What's a football for anyway?
When I was 10, there were two things I knew for sure: I loved football, and the Green Bay Packers were my favorite team. My family lived in sunny Miami, but I would have gladly moved to frigid Wisconsin just to see the Packers play.
This was the 1967 season, and the Pack kept winning. The next thing I knew, they were coming to the Orange Bowl to play the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II. The game would be played on my 11th birthday right in my hometown. I couldn't think of a better birthday gift than to go see the Pack win.
They had a bunch of my heroes. Bart Starr, the quiet, humble quarterback from Alabama who rose to stardom under the leadership of the great coach Vince Lombardi. And there was Max McGee, Willie Davis, and Jerry Kramer. All stars.
Someday, I wanted to play like these guys, and I wanted to see them play in person, not just on TV.
"Dad, can we go?" I asked. (I actually begged.)
"We'll see," he said.
If I asked for anything and he said, "We'll see," I usually got it. If I asked to go fishing and he said that, I knew we probably were going to go.
So I thought we might go to see the Packers take down the Raiders.
But we didn't. My dad tried every way he could to get tickets, short of getting scalped by some scalper, but tickets just weren't available.
"Sorry, son," he said. "We'll see what else we can do."
All that was left to do was watch the game on TV, I figured.
Then my father bought me a football. I was glad to get it, all smooth and brand-new. But I already had a football.
"This is going to be a very special ball," he said.
The Pack came to town, and each day before the game, I read all the articles in the newspaper during the big pregame buildup. Almost everyone agreed that the Pack would win, but I wasn't so confident - you never know till the game is over.
"Who do you think will win?" I asked my father.
"We'll see," he said.
Then, a couple of days before the game, my father took my new football to work with him. I didn't know why.
When he brought it back, he presented it to me as a birthday gift. It was covered with the autographs of nearly every Packer on the team: Bart Starr, Boyd Dowler, Donny Anderson, Vince Lombardi, the coach. Even names I hardly recognized.
I couldn't believe it.
"How did you do that?" I asked.
Somehow my dad's boss got the ball to the team.
That Sunday we watched the game on TV, and I held the ball, signed by the very guys who were playing the game.
The Packers won: 33-14.
"Don't ever play with this ball," my dad advised me. "Just put it on your shelf and enjoy it. Someday it'll be worth something."
I kept it on my shelf for about a year, but there's only so much enjoyment a boy can get from a football sitting on a shelf.
One day I took it outside and told a friend to "go long." He ran and I threw. Actually, I overthrew. The ball hit the road out front. We picked it up, and it had a huge scuff on it, right through the names of several Packers' players.
"You ruined it," my father said when he saw it. But he didn't get mad. Or, if he did, he kept it to himself.
Once the ball was ruined, it became like any other football. I played with it often in backyard games, and eventually it went into the trash.
Today, the experts say the '67 Packers were one of the greatest teams in pro football history. The team was made up of players who became legends.
I guess that ball would be worth a lot of money now. But the memory of that gift from my father - and his quiet reaction after I had played with it - is worth a whole lot more.