The Valuable Lesson I Learned When Trying to Relive My Glory Days

And it birthed the valuable motto from my friend: "Don't leave the earth."

by Dave Cutler
A father and a son playing basketball on a basketball court

With a mixture of concern and disappointment on his face, my friend turned to me and said, “Dave, let me ask you something: did you leave the earth?”

I was sitting on his couch grimacing in pain while icing a massive bruise on my thigh and nursing a considerably more severe injury to my ego.

We had used my wife’s business trip to Atlanta as an excuse for a family vacation, wrapping sightseeing and visits to friends around her professional commitments. As rabid college football fans, my three sons were incredibly excited to visit the College Football Hall of Fame. We took our time touring the facility, stopping to explore all of the interactive exhibits and learn about players of the past, especially those from our beloved Buckeyes teams.

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As our last stop on the tour, we entered a large open room with an indoor playing field. The kids took turns attempting field goals and throwing passes at a target. Then, we hit the jackpot. In the corner of the room, cordoned off from the rest of the field, was a pass-catching experience. Attendees could run a route that culminated with a chance to make a diving catch while landing on one of those giant foam mats that give you flashbacks to elementary school gym class. As luck would have it, this section of the exhibit was surprisingly quiet, which gave my boys the opportunity to take more turns than I could count.

A Hall of Fame staffer repeatedly lofted passes as my sons tried to outperform each other, instructing me to record every catch and punctuating each one by shouting, “did you see that?!?” This went on for a solid 30 minutes. The look on their faces was one of pure elation and the cushioned padding of the mat seemingly prevented them from feeling the effects of hurling themselves towards the floor at high speeds while awkwardly contorting their bodies in an effort to one-up any previous catches made by a sibling.

I’m a banged up, overweight, middle-aged, has-been former college athlete nursing a myriad of injuries and staving off a much-needed hip replacement for as long as possible. Needless to say, I don’t move that well anymore. That said, I could hear this pass-catching drill calling my name. It looked like a blast and, after all, there was the padding preventing folks from being injured when hitting the ground. I considered taking a turn but thought better of it and told the boys it was time to leave.

As we gathered with my wife and daughter and my wife’s friend to figure out a plan for the next stop, I noticed that the line for the pass-catching was empty. It was calling my name again and this time I was ready to answer the call. I asked my wife to hang on for a second and handed her my phone and keys in proverbial “hold my beer” fashion while jogging off to make bad decisions.

As I lined up to run my route, I noticed that my family had gathered to cheer me on and record my performance for posterity. I ran the route with the precision and grace of Al Bundy re-enacting a Polk High highlight in the shoe store and glanced back at the incoming ball as I dove towards where I estimated it would land on the mat. I reached out, full-extension, and made the catch, with my knee hitting the mat first while pulling the ball into my body. My excitement was short-lived. I experienced about a millisecond of pride before the pain set in. I quickly came to the realization that the padding in the mat had been worn down from overuse to the point that it was essentially serving as just a layer of tarp covering the turf floor. I felt fluid building around my knee, causing massive swelling, and a searing pain radiating up my thigh.

I did my best to hide an obvious limp while walking back to my family and said nothing about the injury on the way back to our friends’ house. Only once we had put the kids to bed and I felt the need to ask for a frozen pack of peas to ice down the swelling did I confess what had happened. This brings us back to my confused look in response to my friend’s inquiry about whether or not I had left the earth.

My friend, roughly 10 years older and apparently lightyears wiser than me, repeated his question. “Did you leave the earth?” He went on to explain that we’d reached an age where nothing good can happen when your feet leave the ground, hence his new credo: “Do not leave the earth.” I mustered a feeble counterargument before conceding that he had a point if recent experiences were any indication. I shrugged and told him that I guess I’d never leave the earth again and he once again stated confidently “do not leave the earth” before patting me on the shoulder and heading to bed, leaving me to ice my leg and attempt to nurse my ego back to health.

About a week after we returned from our trip, a package arrived in the mail. I opened the box to discover a small desktop frame with crocheted lettering inside it which read, “DO NOT LEAVE THE EARTH.” It now sits proudly atop my dresser. I’d be lying if I said I’ve strictly adhered to this policy, but it regularly gives me a chuckle and is a playful reminder of the need to recalibrate as I age somewhat ungracefully.

Dave Cutler is a stay-at-home dad and recovering digital marketer living in Waltham, Massachusetts with his wife, four children, and dog. He can usually be found on a youth sports playing surface where he’s either coaching, watching, or playing with his kids.