My parents wouldn't allow me to do it before high school. No dropping me off to go on a date. No late-night phone conversations.
"You're too young” would always be their reasoning. AlI I knew was I just couldn't wait to get to high school so I could finally be with my crush. I had been “eyeballing” her from afar since I could remember, and soon I’d have my chance to fall in love …
“It's gonna always be this way …” Listening to Billy Stewart in February is the perfect time to discuss “love."
We all remember our first little school crush, when we first started to notice that other person on the playground or in the hallways at school. Maybe you’d find yourself daydreaming about whatever young lovers dream about. Possibly something along the lines of, “This is the one … my soulmate, my everything.” Or, “I don't know how I can ever live without them.”
Funny how you know all of this before you turned 13.
“I just couldn't get enough …" — Depeche Mode.
Not being allowed to play football before high school, I would long for the days when I could try out for the team. As the husky kid who was still trying to find his “swag” in middle and elementary school, high school would be my sweet spot.
My parents encouraged me to play (date) everything else except football. Not as svelte as the other kids, too big to play sports like soccer and basketball (too much running!), always too big and out of place in those small desks and chairs in class, my first true love welcomed me without any judgment.
She would welcome and accept my huskiness. She wouldn't make me feel bad for not being able to run for miles like other guys. She encouraged me to eat and get bigger. In fact, she had a perfect place for me with the other thick, beefy linemen in training. Unlike basketball with its fouls for too much contact, football allowed me to have as much contact with her as I wanted.
Football gave me purpose, direction and discipline, something to be excited about all the time. Daydreaming in class about games. Sneaking to get extra time together alone in a dark room watching film. Late-night/early-morning training sessions, even though we’d be practicing in a few hours. Football loved me back as much as I loved her, and I couldn't get enough.
“I would do anything for love …” — Meatloaf.
Football seemed like something that would last forever, like your first school crush. You could never see yourself without her. How would you make it if it wasn't in your life? “Who would I be?” you ask.
All things I’ve said to myself when I was deep in the throes of being a passionate athlete “in love” with football. Spending every waking moment doing all I could to show my “adoration” for football. Everything I did or didn’t do would be centered around this love.
“Love movement.” — A Tribe Called Quest.
Waking up at 4 a.m. to workout “for the love." Working out three times a day when the season is months away “for the love.” Taking extra classes to stay eligible “for the love.” Avoiding other sexy temptations like pizza or hot Krispy-Kreme doughnuts (don’t cheat!!!!) to stay in shape “for the love."
We sacrifice so much for our love, but it's totally worth it even if you know this love won't last like a summer-camp crush. Some sports allow their loves to be able to play well into their twilight years. Adult tennis leagues and golf can be played until they read your eulogy.
The closest we get to playing football later in life will be the annual Letterman's flag football game or mock two-hand touch games in the backyard (only if I get to be “all time QB”). But with football, especially playing it, you see this is a young person's love. One that you do all the little things for, go to all the extremes for, but this love won't last.
I’ve been asked, “When did you know football was over for you?” Well, for one, they asked me not to come back after my sixth NFL season, so that was one sign. But I seriously knew “our” time together as a couple was over when I stopped doing all the little things you do when in love. Like trying to find ways to get extra workouts in. Or allowing myself more excuses to cheat. Becoming more undisciplined with my diet, neglecting to rehab my body, sacrificing what I wanted then instead of what I wanted in the future with my love.
My mind may have been saying, “Yeah, we’re in love” but my actions and focus proved otherwise. We became the “old couple” who didn't grow stronger in love and relied on familiarity (the past) to get us through our days. It was only a matter of time before one of us had to find a new love.
“Love is a losing game …” — Amy Winehouse.
Like all love stories, they eventually end. Be it through time or just growing apart after so many years together, love can feel like a “losing game.” You chase the passion that you felt when you first met your “sweetheart.” You look to capture that feeling of endearment and bottle it up to have forever, but deep down you know, “It can't be this way forever.”
Sitting on the opposite end of my football love life, I get to watch young lovers (players) walk around love struck. It causes me to reminisce on my days in love like it's some sappy romance movie like the “Notebook.” Witnessing the players doing all the silly little things young lovers do when they get hit by cupid's arrow.
But these “little things” aren't foolish, they’re necessary to play this game we all love at a high level. Being in love takes a lot of work. Being a football player takes a lot of work. And the work never ends. The moment you start to take the game for granted and dismiss all the ways to show your commitment, love and affection, she will leave.
To the one that got away.
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**Photo by Allen Sharpe**