Stevens: Unforgettable weekend trip reminds one of life's lessons
By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on September 11, 2011 12:05 AM
The beautiful thing about sports is their ability to teach us life lessons that can't be bound by a scoreboard, read in a box score or measured in wins and losses.
This reality resonated with me last weekend during a trip to South Bend, Ind., with a my dad, Tom Stevens, and my brother-in-law, Kent Brannock.
My dad was born in South Bend and moved to North Carolina when he was 11-years-old with his mother, brother and two sisters after unfortunate circumstances cut his father's life short at the age of 38. Our trip, my dad's first to South Bend since moving away nearly 50 years ago, was just as much about recapturing memories and gaining closure as it was about seeing the Fighting Irish play on Saturday.
I met my dad and Kent in Raleigh on Thursday afternoon to board a plane bound for Chicago. Before I knew it we had landed in the Windy City and were in a rental car headed to my dad's hometown.
We left our hotel around 9 a.m. Friday with plenty on our agenda.
Our first stop took us to my dad's old house on Fellows Street. As we pulled up, my imagination raced with visions of my dad and his buddies playing football in the backyard, the roof covered with snow during Indiana winters and the sounds of four siblings doing their best to get along.
After 28 years grasping for some glimpse of what my father's childhood must have looked like, I no longer had to wonder. For my dad, it was a return to a place he left under less than ideal occurrences and an opportunity to leave on better terms.
My dad's old school, James Monroe Elementary, was conveniently located right across the street from his old house. The vision of the beautifully-constructed school drew story after humorous story out of my dad and his joy of being back there was undeniable.
Our next destination was a bit more somber as we went to visit my grandfather's grave in the cemetery. After several minutes of searching, my brother-in-law found the headstone belonging to Robert Leroy Stevens. Suddenly, the three of us grew distinctly quiet and I walked away to leave my dad alone with his father.
The enormity of meeting my grandfather for the first time in a cemetery brought with it a number of different emotions. In that moment, the reality of why my father seems to approach every day with a relentless determination to be an amazing husband, father and best friend was as real as it has ever been. My dad's ability to use the absence of a father figure in his life as motivation day after day to model what a man truly looks like is something I will forever admire.
Discovering that my grandfather is buried roughly 75 yards from legendary Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne was a pleasant surprise. Standing that close to the final resting place of one the most famous coaches in football history is something I won't soon forget.
Our weekend also included a trip to the College Football Hall of Fame, an unbelievable place that could consume hours of any football fan's day. On Saturday, we attended Notre Dame's home opener against South Florida. My beloved Fighting Irish struggled throughout the first half, endured two weather delays and ultimately lost the longest game in college football history, 23-20.
As I thought back over the weekend during my drive home from Raleigh on Sunday afternoon, I was reminded that life -- much like football -- can be full of adversity and forgettable afternoons. It's our ability to learn from those setbacks and willingness to let them shape who we are that ultimately determines who we become.
Little did I know a trip to a place full of the ghosts of football legends would give me a greater appreciation for the people I'm so blessed to know as my real-life heroes.