But a lot of hard work helps too – and a little talent – and some encouragement. Don’t forget the right environment, a nurturing community, a fan or two, and, oh, yeah, some family support.
About a decade and a half ago, my husband and I moved to a small town on Route 66 in Central Illinois – a town where everyone wore purple, without the red hats.
It didn’t take us long to learn, back there in the last half of the final decade of the twentieth century, that the move we’d made was to a football town – and a pretty good one at that. Seriously, that town was so into football that it seemed 95 percent of its residents were under the Friday night lights. The rest of town looked like a ghost town during those games.
Now, I’ve never understood football – and I probably never will – but I lived for those games, partly because my daughter was in the high school band and I love being a band parent, partly because it’s really fun to see your team take off, get bunches of touchdowns and go into post-season play year after year.
There was one thing, though, that I really loved about those games – not a thing, but a person. It was the team’s water boy, the coach’s son.
That little kid, who must have been nine or 10 at the time, ran out on the field with that carrier of water bottles as if his life depended on it, as if the game depended on it, as if it were the most important job in the world, as if he loved being a water boy.
And, maybe he did.
But, as I’ve watched this little guy grow into a man and followed his career in his hometown paper and mine halfway across the state, I think maybe what he loves even more is that game – football.
And what he has, as much as talent, as much as determination, as much as the love of the game is enthusiasm.
As a quarterback at that high school with the purple uniforms and later at a college that donned red, Alex Tanney played football, the same way he carried those water bottles – as if his life depended on it, as if the game depended on it, as if it were the most important job in the world, as if he loved being a quarterback.
I think he does.
This week, the Lexington Minutemen and Monmouth Scots legend, the record-breaking player, viral video sensation signed to play professional football with the Kansas City Chiefs.
I still don’t understand that game, and I doubt that a small-town boy making the big time will help my sports literacy.
And, too, as much as I like that poem that says, “When I grow old, I shall wear purple with a red hat,” I’ve never donned the two together, hesitant to join a group which conforms on such a non-conformist concept.
But come fall, you never know -- you just may see me wearing my purple Lexington sweatshirt with a red Kansas City Chiefs hat.
If anything can make me wear purple and red together, it might be this guy.
Don’t be surprised, though, as he’s running out onto the field in a great big stadium, and I’m watching at home on the television, when you look in my eyes, you’ll see I’m a million miles away. I have a feeling that instead of an NFL quarterback, I’ll see that big, strong man shrunk kid-size again running with water bottles out to the huddle. I’ll be remembering that cool little kid.
Congratulations, Alex. Way to go!