Christmas is about many things. Giving and receiving gifts is a lovely, even fairly ancient, custom. But it is vastly over-rated in the West. Between the modern commercialization of Christmas and the huge marketing campaigns that we are annually faced with this season can be anything but Christ-centered. For this reason I have not been big on Christmas gifts, at least those that I receive, for some years. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy receiving gifts and some are an expression of thought and generosity for sure, especially from my family. This year my wife and I agreed in early December to not exchange gifts, for both personal and practical reasons.
Childhood was another matter altogether. Every Christmas Eve I anticipated the occasion with joyful glee. I still have some old photos of my brother and me opening our wonderful presents and smiling while our parents took pictures. These photos bring back some great memories of the four of us, and even my only childhood dog, at the Christmas tree. But I have no such adult memories until this Christmas.
My story begins with a former student and now a dear friend, Dan Jones. Because of Dan’s initiative, and the response of a loving wife and two great children, this Christmas was very, very different in terms of my receiving a gift I shall never forget.
Regular readers know of my love for all things related to Alabama football. Having grown up on the legends and stories of the great Paul “Bear” Bryant, the finest college football coach ever, I have loved the Crimson Tide since I was a boy. I even went to the University of Alabama as a student, from 1967-69, before the Lord led me to Wheaton where I completed two academic degrees. Though I have lived in the Chicago area for forty years my college football love remains undiminished. I watch every Crimson Tide game on television, or at least record it to see it later. In recent years have been to at least one game each season. During the earlier years of this decade I suffered the agony of our probation, some bad teams and constant losing to our best rivals. The day Alabama hired Coach Nick Saban, three years ago this week, I felt the Tide would finally turn but I never imagined that it would turn so quickly. Now, in only Saban’s third season, they are playing for a BCS National Championship on January 7, 2010, in Pasadena. Their opponent is one of the great football powers, the University of Texas Longhorns.
When I realized that I had free air miles, a nephew with a place to stay and a car to borrow without charge I thought, “I should try to go to this game. It might well be my once in a lifetime shot at seeing the game of all college games, the big one that I always wanted to see in person since my childhood.” Well, we tried and tried to get tickets. We phoned on the exact second at the time the Ticketmaster sale began. Only a few thousand tickets actually went on sale so we struck out, like thousands upon thousands of Texas and Alabama fans who tried. Of the 91,000 seats at the Rose Bowl only 19,000 each were allotted to the two schools. Any only 4,000 went on sale to the general public. I do not need to explain, if you’ve read this far, how unlikely it would thus be to get a ticket. The only way would be to have a lot of money to pay a ticket broker who had marked the ticket up three to five times the price. There was no way I could get this desired once-in-a-lifetime ticket. I tried my personal connections, friends in Alabama, etc. No chance. I settled for seeing the game like millions will see it, on television.
At my family Christmas gathering (you can see where this is going already, right) I was given a box with a bowl that had a Rose in it. It also had some (un-popped) popcorn to enjoy while I watched the game with a note telling me to go to the place where I would see the game on television. There I found an Alabama (athletic) bag. In it was a note that said “Now go to your closet where your clothes are.” There I found a shirt that was about the BCS game with the motto: “We’re messin’ with Texas.” Then another note led me back to my study where under my “Big Al” (the stuffed version of the Alabama mascot) was a ticket to the game. This was not just any ticket. It is on the second row by the tunnel where the Tide comes out on the field right in the Alabama section. I was floored. When I was told how Dan Jones had called my son, my son had called my daughter and my daughter had spoken to her mother, within hours, I couldn’t believe my ears. And they all agreed that they had to get this ticket for me as a gift. I was moved, so moved that I wept at the thought of how this all came about. Dan Jones has a friend in Ohio who is a ticket broker. This broker was willing to sell him the one ticket for the price he actually paid, not for the marked up, very high, price. Then Dan, my wife and my two children all chipped in to buy this ticket and make my day. When I heard this account you can see why I was overcome with emotion. The ticket made me feel like a child, I admit. I had just received the best (physical/material) present ever. That was amazing. But what moved me was the story behind it all. It made me feel like the most loved guy ever.
So, for those of you who can’t appreciate this kind of joy I understand. Such an event misses your personal hot button since you do not like college football. (You may not like sports at all, which is OK by me.) But for those of you who can appreciate this gift: “I’m rolling with the Tide to Pasadena to see them win (I hope) a national championship!” Roll Tide!!!
This is the most in demand ticket to a game, except for a few Super Bowls, in football history. The demand is literally off the charts right now. But my family, and a dear friend, wanted me to have this experience and enjoy this little vacation in sunny California. I am off to Pasadena in just a few days. If you watch the game look for me where the team comes out of the tunnel onto the field. I’ll be there in my crimson colors sharing in the excitement! I still can’t believe I'm going but God willing I will.