There are few times in life that are so treasured that the moment, the people, the reason behind them, are seared into our memory.
I cannot adequately express my appreciation to the National Football Foundation. And I’m not just talking about tonight. I’m talking about the opportunity you’ve given me to contribute to the development of the sport that has become a part of the fabric of my life, the legacy of our family and that of an untold number of others across the nation and increasingly around the globe.
For all of these years, I have lived by a priority that has also guided our household: faith; family and football, in that order. Football is a game.
In our home, discussion of the game is incomplete without family. Obviously that includes the efforts of our sons and this year, Copper’s sixth-grader, Arch, who strapped on a helmet and pads for the first time.
Often that high school coach has a bigger impact on a young man’s life than anyone else in their life.
And the picture of family and football has to include a mother, preparing a meal for a son before going out to play. I see her doling out sympathy after a defeat as naturally as a celebration hug.
You see I grew up in a small town, 80 miles form Oxford, Miss. I would stroll down the street each Autumn day, catching leaves as they dropped from trees imagining I was catching a football instead.
Faith? Yes, in this sport we have to have faith. Whether on the field or off, we tackle and learn to overcome obstacles with faith. Often times our faith is our only avenue to a sense of peace.
Football is a great game. Yes, people get hurt. And it clearly challenges one’s physical and mental courage. But in the process it builds something that at every level teeters on the remarkable.
I understand that everything evolves, even our game. And like the changing seasons everything goes in cycles, including how young people celebrate, how they want to dress different, do different.
Now, I’ve been chairman of this organization for the past nine years. At times I’ve been disheartened listening to the squawk of dissent and a growing chorus of harsh critics.
I’m sure like me after hearing the accomplishments and ambitions of these young men, we all breathe a little easier about our game.
I want to express my love to Olivia, my wife of 46 years, sons, Cooper, Peyton, Eli, and their families, who have given me more joy than one man deserves. I am extremely privileged to receive the gold medal.
I can’t say it any more clearly than this: Football matters. Sometimes we apply the word pressure to football. I get it. Last-second decisions have got to be made as 300-pound linemen begin their charge, refs stand whistle in mouth, TV cameras zoom in for millions of fans to inspect each move as the clock ticks down.
Now at the end of the season you can hug your teammates and coaches goodbye and even put miles between you, but they’re never far from your mind, always in your heart and forever a connection to home.
Thank you again for this heartfelt honor. God bless.