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STOVALL: Ode to McDonalds, my dad and the high school football season
Gabriel Stovall

As of Friday, my trips to McDonalds in Covington will now take on a completely different meaning — at least for the next three or four months, anyway. 

A little while ago, as the baseball season was winding down, I took a trip to McDonalds on Hwy 278 — not my first trip there, mind you. But for some reason, this time, I looked up in the sky as I was waiting for my turn in the drive thru line, and saw the sign. 

It’s the sign that lets me know I was at Homer Sharp Stadium. And immediately I felt moisture gathering around my eyelids. 

Ok, it wasn’t that deep to make me cry, but I did start jonesing for football season once again, even though we were a long ways off. 

Listen, I’ve told ya’ll before. I love sports. All of them. That’s kind of why I don’t consider my job to be work, even on it’s hardest, most frustrating day or longest football Friday night. But I can’t help that football has a special place in my heart — and I believe it does in many of your hearts too. 

It’s the reason why people have been taking pictures, side-by-side all week with their juxtaposing Alcovy-Newton gear on.

It’s the reason why articles about football scrimmages that mean nothing in the win-loss column and often only feature the starters for the first two quarters get followed and read like regular season games. 

It’s the reason why almost 2,000 people have viewed our Facebook Live recording of the Chick-fil-A/CovNewsSports Pigskin Preview Show that we did live on location at the Chick-fil-A Newton Plaza restaurant Wednesday. 

It’s the reason why middle school football is starting to draw bigger crowds and more attention than ever before. Whereas baseball was once America’s past time, football has long surpassed it, to the point where it never gets old talking about it during the offseason, because it just brings you that much closer to Friday night. 

And what a Friday night it was. Newton and Alcovy packed the house in their first meeting since 2015. Eastside traveled to Ola to kick off its 2018 campaign and set the stage for two more weeks of this round robin style vying for the Newton Cup — something that hasn’t been passed around in close to six years. 

There are few true sanctuaries I have in life. One is my office at The Covington News when I get to close the door in those moments where I’ve got to meet deadline. 

Another is an empty church’s worship area. That real-life sanctuary always gives me peace and makes me feel a little bit closer to God. But yes, the football stadium — and to put it more specifically, the high school football stadium — is one of those places for me that I can get away from it all for about three or four hours, and focus on something that gives me joy and makes me think of better times. 

And unlike my office at The News or that empty church sanctuary, I like my football stadiums full, loud and live with all the brightness and pageantry of Friday night lights. 

Blame my father. He introduced me to the game years ago, as I was growing up in Omaha, Nebraska. He taught me to be a fan of the Cornhuskers, even if his rooting preference came out of Norman, Oklahoma. 

With him I found out the importance of rivalries. Some of my fondest memories were of my father and me sitting with my uncles around a television the day after Thanksgiving, watching those Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry games. I remember crying if Nebraska lost (Don’t tease me. I was like eight years old). 

I remember sometimes playing catch with him or my big cousin the backyard. Dad was the first person to put a football in my hand. And as he gets closer to his final days while navigating through the last stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, I guess the ol’ gridiron and pigskin mean a little more to me now. 

Call it a way to keep my times and memories with my dad — the man before Alzheimer’s — alive. 

Ok, now my eyes are really sweating for real. 

Listen. Americans love their sports. And it’s because they typically mean much more to us than just, well, sports. I’ve seen the moms get weepy as they realize their football sons are starting their senior years. 

I see dads swell with pride when they watch junior take off down the sideline for a score. And even for coaches, I notice the emotion they bring to the care of their teams and football players — part soldiers going to war, part brothers as teammates and part sons to the coaches who, during the season, often spend more time with them than their own children at home. 

So yeah, now that the season is back, I’m in my happy place. And because of the other things happening in my life, it just means more now. So when I make my next few trips back to McDonalds, and if you happen to be behind my burgundy Chevy Impala, and I don’t move up a spot in the drive thru line as quickly as I should, don’t feel bad about honking your horn to give me a nudge. 

Chances are, I was sitting their looking up at that old, off-white Sharp Stadium sign, daydreaming. Reminiscing about simpler times. Thinking about how much I love this game and the people who taught me how to appreciate it. 

Happy Football Season, everyone. 

Gabriel Stovall is the sports editor of The Covington News. He can be reached for tips and story ideas at Follow him on Twitter @GabrielStovall1 or @CovNewsSports.