I remember the days of the game. Like they were yesterday. You're in the locker room and some guys are unusually quiet. Guys who are never quiet. But there they are, almost zoned out. Focused. Thinking about the game we're about to play. Trying to remember every instruction the coaches have given them. That was me before a game. Dead silent, emotionless. I was always as quiet as a man headed to the gallows. I can smell the eye black as I smear it below my eyes. I feel the sticky of it as it learns to adapt to my facial expressions. The theory is the eye black keeps down the glare and makes it easier to see. For me it was war paint. My signal that this was real, not just another practice or scrimmage. I remember the taping of my ankles. For me that went higher up my calf than most people. To this day you can see the old tape lines on my legs because the hair stops in the middle of my calf. Everything below those lines is long gone from tape pulled off taking hair and follicles with it. My lower legs in those areas are discolored too. A combination of broken capillaries from the tape, and of course my advancing age. I feel every ache in my knees, ankles, and lower back. My shoulders too from slamming into bodies. I turn my head and I hear the snap, crackle, and pop that isn't breakfast cereal. All of these battle scars stark reminders of the sacrifice paid. In my head around me I still hear the clang of metal lockers being closed as guys are done with whatever they store in them. I hear the rip of the athletic tape, the low murmur of excitement mixed with the eerie quiet. Of course there's the sour smell of dried sweat that is always present in locker rooms. It is mixed with the smell of pine sol from whenever the janitors last mopped. I still hear the coaches coming in the room yelling for everyone to gather around. To me as players milled into am uneven, multi-layered circle it always sounded like the buzzing of bees in a swarm until that dead silence we all gave the Head Coach as he looked around the circle of players into every player's eyes. What was he looking for? Our attention? To give us confidence? To see if he could see fear? Probably all of it. Mostly I think he wanted to make sure all eyes were on him. The pregame speeches. Every group was told to remember something from practice and films. The keys we were to look for reminded to us. Words of encouragement. I often wondered how much everyone heard. Probably every word. I know I did, and every player I've ever talked to who was passionate about the game admits that in those times the Coach's words rang in your ears. I remember stories of soldiers fighting incredible odds, games changed on the sacrifice of one play, and every imaginable story meant to inspire, incite, and encourage me to go out there and throw my body and soul into 60 minutes of football that lasts three hours or longer. I remember the taste of the mouth piece and the cool water I always poured on it before putting it in my mouth. I remember the clacking of cleats on concrete as we walked out of the locker rooms, jogged through corridors, and then the softness beneath our feet as we ran onto the grass. Oh the grass. The smell of it fills my lungs and makes me close my eyes just thinking about it. That deep, clean smell that is so real you can almost smell the water from the last time the sprinklers were on. I remember looking around the stadium at the crowd, wondering where my friends or family were seated and not seeing anyone there at all at the same time. I remember thinking of them as an even larger hive of bees buzzing around me. I remember my body starting to sweat from the mixture of heat from the weather and the added pads and uniform mixed with my heart and adrenaline racing as I began stretching, running and getting ready. I remember the first sting of sweat in my eyes and the curse words I always said, even though I hate cursing. I remember being nervous right up until the first time someone from the other team and I arrived together in an explosion of grunting, yelling, and proof of gravity as at least one of us inevitably hit the ground. I remember the shame of that being me, and the pride of that being him. When it was him I remember being fired up. When it was both of us I remember wanting to slap him on the shoulder, my silent signal of let's go. I remember the trash talk that always spewed out of my mouth. Oh yeah, I was one hell of a trash talker. I remember every guy I ever faced who talked it right back. To this day I love and hate a guy named Russell C______l, who was my rival in sports and for girls we both chased. I have no doubt that if he and I were to see each other again after all these years we would probably slam into each other for old time's sake and slap each other on the shoulders just like those wild days of our youth. Lord, I love this game and I thank you for giving me the chance to play it. Every year at this time the memories come flooding back. I remember triumphs, failures, pain, and pride. I remember why I love this game and am so passionate about it that I can talk about it all year long and never tire of it. The days when I can tape up, suit up, and go hit someone are long gone. My love of the memories never leaves. There are aches in my body every morning. Sometimes they make me frown at the discomfort. This time of year they make me smile with the memories. Can you see it? Can you hear it? Can you smell it? Can you taste it? Can you feel it? Every sense is more alive than they have ever been. Are you ready for some football? I am.