The day after the Indianapolis Colts beat the New England Patriots to advance to the Super Bowl in 2007 my father began a search. A search for a Colts American Football Conference Champions sweatshirt. The criteria – it had to have a logo Dad liked and it was the cheapest he could find.
Every day I called him or the Thursday night I stopped at the house after my sales calls he would literally show me the advertisements he had saved or cut out comparing what he liked and didn’t like about the logo or the price. I constantly asked him, “When are you going to just stop this and buy one?” His reply – “I will. I am just waiting on the right opportunity.” “Dad, the game is in a week.” “Then I got plenty of time to get it.”
Prior to the championship game against the Patriots my parents attended a funeral for one of Dad’s cousins in Warsaw, Indiana. At the graveyard my mother fell. She was sore but nothing any of us thought at the time was too serious. She iced her hip and leg and seemed to be getting around for the most part.
The Wednesday prior to the big game while eating lunch my Mom suddenly couldn’t get up. My Dad tried to pick her up but to no avail. She ended up being transported to the hospital in an ambulance.
Mom was admitted to the hospital because they had found a blood clot in her leg. They were administering blood-thinning medicine to see if the clot would possibly dissolve. I visited with her on Saturday afternoon after I had finished officiating some basketball games. We watched the Indiana-Iowa game and were torn as we watched the Hoosiers take on former Hoosier and then-Iowa coach Steve Alford.
On his way home that day from the hospital my Dad finally stopped at the JC Penny store at the Greenwood Mall and bought his sweatshirt – it met the criteria – it had the logo he wanted and it was the cheapest price he had seen in any of the advertisements. He was quite excited about it when he called me that night before we both went to bed.
I was officiating the next morning and then heading back down to the hospital to see Mom. The plan was for Dad to come down to the hospital room and we were going to watch the Colts face the Bears in the Super Bowl together.
Unfortunately after my morning session of games I received “The Call.”
There was a message on my cell phone to call the hospital because there had been a change in my mother’s condition. I called and the attending nurse informed me of the worse news possible – my mother had unexpectedly taken a turn for the worse and died unexpectedly.
They couldn’t find my father. I called the church and they said he had left a half hour prior to me calling. He had been so excited to wear that sweatshirt to church that day as everyone else would be wearing their jerseys, t-shirts and sweatshirts as well to celebrate the Colts in the Super Bowl. I couldn’t get a hold of my wife so I called my aunt and uncle, who lived in Colorado Springs at the time. Finally contacted my wife. My friend, Chris Wood, would take me to the hospital.
As we got to the hospital and eventually the floor where my mom was, I saw so many familiar faces from Bargersville Church who were already there comforting my Dad. And there he was standing, his eyes so red already from crying. You could also tell he was in shock from what had happened. Of course he also was wearing his sweatshirt.
Dad had been at the hospital for the better part of 20 minutes to a half hour that Sunday morning. He was in the room sitting next to mom talking to her. He thought she was just asleep. When he arrived there was no note on the door. He walked right in and sat down. He thought she was just in a deep sleep. He had no idea she had died.
I don’t remember a lot about that Sunday up until the game. I remember calling family members and friends of my parents and informing them of what had happened. Dad and I decided to still watch the game. I thought the Colts would win easily – Dad not so sure, but I thought what better way to hopefully end this horrible day than being with him to watch his team win the Super Bowl.
I am not Colts fan. I have never cheered for the Colts. I have been a Broncos fan since I remember them being in the first Super Bowl I watched in 1978 against the Dallas Cowboys. Even when the Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984 I didn’t waiver my allegiance to the Orange Crush. Heck when John Elway spurned the Colts and their owner Bob Irsay – even before they came to Indy – Elway became pretty awesome to me.
That night though on Feb. 4, 2007 I became a Colts fan for a few hours mainly because I wanted my Dad to go to bed somewhat happy that night – if one possibly could after losing their soul mate of 41 years.
The game didn’t start out too well when Chicago’s Devin Hester returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. I looked over to Dad in his chair – still wearing the sweatshirt – and his head slumped. Fortunately about three and half hours later he did crack a smile as Peyton Manning held up the Lombardi Trophy and the Colts were Super Bowl Champions!
Dad washed that sweatshirt and hung it up. He never wore it again. The Colts made it to the Super Bowl again in 2010 and this time against the New Orleans Saints. Unlike last time my father did not go on some search for the perfect sweatshirt. I even asked him if he had thought about it and he said no. I asked him if he was going to wear his sweatshirt from 2007. Again he replied he would not.
Deep down that sweatshirt brought back too many hurtful memories of that Super Bowl morning in 2007 – he never did come out and say it but I am pretty sure it was the reasoning. I don’t think I would wear it again either.
Each Super Bowl since then has been hard for me. I don’t sleep well the night before regardless of what teams are playing. Actually I spend the overnight watching the last movie my mother and I went to the theater to see together – “For Love of the Game” on what seems a continuous loop.
The Colts-Saints Super Bowl game would also be the last one I would watch with my father. Much like my mother, he passed away unexpectedly on Sept. 9, 2010.
The night before I had dropped off the birthday present I wanted him to give his youngest grandson – a Butler basketball shirt. For most of the day Dad said he didn’t feel quite right.
Since my Mom died and when I began working for this one company handling several of the Lowes stores in the state of Indiana, I decided to make Thursdays my night to visit with him. On my way home I would stop by his house. We would sometimes go to eat or he would fix me a Tortino party pizza and we would also indulged in “Rueff Size” bowls of ice cream. We then would either watch professional wrestling or go downstairs into the basement and play snooker and watch wrestling.
Since he had the spell on Wednesday I thought the first thing I should do before heading to the office was to call him as I usually did to see how things were going. There was no answer when I called around 8:30 am. I thought it was strange but figured he had either went out because he found a good deal on something at the grocery store or had went to visit a good friend of his. I called again around 2:30 pm and did not get an answer.
As I came around the bend on the street behind my Dad’s house I noticed the lights weren’t on in the living room. I opened the garage door and saw the truck and car still parked. I opened the door to the house from the garage and began yelling his name. Once I got to the bedroom I flipped the light switch…
He was also fanatic about staying in good shape. He rode his bike a good seven miles a day and depending on what day it was when a different route each day. He also walked several miles when he didn’t want to ride and he also went with his friend to the local fitness center and walked the treadmill.
Dad had a pacemaker put in June 2000. He did his regular check ups on that. His doctor said he was beginning to show signs of being borderline diabetic and gave him medication for it, but because of the side effects he read on the bottle, he never took it. So when I saw what the death certificate said “Complications to diabetes” was the cause of death I got totally upset with myself for not doing a better job as a son of trying to get him to take those pills despite the side effects.
We began to clean out my parents house – we actually thought about renovating it and moving into it ourselves but after a night of playing snooker in the basement I decided against it. Matter of fact once we had the house completely cleaned out and decided to rent to friends, I no longer go into it. The memory of finding my father as I did that September night haunt me still to this day. The good memories also at times become too painful and I wish they were both still alive.
The day finally came when it was time to go through my parents’ clothes. Ever since I found my Dad in his bed, I could not go back into that room. My wife literally brought the clothes out for me to look at to see which ones I wanted for myself and which ones we were going to give away.
Then she brought out that sweatshirt.
Tears instantly welled up in my eyes. I told her it stayed. I told her it was mine. Along with the Colts hat I had won as some door prize at a Butler function, which was signed by Peyton Manning, Tony Dungy, Adam Vinateri, Jim Sorgi and Dallas Clark. I figured I was never going to wear it but Dad would and he’d enjoy it having it to wear when the Colts played.
“Rob, it’s the Colts,” Wendy said. “We’ll keep the hat that will be worth something. The sweatshirt, you’ll never wear it.”
“I’ll wear it,” I replied. “On the Sundays during the season when the Colts play and the Broncos don’t. I’ll wear it on the Thursday and Monday night games the Colts play – unless they are playing the Broncos. I will wear it. Actually, I’ll wear both.”
“Whatever,” Wendy said and she went ahead and placed it in the keep pile.
And I have – every Thursday and Monday night game the Colts have played and on the Sundays when the Broncos have not I have wore that sweatshirt and the hat.
Over the last 166 weeks Thursdays have become tolerable. The really rough ones to get through have been the Thursdays of the NCAA tournament and when the Colts play or the anniversary of his death. Most Thursdays I still have my own “Rueff Size” bowl of ice cream after putting my sons to bed. Once I know they are asleep I usually also head downstairs to the snooker table room in my house and play a few frames – when we had our new house built in 2011 I had Orner Billiards move the table from my parents house to mine and also had them make some modifications to it. When I play I alternate between my cue and my Dad’s cue as if we still really played against each other. Sometimes I even play a full frame with his cue left handed in his honor.
Now comes today – a Thursday but not a regular Thursday. It’s the Thursday before my 42nd birthday on Saturday. The Colts play the Tennessee Titans tonight in a Thursday Night Football game on the NFL Network.
And there I’ll be in my man cave watching the game on the 120″, eating a “Rueff Size” bowl of ice cream at halftime, maybe play a frame or two of snooker afterward and of course wearing that sweatshirt.