My friend Wade was an avid Vikings fan. As such, he belonged to one of the few fanbases that is as tortured (or really, even more tortured) than our own. I mean, at least we don't have to put up with people laughing about our lack of a Super Bowl win (they laugh at other stuff, but still).
My friend Wade was, like myself, a family man. He had himself a wife and three kids that he doted on. He did it right, too. Not only did he pass on his fanhood to his kids, but he even got his wife cheering on those beleaguered Vikings. He did a great deal right beyond that, but it would be lengthy to describe other than to say he was a good man.
My friend Wade had cancer. The kind that you don't walk away from. Since I'm using past tense, I'm sure you can figure out where it went. It took him Monday night very suddenly, with me (and many others) by his side and his wife holding him in her arms.
He found out over a year ago now. He went through all the "normal" (I hate that word here) steps in this process. The chemo. The radiation. The doubt. The temporary hope. The positive tests that destroy hope (that was a damn stomach punch). Losing over 125 pounds to go from the physically strongest guy I know to a guy skinnier than most.
Through it all, I didn't heard the man complain once. He didn't talk about getting a rough break. He didn't lash out at people around him. I never even heard him say the words "why me," even as the rest of us wonder why it had to be him. He handled cancer better than I handle losing the remote control. The man was a role model of quiet, steady faith. Again, he was a good man.
I couldn't even tell you if he was scared. It sure didn't look like it.
He got a chance to say goodbye to his wife and kids before they put him under for the last time. I suppose if I could choose, that's how I'd want to go. Sleeping, having told my family I loved them, surrounded by people who cared.
What's this got to do with Chiefs football? Something, I promise. And nothing. It's not like Wade was a fan of the Chiefs. He was just a guy who loved football. That's actually how we became friends; we discovered a common love for this pointless game.
So that's what we talked about for the most part. I didn't generally ask him how he was doing or about his latest test when I saw him. He got that from everyone. He couldn't get away from it. Who needs that?
So instead, I'd ask him how Giovani Bernard was working out fantasy-wise. I'd ask him if he thought Patterson is going to pan out as a WR, or where he thought Adrian Peterson ranks on the list of all-time running backs (just to troll him, I like to make the argument for Jamaal Charles being better. Always a good time). I'd ask him about the disaster that is Josh Freeman and laugh at his ranting response.
Some of the finest times I've had over the last few years have been talking football with my friend Wade. It's always a joy talking with a fellow fan about a great sport, even if we don't cheer for the same team. And for a few minutes, we weren't thinking about life, and death, and all that other stuff.
When he went last night, his 11-year-old boy left the room. I followed him out and sat down next to him in front of a TV in the lobby. We stared at the Wolves/Celtics game for a minute or two. I asked him if he wanted to talk about it, and he told me no. So I asked about the Vikings big win Sunday, and told him about my gutsy move to add Greg Jennings to my fantasy roster for the championship game. He lit up talking about Matt Cassel (don't judge him, the boy is young) and how good they're going to be next year. He even laughed at my reaction to him thinking Cassel is the answer.
Football doesn't matter. Not even kind of a little bit. In 10 years, no one is going to care about the Chiefs win-loss record this season. No one is going to care about the Vikings and how for a few weeks they started Matt Cassel.
But those conversations with Wade and his son will linger for me. I'll remember feeling useful for just a few minutes while we talked about something useless. I'll remember Wade making me laugh over some stupid bad beat on his fantasy team, or at some lame joke only long-suffering fans of terrible teams could understand together. I'll remember his unbelievable grace and strength.
I started writing this prior to Wade's death, with an entire section about how I was sure he'd beat this thing. I was wrong. Even the toughest guy I knew couldn't hold out against that ugly, ugly disease.
But regardless of how it turned out, this pointless sport that doesn't matter gave me a friend. And it gave me something to talk about when words stuck in my throat.
Maybe football isn't so pointless after all. Rest easy, big fella.