He was a UPS truck of a man, 6'4", maybe 250 pounds, 55 years
old, with a chin you could use to crack open coconuts.
He waited until the end of my little speech and then stood there
in front of the podium, his eyes rimmed red with tears. No words
would come to his mouth. He must have stood there for a full
minute, trying to use all his muscles to force up a single
sentence: "My daughter is dying."
He wept, then went on. "We just found out. Brain tumor. She's got
a year to live. If she's lucky." He gave a huge sigh. "She lives
for sports, you know? Would you write her a note? I don't know.
Just something to cheer her up?"
I wrote something. It wasn't that inspiring. I told him how sorry
I was. He thanked me and walked off. I felt helpless.
Now, after thinking about it, I wished I'd written her this....
If I had only next year to live, I'd do whatever it took to see,
one last time, Michael Vick's happy feet, Allen Iverson's XL
heart and Ichiro's bionic arm throwing out some poor slob at
third who didn't even think he'd have to slide.
I'd chase goose bumps coast to coast. I'd make sure I saw Tiger
Woods windmill a driver. I'd go to the Kentucky Derby paddock and
watch the parade of thoroughbreds, dropping my Starbucks when I
see how huge they are. I'd beg, cheat and bribe my way onto the
Super Bowl field, so I could be there when the F-18s polish off
the national anthem with a flyover that turns your spine into
I'd go to Fenway and sit above the Green Monster, see Mia Hamm
before she starts having tiny Olympians and go to a UCLA game to
shake the 93-year-old hand of the wisest man in the land, John
I'd see the Palio in Siena, hotwire a Ferrari and drive the
Amalfi coast road, and see how long I could sprint behind Lance
Armstrong as he melted another Alp.
I'd read Ball Four a few dozen times more, watch Slap Shot again,
listen to Vin Scully call one last game on my transistor while I
hooked up a steady IV of Dodger Dogs.
I'd get to Augusta and watch the par-3 tournament on the
prettiest swatch of golf in the world. And on Sunday I'd watch
the last group go through Amen Corner and then whip the
seven-iron out of my pants leg and play number 12 right quick. So
you go to jail. When they hear your story, you'll be out by 9
I'd want a few laughs, so I'd go to Logan Airport the day after
the Boston Marathon and watch the poor runners walk backward up
staircases because their calves are so sore. I'd sit with the
Cameron Crazies to see them dangle a Big Mac in front of a
visiting Jabba the Center. I'd pay $10,000 to enter the World
Series of Poker just to sit next to Amarillo Slim and hear his
I know what I'd stop doing. I'd stop wasting time worrying about
my 401(k) or what the Madman and Coach think on SportsBlab 1090
or NFL receivers who make cell calls to their egos.
I'd try to become part of sports as it weaves through the fabric
of life. I'd go an hour late to the starting line at the Iditarod
just to hear the sorrowful howling of the sled dogs left behind.
I'd see if John Madden would let me hitch a ride. I'd walk into
physics class, sign out my kid and his buddies and go play Wiffle
ball. Now that's physics.
I'd write some letters, not caring if I got a response. I'd thank
Derek Jeter for playing so hard, Pete Sampras for playing so well
and Kevin Garnett for never showing up in the sports section,
which my daughter reads, with two Girl Scouts and a bottle of X.
I'd find Bill Buckner and forgive him, Steve Bartman and hug him,
Rasheed Wallace and slap him.
I'd blow off the annual jersey exchange that pro sports has
become and get to where the passion is--the colleges, the high
schools, the jayvee basketball game.
I'd go to Midnight Yell Practice at Texas A&M with the 30,000
other wackos who like to be hoarse for kickoff. I'd call Bobby
Bowden on his listed phone number and talk trick plays. I'd go to
Senior Day at Kansas' Allen Fieldhouse, where the floor gets
covered with carnations and the jerseys with tears.
I'd catch the milk run on Ajax, at Vail, in powder you could lose
Doug Flutie in. I'd hit the best tailgate in America--a Kansas
City Chiefs game--and try to become the first man to drown in
Gates Bar-B-Que sauce. I'd play 72 at Oregon's Bandon Dunes,
where the cliffs and the waves and the Scotch make you want to
chain yourself to the starter's hut on check-out day.
I'd relish friends and catch up on bliss and bake in all the
tastes I've acquired. I'd wallow and dawdle and completely ignore
my cholesterol. I'd spend my last year reminding myself why I
loved it all so much in the first 45.
And I'd die happy, knowing it was going to take the embalmers two
hours to bend the grin off my face.
If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to
B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER
If I had only next year to live, I'd spend it reminding myself
why I love sports so much.