Tender Rival Memories

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By Cynthia Burris on 20:51:51 10/12/01

Tender Rival Memories
by Cynthia Burris

My most tender rivalry memory will forever be the one I was given at the Ohio State-Michigan game this year. The 1998 game was the 5th game that my husband and I would see, but this year's game would be so much different. Our son would finally be able to be a part of the team playing on the field. This year he would have his chance to prove his worth to the world.

He had always been there, for all the practices for all the games in the past, but never got onto the field. He had been denied and robbed of his starting position for 3 years, and had to practice and play at perfection levels in order to hold his tentative starting position this year. He has risen above the maligned comments and newspaper articles and proven that he is an athlete deserving of his position and senior status on the team. He is a gentleman, a quiet leader, and a scholar-athlete.

But the greatest memory I had was watching him come through the Tunnel of Pride as a senior football player, entering into his final game at the Horseshoe. I had never been that close to him in his full football uniform and regalia. As a mother, I was overwhelmed at the immense size of him, the very imposing figure that he presented there in front of me.

I tried to click off a few snapshots as he came at me and his father down that tunnel of screaming fans and football alumni. Somehow, I heard the announcer give his name and noticed a few people clapping for him. And then the world became surreal. Brooks seemed to float across the grass in slow motion, and I took in all of him -- his long, long powerful legs, his gangly arms now beginning to ripple with muscles, his flat stomach and huge chest that looked like a brick wall.

This was my baby, now a man. The late-bloomer and the late-maturer had started the metamorphosis. His self-confidence swathed his athletic body with an aura of determination and focus that I had never seen before. I had caught a glimpse of it, when he was a kid in high school, when he had to fight harder to win a football game, when he threw the shot to break school records and become state champ. I felt his aura then, and here it was again.

But the boy was gone. The man had arrived. As Brooks came toward me and his father, I saw the tears. They were flowing out of his eyes and down his cheeks. My first thoughts were of contact lenses floating out and down the front of his uniform. Funny, I would think of that, but I was afraid that if he had to stop to put them back in, it would have stalled the game, and the momentum.

But as he got closer, I could see that he was trying to control his emotions. He went straight to his father and grabbed him in a bear hug. They clasped each other in unabashed emotion that so many men refuse to express to each other. They wept in each others' arms.

Then Brooks came over to me and hugged me, too, saying only "Mom". I tried to hug him and to hold him like a mother cradling her child. Impossible. The huge man and the uniform equipment would not allow it. I tried to grab him below his shoulder pads and managed an arm's-length hug around his waist. I could feel his chest heaving with sobs! He could barely speak. He was grief-stricken.

Then some guy ran up to us and said he needed a picture for the local newspaper -- so we obliged him, not really knowing what we were doing because we had to scramble around to get Brooks between the two of us. It seemed that the world was melting away.

But we knew that OSU had lost the toss and the offensive line had to be up first. So my husband and I gave our best wishes to him for his last game and we gave him our love. Then Brooks pointed his finger to the sky and said, "I'm dedicating my last game to Gregg. This one is for him."

All three of us then embraced one more time in tears and love, and we had to let him go. He was still sobbing when I backed away from him. We had to leave. Our son must go to war.

I started to leave the field and looked back one last time. There was Brooks, hugging Lumpy face-to-face with each other, both in tears. They shouted -- no, screamed! -- encouragements to each other as their voices cracked in their tears.

Suddenly, I felt that I was intruding. I should not be there so close to the players. This was their time. This was their victory and their glory to come. I had done all that I could do. My son's time to shine was here. My son.

As my husband and I fought the crowd to get to our seats in the parents' section, my mind flooded with memories of Brooks growing up. He had been so distraught that he hadn't even noticed I was wearing all of his sports buttons from his early days. I had my favorite one, right here, over my heart and next to his OSU '98 button. It showed Brooks in his first football uniform, at the summer practice starting his 7th grade year. The memory brought up a smile through my tears as I fought the crowd.

I don't know; all I remember was my husband trying to lead me along while I seemed to not really care to push forward. People were looking at my name tag and the buttons, then yelling back to their friends, "It's number 67 -- this one's 67!" I guess they were wondering who we were, trying to push our way into the masses.

My mind was reliving the Halloween afternoon when Brooks was born. Almost 9 and a half months before, we had lost our oldest son. He fell into the river that edges our farm, and drowned. He was just 3 and a half years old. And because Gregg had died, Brooks would be born.

Through the years of his turmoil at OSU, I had always told him that he was meant for greatness. He was meant to be born. He had to continue with his football. He could not quit. When he struggled, I wrote him letters that Gregg would be there with him, through his workouts, in his practices, and there on the field with him, whispering in his ear to watch out for that defensive end, fire off the the inside, pancake that guy before you get a coverage sack....

We got back in our seats just in time to see the series that took Michael Wiley into the end zone on his 53-yard run. I watched Brooks run into the end zone after him. He stood there, with both of his arms raised high, pointing into the sky. I knew he was giving this one to his brother Gregg.

The memories of the years of my child rushed back into my heart like a runaway freight train. But today, only the memory of my son, the man, would be cherished.

Cynthia Burris

Mother of Brooks Burris, Right Tackle, Ohio State University

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