As we pass through time, flashes of sights, sounds and smells blur together into a blend leaving us with a collection of yesterdays and a retention of clips; compressed and disjointed telescopic recollections exposed via our lens through a doppler effect process and developed in our hippocampi.
The time passes, as it’s inevitably prone to do, and all we have to show for our traded days is a few added wrinkles and a pile of snapshots taken from inside a moving DeLorean DMC-12. Snapshots that we choose to either file neatly into a scrapbook or tuck away in a weathered box in the basement of our craniums. Snapshots that we refer to as memories.
12 years ago, I was 11 years old and entering the sixth grade. Preoccupied with remembering my first locker combination – a combination that now I could only hope to recall if I was standing in front of Hart middle school locker B19 spinning the tumbler – pictures from this point in time of my life are few and far between, tattered and worn even if they’re come upon. Outlines without detail. Nothing more.
Three snaps I had the wherewithal to frame.
The first is of the the first NFL jersey I ever owned, a Marshall Faulk away replica, that I displayed with near religious fervor. I wore it every day for a month, much to mom’s dismay, and I’ll never forget the look on Grandma’s face when she gifted it to me.
The second memory I’ve kept hung on the wall from this stage in my life is the day I wore my Miami Hurricanes hat to school a champion. I had worn that hat everyday since the beginning of summer, always backwards like Ken Griffey jr., and had watched the ‘Canes every week they played that season.
Considered by many pundits – myself included – to be one of, if not the, greatest team in college football history, the 2001 Hurricanes scored 512 points while yielding only 117, dispatching opponents by an average of 32.9 points per contest. The offense conducted by third place Heisman finisher Ken Dorsey broke the school record for points, the defense led by ballhawk extraordinaire Ed Reed was the strongest in the country, chipping in eight scores of their own and both kicker Todd Sievers and punt returner Phillip Buchanon were named first team All-Americans.
17 players from that multidimensional roster were chosen in the first-round of the NFL draft – six in 2002, an NFL record – and 38 were selected overall, racking up 41-collective trips to the Pro Bowl so far.
An unblemished 12-0, the ‘Canes cemented their perfection on Jan. 3, 2001 defeating No. 2 Nebraska and Heisman winner Eric Crouch handily 37-14.
That 2001 team got me started into a sometimes unhealthy level of football fanship that I still enjoy today, Dorsey became the model for everything I strived to be as an aspiring quarterback and on Jan. 4, vicariously through the ‘Canes success, I reveled.
The third picture I’ve distinctly stored away is one that I share with an entire nation, a shot of a subject that I wish very sincerely I had never had happened upon. Two towers in smolders, debris falling like rain and no understanding of what it all meant.
I remember sitting in Mrs. Nusses’ english class as she explained how writing was a lot like making a sandwich when a t.v. monitor hung in the corner of the room flipped on, exposing us all to the panic. In suspended disbelief, we watched without sound until just as abruptly as it had come on, the television was blank. We were being sent home, adjourned for the day.
I remember Grandpa, a man who rarely did anything but grin, with misty eyes on the drive home. We didn’t stop for ice cream, as was our custom on Tuesdays when he picked me up.
I remember dad, recovering from hernia surgery and laying on the couch after taking his first sick day since the day of the Oklahoma City bombings in 1995 promising never to take a sick day again – he hasn’t .
I remember excusing myself from the somber CNN replays playing in the living room to the driveway to shoot hoops, but finding myself too distracted to take even a dribble. I just sat on the porch cradling the ball as mom stepped out to hang the flag, the sunken finality and dampening mood permeating to the bone as if a drenched jacket had been dropped over the world on a windy day.
I remember laying in bed with the lights off hopeful that as I tossed a football upward that an explanation might return with it from the stars.
I still look up often and this morning as I spun laces into the air, an urge struck me. Feet to the floor, I traced a path to the closet and fished into the dark recesses shaded by sliding pine doors. My fingers recognize it instantly from wear and my arm retracts with a Ram’s jersey in hand.
I don’t do it often, but when nostalgia strikes I’ll try on my Marshall Faulk jersey as if it were an old wedding tux put away into mothballs. It was my personal pair of PF Flyers and every time I adorned it, I felt like I could probably outrun a helicopter. Maybe not, but I still get that feeling every time I put it on.
With No. 28 cape securely attached, I climbed the stairs and by some compulsion I was drawn to the couch. Moments later, I was watching a replay of the 2001 Rose Bowl and loving every second of it, savoring each Dorsey dart directed towards Andre Johnson, co-Most Valuable Players who connected seven times for 199 yards and two touchdowns.
And as I watched transfixed, I was transported back to my youth – through sport – to a porch where I sat 12-years earlier in sorrow, uncertain if the world I saw would ever recover.
Players come and go. Dynasties fade and are rebuilt. People, and nations, move on. And through it all, I’m glad I remember.