Among the key players in this year’s Super Bowl will be three very different men with one big similarity: They love their dads and are bringing them to the game with them – at least in a sense. Their names are Manning, Wilson, and Sherman, and they have stories worth sharing.
But first I want to tell a personal story of some other men I met who also took their dad to the Super Bowl. Like most guys, they weren’t going as players but as fans, and I ran into them on my way to Super Bowl XL with my son.
Kolby and I were on our way to Detroit to see my former team, the Seattle Seahawks, play the Pittsburgh Steelers. On the flight, we got into conversation with two rabid Seattle fans, brothers in their late 20s, decked out in full team gear. They explained that their passion for the Seahawks went back to their dad, who had taken them to every game as they grew up. Kolby and I could feel the love they had for their dad in their voices and their passion. But what put these guys over the top was when they gushed about their excitement to take their dad to the Super Bowl to see their beloved Seahawks.
“Where is he?” I asked.
“Oh, he’s up in the overhead compartment. We got his ashes in a blue and green urn up there. We’re so excited!”
After they turned away came the whisper from my wide-eyed 15-year-old, “Dad, that’s weird!”
Yeah, it is. But, hey, I honor those guys for honoring their dad. It’s clear that he made his interest in them – and taking them to football games – a tradition, a memory, and a lasting bond. He must have loved them and they still felt it. They knew how much he would have wanted to see the Seahawks in the Super Bowl with his sons, so they brought him to the Super Bowl.
I love this story and the bond between men, a dad and his sons. And that takes me to this year’s Super Bowl.
The plot and outcome of this year’s game will depend a lot on the play of Russell Wilson, Peyton Manning, and Richard Sherman. Each has something in common with The Urn Brothers in that they are bringing their fathers with them to the game. Not in an urn, but they are representing their fathers’ legacies of love and sacrifice that helped them make it to the big game.
Russell Wilson’s dad went to my alma mater, Dartmouth College, playing football in the four years before I joined the team. He passed away in 2010, but before he died he had built a character of confidence, commitment, and caring into his son. Russell remembers his dad regularly waking him at 5 a.m. and encouraging him to “make it a great day.” From what Dartmouth teammates said about Harrison Wilson and what we see from the hyper-prepared and team-lifting Russell, I think the quarterback is compounding the investments his dad made in him.
Kevin Sherman is a dependable dad who wanted his sons to learn from his mistakes and to make the most of their education so that they could have more doors open for them than he had for himself. Compton, Calif., is a blighted neighborhood with few opportunities and scores of dangers, but Richard Sherman’s mom, dad and family have a winsome bond that was respected by gang members who didn’t want to lure the Sherman kids away from a great family and future.
The tight family is infectiously affirming. Richard swells with respect when speaking of his dad who worked 4 a.m. to 2 p.m. as trash collector for over two decades. From a dad’s dream to Richard’s attending and graduating from Stanford, quite a new legacy emerged in the Sherman family line.
Richard’s preeminent preparation and boiling competitiveness as a top NFL cornerback is mixed with a winsome manner off the field, although his articulate Muhammed Ali-like trash talking on the field is far from my liking, Sherman’s heated post-NFC championship game comments sparked controversy, not for misbehavior or slacking in life, but for venting battle-fueled bad blood between a DB and receiver. (Parents and youth coaches, certainly, let’s teach our kids not to belittle opponents, but let’s also read the whole story as we view others for the content of their character, not the color of a few comments after a heated game.)
Archie and Olivia Manning raised a super-close family that built Hall-of-Fame character, leadership, and humility into high achievers who make their teams eminently better. Archie labored in adversity without championships for the New Orleans Saints, but his greatest achievement was shaping Cooper, Peyton, and Eli Manning. Payton has a dad and brother as fellow epic NFL quarterbacks.
Despite what most think, the Mannings’ football career was not their dad’s focus as they were growing up. “We just tried to raise good kids and have a good family,” Archie says. “I don’t like the perception that … I’ve got these boys and I’m going to mold them into being NFL quarterbacks. Not so. You might can do that, and they might be NFL quarterbacks. I’m not sure you’re going to have a great father-son relationship, and that’s what I wanted.”
No wonder Peyton Manning was recently voted by his NFL peers as the most respected player in the league.
An infectiously intentional ivy-league dad who passed away early, a trash-truck driving, dependable dad from the ‘hood and an iconic pro-bowl quarterback from the Mississippi Delta. Each paved a path leading his son to the Super Bowl, and hopefully to even more important things – like walking in the footsteps of the key man in their life – Dad. And in a different, but similar way, just like the Seahawk-crazed brothers on the flight to the 2006 Super Bowl, these three players are taking their dad (through his legacy) to the game with them.
This all strikes close to home because of my dad’s legacy as a quarterback in the NFL and as a civic servant and leader in the public square. Although Dad and I both came within one game of the Super Bowl as players, we did go to a few games as spectators, and I’ve had the same opportunity with my sons. Most importantly, though, dad and mom loved and shaped me, as my wife and I have aimed to do with our four sons.
Millions of us dads will sit down with our kids on Sunday. So enjoy the game, but devote yourself and your energies each day to what matters most.
Someday each of us will be laid to rest (unless they scatter us in the ocean or take us to the Super Bowl in an overhead compartment). What will you be remembered for? Riches, fame, and personal success are transient. But a legacy is what passes on to the next generation, and the next, and the next. … That is what endures.
Jeff Kemp and his father, Jack, were the first of six sets of father-son quarterback duos to play in the NFL.