Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
I’ll never forget sitting in front of that television set.
On Jan. 3, 2003, like many other college football fans across the nation, my eyes were glued to the screen. Ohio State vs. Miami. The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. The National Championship Game.
I was 11 years old, wearing a commemorative fifteen-dollar t-shirt I had bought that day. Well, we had bought two. When mom took me to the store, I made sure she got one that matched.
After all, grandpa was a Buckeye fan. I needed him to be my rooting partner that night.
That’s where I was headed. Grandpa’s.
For weeks, I had looked forward to watching that game with him. I was a little rascal. Any chance I could get to bug grandma, I’d gladly take. I knew grandpa and I would keep her up until the early morning hours, cheering Ohio State to victory. That was part of the fun.
But what I didn’t know is how much that night would mean to me years later.
I’m one of four grandkids on my mom’s side. My sister and I grew up in Chillicothe. Grandpa and grandma’s house has always been in Ashville.
So, at that age, a drive there felt like forever.
The 45 minutes of separation kept me from seeing my grandparents every day as a kid. So I learned quickly that making the most out of my time there was the name of the game.
And that was my plan that night.
Grandpa knew I liked sports. He knew that they were important to me. That’s true to this day. I’ve shaped my life and my occupation around them.
He shared my liking for sports. Although, he wasn’t as well-versed as me.
He didn’t know all the players by name or their year-by-year statistics — I guess that makes me a nerd. But he knew the basics, he knew he liked the Buckeyes and he knew he could bond with me by bringing sports into any discussions we had.
It was just me that night. No other grandkids. Just grandpa and I.
And, looking back, I think that’s what makes that evening stand out. He may not have thought of it that way but I had him all to myself.
The game was an instant classic. Grandma had made dinner so I was preoccupied for most of the first quarter. But as it progressed into the later stages, grandpa and I both moved closer to the edges of our seats.
Every time Ohio State scored, I’d zip to my feet and over to him for a high-five. He’d gladly smile, nod his head and say, “They may just win this thing.”
They did. Ohio State won the whole darn thing. 31-24 in double overtime. You remember how it happened. On the final play, Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey was hit by Ohio State’s Cie Grant. Dorsey’s pass fell incomplete and we, nearly 2,000 miles away, jumped for joy in unison.
What a moment. The only thing that could make that memory better is if I could relive it.
In fact, I wish I could relive any memory with grandpa.
A few months back, he was diagnosed with both lung and brain cancer. We didn’t catch it until it was too late. And if you’re wondering, it’s true what they say … cancer truly does suck.
And that’s an understatement.
It’s crippling. Both mentally and physically. It takes its toll. Slowly and surely. It takes no prisoners. It leaves behind a trail of destruction in its path, and then moves on to its next victim.
But grandpa? He fought that. He fought everything. And it was the only fight he ever lost.
The night before he passed, I told him that he was the strongest man I know. He answered with a whisper, “You’re strong, too.” I don’t know how true that is, especially when compared to him.
My wife and I have a daughter on the way. Grandpa will never meet her on Earth. But if she has one ounce of his strength in her, I’ll be beaming with pride.
Of course, I hope she doesn’t root for the same pro football team.
Grandpa was a Steelers fan. I like the Bengals. We butted heads playfully over that rivalry throughout my 30 years on Earth … and I may have spent money on Pittsburgh-styled Christmas presents once or twice over the years. Yuck.
I’m sure he’d read that last part and smile.
It’s funny how life continues to unfold. Hours turn to days and days to years. Then, before you know it, you’re 30 years old with a little one on the way and you lose one of your heroes.
I thought I had heroes. Heroes in sports. Quarterbacks. Shortstops. Point guards.
But grandpa was a true hero. A real-life hero that had a hand in making me the man I am today.
When a loved one dies, you’re told to lean on the memories to get you through the hurt.
That’s what I’m doing, or trying to do at least. I never got a chance to tell grandpa that the snowy night in January 2003, watching the Buckeyes win a national title, is without a doubt my fondest memory with him.
It’s ours and only ours. And it will forever be ours.
And no matter how much time passes, I will never forget sitting in front of that television set. And who knows, maybe there’s one quite like it beyond the gates of Heaven.
If there is, I’m sure he’s watching every Western with John Wayne he’s already seen hundreds of times over.
But maybe, when he’s scrolling through channels, he’ll come across a replay of that national championship game. And when he does, I hope he smiles and thinks of that January night.
I know I will be.