Since I can remember, football has been part of my life. Some of my earliest memories as a young boy come from time spent rooting on the Seahawks and the Huskies and I can attribute my love of the greatest team sport ever invented to a man who loved the game as much as I did and loved me more than he could express with words.
First off, a little background -- I am a child of adoption.
When I was born, my name was Scott Mills.
My mom’s first husband, Gary Mills, was a flawed man in the sense that, at that time in his life, he was struggling with an addiction to alcohol. He wasn’t abusive – verbally or physically – but my mom didn’t want her nine-month old son to grow up in a world where problems were created and, at least in some respects, solved with alcohol.
Nearly two years later, my mom remarried and eventually, by the time I started kindergarten, I had been adopted by her second husband and taken on his last name – Eklund.
It wasn’t an easy decision for Gary as he struggled to allow his son to be adopted and raised by another man, but in the end, he acted like a father should as he considered the welfare of his child over his happiness.
Over the years, the Mills family showed their passion for sports, especially football, to me and it was revealed that football was sort of the “family sport”.
Gary and his younger brother both played football at West High in Bremerton. Gary was an accomplished halfback while his brother played on the state championship team in 1962.
They had always been Husky fans. His brother and cousin both attended the University of Washington and the family had loved watching the Jim Owens teams of the 50s and 60s. They were also huge fans of Sonny Sixkiller and former Bremerton star Don Heinrich.
Until the mid 1970s, Gary and the rest of the Mills clan had to root for teams like the San Francisco 49ers or the Oakland Raiders because they didn’t have a pro team in the area.
That all changed in 1976 when the Seattle Seahawks were born and the Mills’ were some of the first to put in for season tickets.
As a two-year old, I begged my mom for a football helmet and I received one as a gift.
Fast forward to 1976, I can still remember watching the Seahawks take the field and my adopted dad saying “This is a big deal Scotty. This is the first time a professional team has played football in Seattle.”
I had no idea what professional meant, I just knew I liked the green, blue and silver uniforms and the cool looking bird on the sides of their helmets.
With my biological dad and his family possessing four season tickets, I was invited to my first game at the end of the season as a Christmas present from my uncle.
I still remember walking into the Kingdome that first time. It’s hard to describe the feeling. It was like heaven had opened it’s doors and I heard the sound of angels singing when I came out of the tunnel to watch pre-game warm ups.
I took it all in – the sights, the sounds, the atmosphere, the PA guy announcing scores, the WAVE, the smells, both good and bad, and the adrenalin surge when the Seahawks scored – it grabbed me the moment I watched the game.
My first heroes as a child growing up were Steve Largent, Jim Zorn, Manu Tuiasosopo, Paul Skansi, Jacques Robinson and Curt Warner. I loved everything about the game.
Saturdays were spent driving home from soccer games and tuning into the Husky broadcast so we could know the score before we got home.
Sundays saw me begging my mom and dad to race home from church so I could catch the Seahawk game and hopefully it wasn’t a 10 a.m. start, otherwise I would miss most of the first half.
All the while, Gary, his second wife Pat, my mom and my adopted father made life very easy for me.
The four of them struck up what many considered to be a very strange friendship. We spent birthdays and holidays with them. My mom would beg Gary to shuck a jar full of oysters for her and he would oblige and they granted him liberal visitation with me.
I loved going out to the north shore to stay with my grandpa and grandma at their A-Frame on the Hood Canal just outside of Belfair.
I definitely was spoiled, I won’t deny it, but more often than not, I wanted to be out there because everything revolved around football on the canal. We watched football most of the day and when I went out for my Christmas with that side of the family, usually in early December, most of my gifts had a football theme, one way or the other.
As I grew up, getting into my early teens, like any typical kid, I thought I knew everything and I brought that attitude with me into every interaction I had with adults, Gary included.
Gary and I were very much alike so we butted heads at times, but eventually, we could talk about Chuck Knox and Don James and how our two favorite teams were doing and things would find their way back to a more even-keel.
All the while, Gary battled his alcoholism, but eventually when I was 18, after some serious soul-searching, he made the courageous decision to quit. He quit cold turkey. Early on he didn’t attend any meetings or read any books. He was just done with it. It had cost him his first wife and his only child and it was threatening to take away the love of his life for a second time.
For 27 years, Gary stayed sober. He didn’t begrudge anyone who wanted to drink. He had no problem meeting people at bars for dinner and he even kept a bottle of scotch at his house that stayed there for well over 15 years so that if someone wanted something, it was there.
When his beautiful wife Pat, who battled cancer in one form or another for most of her life, finally took seriously ill, he retired and devoted his life to her comfort and care.
When she finally was called home to heaven in October of 2013, Gary, who had pretty much been her sole caregiver, didn’t know what to do with himself.
He golfed, he spent some time with family and friends, but nothing could cure his broken heart and eventually he just lost the will to keep going.
I share this because early this morning, Gary joined Pat and my mom at the Lord’s table.
When I saw him for the last time on Sunday, one of his first questions was “did the Huskies win last night?” We also made sure his
T.V. was tuned in to the Seahawks game. Thankfully both of "his" teams gave him a win.
I look back at the relationship I shared with Gary and I only see the happy times. To be sure, there were rough moments, but with Gary, it was always about laughter, about thinking of others and not yourself and also about football.
Football is what kept our relationship going for a long time. It allowed us to have a commonality that few fathers and sons ever find. If we argued, we always ended by talking football and by the end of the conversation, we had forgotten about what we were arguing about in the first place.
At 45, I am now down to one parent – my adopted father – and lucky for me, he loves football as well.
Football isn’t for everyone, I get it, but in the end, it is the love of the game that my dad passed down to me and I hope to pass that down to my one year old son.
I love the game of football, but more than anything I love my dad and the man he was and will always be in my memories.