friends. Mostly older. Mostly boys. But I want in, and our endless practice sessions have filled me with a wild confidence. Finally, I hear him call, “Jen, it’s your turn.” I trot into the huddle, surrounded by skeptics. I watch him draw the play up on the palm of his hand. This will never work, they all think. She’s a girl. She’s too little. We’re going to lose. “Down. Set. Hut. Hut.” I’m off. Streaking down the sideline, I give a quick head fake and turn for the end zone. The ball is already in the air, anticipating my arrival. I reach out into open space and muscle memory kicks in. The ball lands perfectly and safely in my arms. I stand, hands in the air, smugly surveying the fallen defenders. We are the winners. Just like I knew we would be.
That wouldn’t be the last time I stood on the sidelines watching him play quarterback. No, I spent the majority of my elementary and middle school years at Robins Field on a Friday night. And when his career led him to college, most every Saturday at the Liberty Bowl or some other grand stage in the South. Great stadiums where modern gladiators waged war. I learned quickly that no matter how the team was doing, my brother was going to be held responsible. If they were losing, he turned the ball over too much. If they were winning, he was throwing strikes. The quarterback has to have big shoulders, because he carries both high praise and blistering criticism. I’m not saying it is fair. I’m just saying it is. Nevertheless, Andy was an astute field general, maintaining a calm and a presence in highly charged environments. He ran one of the most effective two minute offenses I can remember, leading his team to more last minute victories than I can count. His performances oftentimes inspired heart failure from his family, but he never folded under pressure. Underperformed occasionally? Yes. Gave up? Never.
The same qualities that saved him on the football field have served him equally well in life. His broad shoulders are older but nonetheless strong. In fact, they have carried me on more than one occasion. Because of our birth order, I was always afforded flights of fancy, emotional swings, and high drama. Andy, not so much. I may have been the entertainment. Andy has always been the substance. He is without question the one man in my life who has displayed an unwavering devotion to his faith in any and all circumstances. And when I say all circumstances, I mean that. Life has not always been kind to him, but he has always found a way to trust even in the middle of the storm. In my life, no other man has led by example over such a long period of time in that way. Ever.
Andy, I hope you find a football field this Friday. I hope you line up, drop back and throw a bomb. I know you’ve still got it. You’re a winner. Just like I knew you always would be.