To Mike (and the Man Who Raised Him for Us)
Something that basically NEVER happens happened when I finally logged back into The Bootleg after several days of being away from computers. As I read your amazing post announcing the tragic news of your dad's death, the phone rang. It was Mrs. MizzouCard. That, alone, is not news, because we talk several times a day. The amazing thing is what happened (or, more precisely, what did not happen) next. I did not pick up the phone.
Long ago, I figured out how fortunate I was to have the future Mrs. MizzouCard stumble into my life back in our days on the Farm. Also, I know that, when she calls, especially when she is home and I am at work, there is the possibility - due to somewhat unusual circumstances in our house - that something is happening that requires me to head out the door toward home immediately. [One time I even had to run the whole way, but that is another story.] So I pretty much always answer her calls immediately. I have interrupted meetings with my bosses, sessions with clients, pretty much everything to pick up the phone when she calls. But today I let the phone ring.
It was not by choice. It would have been pointless to pick up the phone, because I was sitting in front of my computer with tears running down my eyes. There was no way I could have talked.
Of course, I knew she would call back. By the time she did, I would figure out a way to explain that I was completely choked up by reading something written by someone I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting (at least in the traditional sense) about his father, a person I had never before even heard of, who I would now never meet.
Mike, that was one powerful tribute from one powerful man to another. The two most admirable human attributes, at least in my view, are honesty and passion. Like all of your work, your post about your dad was full of both. But this one was different, because it honestly and passionately told us who gave you your honesty and passion.
What a life your father had. What wonderful times you shared cheering on his alma mater and, later, yours. What memories of wonderful wins and painful losses shared together you will treasure for the rest of your life.
Remember the scene in City Slickers when the guys are talking about their relationships with their fathers? For many of us, Mike, those relationships had more rocky moments than yours. As someone with many years in as a son and more than a few as a father, I have come to understand that father-son is a very complicated relationship.
As he rode the trail with his buddies in City Slickers, Billy Crystal turned to them and said that, even when his relationship with his dad was at its worst and they could talk about nothing else, "at least there was baseball." [Or something like that. My quotation is almost certainly off.]
That one hit pretty close to home for me. When I watched that scene, I was both incredibly sad (that, at times, sports was all my dad and I had) and happy (that at least we had that). At about the time that movie came out, I was pretty ticked off at my dad, and sports was indeed pretty much all we had. But Billy Crystal was right. It may not have been much. It certainly should have been more. But at least we had that, which meant there would always be something. [Happily, we have built on that something in the intervening years.]
For you and your dad, you obviously had more than just sports. But sports were a way for him to do what is perhaps the most important, and often the most difficult, thing for a father to do for his children-spend time with them. What's more, sports provided the way for your dad to transfer his most precious inheritance to you-his passion. Every time you ache over a Stanford loss, every time you stay up until 3:30 a.m. writing out a story you have chased down for us, every time your heart jumps after a Stanford win, a part of him will be living inside you - and you will feel him there. Every time you see the words "Georgia Tech" scroll across the bottom of an ESPN screen, you will think of him. So will we, and most of us never even had the good fortune to meet him.
How wonderful that his passion flowed into pride in your work. Is there anything a son longs for more deeply than to feel his father's pride? Wars have been started by sons yearning to feel the warm glow of their father's pride. How wonderful that your father was so open in expressing his pride in you and your work. How cool it must have been to see him light up when you zapped him (and us) your latest work. How proud he must be of your post about him.
Mike, please know this, even though it is far from the most important thing in your life right now. Your father is not the only person who is proud of you. As the long string of posts following yours (five pages! a record?) demonstrates, your work has touched many people.
As I have said here before, sports are simultaneously trivial and incredibly important. What you have nurtured here on The Bootleg is something pretty special. Before I discovered The Bootleg (much later than most, due only to my incredible computer idiocy), I was convinced that I had to be the only person on the planet who really cared about Stanford Sports. Now I know that there are others out there, at least a few dozen, who are at least as crazed as I.
Mike, you have provided a place of refuge for us. Almost every working day, I sneak in a little time from the job to check out what you and my other friends (only two or three of whom I have ever even met) on The Bootleg are saying. [Not to worry, taxpayers of Missouri. That time is more than made up by the unpaid extra hours I put in here.] On some of those days, those few minutes reading your updates and my fellow Booties' reactions to them are the only "good" minutes in the day. On others, they turn good days into even better days.
Without The Bootleg, where would I get that sense of community of fellow Stanford fans? This is the home of the honest and passionate Stanford sports fans. We are so honest and passionate that we spend a good deal of our time blasting away at each other (and sometimes at you). And, yet, that is part of the fun. We blast each other because we care.
Because of the foresight of Lars and Jim in putting The Bootleg together and your work in maintaining it, we have a home. You can look it up: A home is a place where a family hangs out. Corny as it sounds, this place, The Bootleg, is a home for our little family of Stanford sports nuts. Maybe there are only a few dozen of us, which means it is a struggle for you to keep this place afloat and for you to live on your salary, but for those of us in that few dozen, we need this place.
Surely yours must be a difficult job despite your passion for Stanford Sports, Mike. It must be frustrating when we forget that, for you to earn and maintain the access that makes it possible for you to give us breaking Stanford sports news long before other outlets even sniff out a story, you must refrain from blasting away at your sources the way we can. But please know that we are both proud of the great work you do, like your dad, and grateful that you are doing it for us.
Your dad had good reason to be proud. You provide a place where we can go to feed our passion. You bring some cheer into the darkest of our days. That kind of work never pays worth a damn. But there are many who benefit from it.
In this year of so many transitions for Booties, we have dreaded the day when you will decide that you can no longer afford to do this work. I know that day will someday come, but I selfishly hope you can delay it as long as possible.
In the meantime, like your dad, we will brighten up when you mail us a magazine or zap us another article or post. We hope, pray, and believe that the internet connections to your dad are even faster than they were last week.
Our thoughts and prayers will be with your mother, your brother, and the rest of your family. Because we know you the best, we will especially be thinking of you, Mike. Take care of yourself, buddy. We need this place and we know we need you back some day to keep it afloat. But we can muck along on our own for a bit.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our website, as well as our full-length feature articles in our glossy magazine. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up) and The Bootleg Magazine (sign-up)!