From our 45-yard line seats six rows from the top of massive AT&T Stadium, we were among the 80,000 Cowboy faithful reveling in the proceedings below. “America’s Team” was in the process of grounding the invading New York Jets in the team’s home opener in an impressive Micah Parsons-led dominant performance.
While white Cowboy rally towels were being waved all around, I noticed a lady seated in the row in front of me staring at the cell phone screen she held in her hand. Looking over her shoulder, the name Tom Gravish quickly caught my eye.
Getting the woman’s attention, I asked, “Are you from Pennsylvania?” When her answer was affirmative, I then asked, where?
Among the roaring of the crowd, she replied, “The small town of Montoursville.”
“We’re from South Williamsport,” I said as she looked at me in amazement.
The woman and her husband had made the distant road trip to cheer on the Cowboys in person, but in the middle of a Cowboy drive, the two of us were in conversation about the tragic news filling her cell phone of the passing of Jersey Shore football player Max Engle.
Her eyes began to well as she explained she was a retired Jersey Shore school teacher. She knew of Engel’s injury, but the posted news she was receiving of his passing was creating an emotional moment totally unrelated to the Cowboys joy she had been experiencing moments earlier.
While the eventual Dallas 30-10 victory was unfolding, the irony of that third-quarter chance conversation bounced around in my mind. The family and I were most likely the only six people in the stadium who had any knowledge of Max Engle, and here we were, somehow seated an arm’s length apart.
At the conclusion of the game, AT&T Stadium ushers waited politely and patiently as we shared a conversation about Engle and the ordeal the Jersey Shore community was facing. Those ushers had no idea what we were discussing when we came to realize that we were the last people standing in their way of closing the section as the celebrating crowd had left the stadium almost empty.
Throughout my lifetime, sports have provided so many joys and great memories. Recognizably, there are those who feel sports are over-emphasized, and, in many instances, I agree, but that chance meeting with a couple from Montoursville reminded me that it is the fans that create the excitement that drives the buzz surrounding the entire sports scene.
I became a Dallas Cowboys fan years ago while attending the University of Houston. Jean, daughter Denise, and son Doug were vaccinated with the same rooting spirit. This Dallas trip was our second chance to see the Cowboys play at home. A scheduling quirk also provided me with the opportunity to see two Red Sox games at the Rangers Globe Life Field, thus completing my bucket list of watching a game at all 30 Major League stadiums.
The family’s visit to Dallas was part of a similar adventure. They had taken a train ride from Pittsburgh through Chicago to Dallas. Their return trip home gave them the chance to see the Pirates (their favorite team) play the Cubs on their first visit to Wrigley Field.
As we laughed about our Cowboy passion, the husband revealed that was nothing compared to the couple that had been seated next to them. This pair were avid Dallas Cowboy fans living in Manchester, England, who had long wanted to see a game in Dallas.
Following that old saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” our stay included a visit to the Fort Worth Stockyards, where we spent a fun-filled time reliving those days of old. I even got to ‘saddle up’ atop a longhorn steer!
Last month, during the Little League World Series, I shared some great moments with members of the Bitburg, Germany team that had gathered to celebrate their 50th anniversary of playing in the Series. One of those team members, Jeff Ralston — the only Pennsylvanian on that team — invited us to visit them at their Weatherford, Texas, home, where we enjoyed time with Jeff and his wife, Janet.
Returning home, Jean reminisced on the visit with the Ralstons and how sports have enabled us to experience so many wonderful opportunities over the years. Those adventures included many with our young family as they grew up.
But now here we were, Jean and I, and our totally adult children spending some time together, just the four of us; perhaps the first time that has happened since they left the nest.
Another great sports memory, not soon forgotten!