Lordie, the boy loves football. During Christmas break, he practically wore a hole in our sofa watching his favorite football channels. Usually, I try to coax him away from the television with a little discreet nagging.
"Tommy, it's time for dinner," I'll say, or "Tommy, the couch is on fire."
He barely hears me. "I just wanna watch this one part," he'll mutter absently, his gaze never leaving the screen.
I don't get it. In the land of Nebraska, the "Football Capital of the World", I am an outcast. I can't even work up an appetite for our beloved Huskers. Those Saturday games take up a big chunk of my weekend. And I have the complete fifth season of "The Gilmore Girls" to watch.
But while I was recovering from my double mastectomy over Christmas, I wasn't in the mood to nag Tommy. One morning, arranging my drainage tubes, I settled in the recliner and resigned myself to suffering through some boring biography about Vince Lombardi. To his credit, Tommy had been working hard to help me around the house and be sensitive to my post-op fatigue. "Mom, I can change the channel to something else," he offered.
"This is fine," I said. And it was. I was surprised to discover that tough guy Vince Lombardi was a devout Catholic and even used to be an altar boy. "Did you know that, Tommy?"
"Mom," Tommy said patiently, "everybody knows that."
When Vince died suddenly of cancer in 1969 at the height of his football season, I welled up with tears.
Tommy was uncomfortable. "Look, Mom," he said, "let's watch something else."
"I just wanna watch this one part," I muttered.
The next day, ESPN aired a documentary about the University of Miami during their days as the "Bad Boys" of the 80's. I'd never seen a more swaggering, lawless group of players in my life.
"Those boys are criminals!" I sputtered. "Look at them dancing in the end zone. Please don't tell me they win a national championship."
Tommy rolled his eyes. "They won five of them, Mom. And the first one was against Nebraska."
I've never understood Tommy's passion for football. He doesn't exactly possess a killer instinct, any more than his 6 ft. 10 in. older brother Kenny does. The two of them can't leave our little cat Blackie alone for two seconds.
"Oh, my BABY!" Tommy croons in a high falsetto, cuddling her against his chest and rocking her like a baby. He'll be horrified when he sees this. Oh, well. Let him write his own blog and tell embarrassing stories about me if it bothers him so much.
But because football is so important to Tommy, it's important to me. He's spent two years preparing for an offensive tackle position at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Even though he hasn't seen a lick of playing time, he felt his chance was coming next year.
Then a bolt from the blue.
Two days ago, UNO dropped their football and wrestling programs. With no warning, 120 football players, 30 wrestlers, and a group of stunned coaches learned that their programs were about to become extinct.
"I can't believe it," Tommy called us yesterday morning in disbelief. "I'm not sure what to do."
I've tried to shield my boys all their lives from pain and sickness. And I've done a damned lousy job. Kenny, who managed to snare a Division 1 basketball scholarship at Denver University, had to give the game up. He was born with Pectus Excavatum. That's a nice way of saying "caved-in chest." Although an operation when he was five helped to create a little more room for his heart, he's never had more than 75% lung capacity. After his first two years of Division 1, he tried playing Division 2 basketball at Regis University, a small Catholic college in Denver. But the rigors of college basketball at any level proved to be too much.
Tommy, on the other hand, has always been barrel chested and sturdy. But when he was 14, his adrenal gland was assaulted by a benign tumor causing his blood pressure and heart rhythm to fluctuate wildly. His entire adrenal gland was removed in a risky operation, and after a year of sitting out, he was finally able to play high school sports again.
Their trials in life have shaped Kenny and Tommy in ways that John and I never could. I've learned a lot from my sons about courage and persistence and new perspective. Our two boys can roll with the punches. Kenny showed us that not long ago when he was diagnosed with epilepsy.
"You just need a new plan," my good husband has always taught our boys.
When Kenny couldn't play basketball, he applied for a little part time job at the college alumni department and for another position as an R.A. for the dormitory. That little part time job at the alumni office developed into a full time position when he graduated. And his R.A. job introduced him to a beautiful girl named Katie.
Now my husband John reminds Tommy that good things can come from wrecked plans. "It'll work out, Son," he reassures him in that rock steady voice that has soothed me through many a crisis.
And I know he's right. A double mastectomy was never in the plans for my sisters and me. We would have considered such an operation nothing less than a nightmare. But it's all worked out for the best.
Tommy may never play football again. Or he may discover he can't live without it and find success at a small college. Whatever he decides, he'll begin with a new plan - one that never in his wildest dreams would he ever have imagined.
Our darling former pastor, Father Don Larmore, used to tell his parishioners, "There is a God. And it's not you or me."
But sometimes, just for a fraction of a second, I wish it was me.