On the opening day of Clemson’s football season, I woke early, thinking about my brother and pondering one of life’s more baffling questions:
What’s the big deal with some people and college football?
I mean, seriously. Have you ever noticed how giddy some fans get when it’s time for the start of another season?
If you didn’t know better, you might think they’d just found a cure for every disease under the sun and gotten a deal for free cable TV. I’m just saying.
Take my brother. If there exists on this planet a truer fan of Clemson football, I for one don’t want to meet him. Or her.
Joe loves to pull for the Tigers the way some people love to eat and drink and breathe. He does all those other things, too, but pulling for Clemson comes first.
Totally blind since birth, he has never seen a football, let alone watched a game. But as with other hurdles in his life, he doesn’t let that stop him.
He listens faithfully to every game on the radio, sitting on his porch on the edge of his seat, hanging on every word of every description of every play.
He feels the shape of a football someone gave him years ago, running his fingers along the seams as if trying to imagine how it feels to intercept a pass.
He jumps up and dances to the Tiger Rag (despite braces that keep his knees from buckling) when Clemson scores, and hangs his head in agony if they lose.
But win or lose, in good years and bad, he’s always ready, always looking forward to the next game, the next season.
Especially on opening day.
I phoned him just before the game. He didn’t answer. Never does. Can’t move fast enough to get the phone before it goes to voice mail. So I left a message.
“Hey, Cheever.” (That’s short for mischievous, which is what he is.) “Good luck today. Don’t forget who you’re pulling for.”
He never forgets who he’s pulling for. Sometimes I just say stuff to mess with him. I’m his sister. It’s my job. Like the time my husband and I took him to see Clemson play Furman. We bought Joe a Clemson hat. He wore it with pride until halftime when I told him it was a Furman hat. He laughed like he knew I was joking. Then he whispered to a man seated nearby, “Sir, would you mind telling me what kind of hat I am wearing?”
Joe wasn’t always a Clemson fan. His wife, Tommie Jean, who also was blind, converted him on their honeymoon. They listened to games together for 10 good years before he lost her to cancer. Now he pulls for Clemson twice as hard, he says, just to honor her memory.
While waiting for Joe to call me back, I watched the game on TV. Clemson beat Wofford 49-10. Joe was probably half-dead from dancing the Tiger Rag. He wouldn’t call for hours. So I left him another message:
“Sorry your team lost. Better luck next time.”
I knew that would get him. Sure enough, 30 seconds later, my phone rang.
“Sister!” he said, laughing to show he’d gotten my joke. “What a game! Tommie Jean would’ve loved it!”
We spent a minute recapping the game. Then he said this.
“Remember when you and Mark took me to a game and I got to touch ‘the Rock’ – the one the players touch for good luck before they run on the field?”
“You also ate five hot dogs and danced the Tiger Rag in front of God and all his angels.”
“Well,” he said, “can you just imagine all the fans who would love to touch that rock and will never get a chance? I’m a lot luckier than most people.”
So said the football fan who has never seen a football.
“Yes, Cheever,” I said. “You are lucky. And so am I.”
He’s lucky that he can see the world with truly thankful eyes. And I’m lucky that he reminds me it’s the only way to see it.