Growing up as the oldest sibling is never easy. Usually you are the first to make mistakes in life, so your younger siblings don’t have to go through them and they learn from you, whether it’s punishments or life lessons.
This was the case for me. The oldest of four and the only boy, I was usually the one in trouble. Trouble surrounded me all the time. I had not only my dad as a father figure but my stepdad as well, so I wasn’t misguided but rather missing something.
With my parents also having a military background, we moved a lot, usually in the summertime. Moving to a new area in the summer was tough because of the lack of friends and companionship of other boys I wouldn’t be able to meet until school came along, so I found myself playing alone quite a lot.
Baseball was my first love in my life. Playing baseball, collecting MLB cards and watching baseball during the summer became more like a ritual or religion rather than a pastime to me. Named after Chicago Cub legend Ryne Sandberg, I wanted to live up to those expectations and became a pretty decent baseball player in my youth. This all changed Jan. 4, 2006.
Before that date I had watched plenty of football and even had been to some college games, but it didn’t have my full attention like baseball. Starting in 2002, I watched the Philadelphia Eagles, with Donavon McNabb at quarterback, make it deep into the playoffs a couple years in a row including the Super Bowl in which they lost. I considered myself an Eagles fan from an early age but not heavily invested. Especially with a rather large family all of which being Cowboy fans, I had to hide my fandom.
Fast forward to January 2006. My family had recently moved to Las Vegas for the military. I had already established some friends and things were fine.
Then I watched what I consider to be the greatest football game of all time — USC vs. Texas in the National Championship game. From the opening kickoff you could tell this game was special and would be an instant classic. Vince Young put on one of the most impressive displays anyone had ever seen, taking down the juggernaut that was USC football under coach Pete Carroll. After that game, I was completely hooked.
I begged and pleaded with my mom to let me play football, but she was completely against it. It took some convincing from my stepdad who played running back at the Air Force Academy to let me give it a try.
I finally got my chance in the spring with a flag football league, which was fun but wasn’t what I saw on TV that night on Jan. 4. Later that year my mom was to be deployed for a year. Due to the court agreement between parents, I couldn’t stay with a step-parent for that much allotted time, so I moved again — in the summertime. It was back to being alone in Montgomery, waiting for the school year to roll around to find that friendship I always craved around that time.
Finally the school year came around and I was introduced to tackle football. Not only was it everything I hoped for in letting out fun and frustration, but it also gave me the greatest gift I didn’t know I needed — brothers.
Much like the military, there’s something special about a group of guys who literally sweat, bleed and cry together, making a bond that lasts a lifetime.
My passion for football grew each year and still continues to grow as I see boys I played with become fathers and men. Football has given me everything, from confidence to a career with everything in between, and I couldn’t be more thankful. I have dozens of lifelong friends thanks to the game. I owe it everything and will continue to support football as long as I live.
With the coronavirus pandemic going on and football programs declaring they will not be participating this season and others in limbo, I understand it is probably necessary but can’t help but have a hurt heart. I know there are other boys out there who need their brothers as much as I did.
Other sports are great too and I continued to play baseball, but there is something about going through it in the summer heat for two- or three-a-days with your boys the other sports just don’t deliver.
Ryne Gallacher is an Alexander City resident and regular correspondent and columnist for The Outlook.