They Were Right: I Miss the Game

New York Times

They Were Right: I Miss the Game

By SCOTT FUJITA; Published: September 9, 2013

During my career, it seemed like every retired player who visited one of my football teams said some variation of the same thing:

David Richard/Associated Press "I retired after last season, but this preseason the mere glimpse of training camp images on television caused my back and knees to start to ache."

David Richard/Associated Press
“I retired after last season, but this preseason the mere glimpse of training camp images on television caused my back and knees to start to ache.”

“Never take it for granted. What I wouldn’t give to suit up and hear the crowd roar just one more time.”

For some reason, I never thought I would be that guy.

I just assumed that when I walked away, that would be it. No turning back. On to bigger and better things. I had a brash sort of arrogance about it.

I retired after last season, but this preseason the mere glimpse of training camp images on television caused my back and knees to start to ache. Why would I want to go through that again?

Still, any time I made a flippant comment to a former coach or player about not missing playing football, they would say:

“Wait until that first Sunday of the regular season when you’re just watching. And trust me, you will be watching.”

Sunday was that day.

And I hate to say it, but they were right.

I was in New Orleans to watch the Saints take on the Atlanta Falcons. Many in New Orleans were calling this the most anticipated home opener since the Saints returned to the Superdome for “Monday Night Football” in 2006, after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Sunday was also essentially the first time in 25 years that I would not be on a football team for the opening game of the season.

I woke up unsure of what emotions might come over me during the day, but open to whatever the experience might bring. And there were a lot of things that I just didn’t expect.

This was my first time entering a football stadium as a fan with a ticket, and I felt lost, in more ways than one. This is a place I once considered “home” and I couldn’t even figure out which door to enter or how to get to where I needed to go. For years, I knew exactly where to find my parking space, how to get to my locker and where the field was. Now, that comfort level was gone.

I finally asked security if they could point me in the direction of the home team’s locker room. I thought that once I found a familiar place, I could figure out the rest.

But even when I found my way to the locker room, I actually felt more out of place.

Lost and found at the same time, I guess.

I passed by the locker room where I used to dress and, almost out of habit, I felt compelled to enter. From the hallway I could even smell the locker room. It was so oddly familiar.

There was a chill in the stadium, as there can be before the fans fill it up, and it actually gave me the shivers, as it had so many times before. It was as if my body was returning to its normal game day biology, and I knew that once bodies filled up the stands, I would warm up in response.

When I approached the field to watch pregame warm-ups, I entered through the same tunnel, exchanged pleasantries with the same security guard and heard the welcoming cheers of the same early arriving fans as I had countless times during my playing days.

I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt, but I instinctively began to bounce gently on the balls of my feet. I shook out my arms and legs, one limb at a time. Preparing for action, with no action to come.

Then I noticed myself digging the top of my shoe deep into the turf, almost ritualistically, as I stepped across the white line from the sideline to the playing field. I imagine I’ve done this unconsciously every time I’ve taken the field, since I was 8 years old.

When the players were introduced to the crowd, I couldn’t help but feel so intimately connected to the moment but so utterly detached from what was about to take place. I also didn’t realize until Sunday how much I had taken the national anthem for granted all these years. It felt like the proverbial nightmare before the first game, when you know where you’re supposed to be, but just can’t seem to get there.

When I saw the Saints’ defense gather at the 30-yard line before running out onto the field to begin a new season, I experienced an unexpected urge to move in that direction, while also feeling such a disconnect between what my life was and what it is now.

And I never imagined I would have been nearly moved to tears the first time I heard the crowd roar.

It’s easy to tell people I’m not a football guy. I say it all the time. Football doesn’t define me. It’s actually a very small part of who I am.

But it’s inside me. I imagine it is the same for anyone who has played this game for a long time. And as much I attempt to deny that reality, Sunday I realized something that I didn’t think was possible: I miss it.

I know I can never play football again. I accept that the game has passed me by. Physically, I’m a shadow of my former self.

And I don’t know if that makes it easier or worse.

Lost and found at the same time.

Full story at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/10/sports/football/they-were-right-i-miss-the-game.html?_r=0

Filed in: Press Room, Writing • Monday, September 9th, 2013

Comments

By Carolyn Cowart-Elsteroth on September 9th, 2013 at 4:24 pm

That was an excellent written piece…Great job!

By Marianne Anderson on September 9th, 2013 at 4:26 pm

We were also in the Dome on Sunday…….and we all miss you! Glad that you were there to help with our season opener !

By Donna McNeill on September 9th, 2013 at 4:36 pm

Very touching story ! Gone but not forgotten by your fans! Wish you all the best!

By Melissa Irvin on September 9th, 2013 at 4:37 pm

This article brought me to tears! Fujita you are an awesome and amazing guy!!! I wish you would have been able to retire a saint though. I was always a steve gleason fan since before the blocked kick, and to see how you two have stayed such good friends is totally amazing!!! Thank you for all you’ve done. You will always be a saint to me!!!!

By Mary Franklin on September 9th, 2013 at 5:15 pm

We miss you too but know that you have very important things to do. Many of us enjoyed listening to you on the radio but most of all you are helping your friend. Don’t stop and don’t look back……keep on going good man….the world needs more men like you !!! A fan

By Tommy Barrett on September 9th, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Scott #55 will always be at all the home games.You will be missed on the feild.Just wish we could have had you more years.Take care and thanks for all you do and stand for!!!

By Karen Fandal on September 9th, 2013 at 5:35 pm

This was a great article. Scott needs to use his other talent his gift for words. I felt like I was in that stadium feeling all those emotions. Consider writing a novel, your that good

By Sharon cappony on September 9th, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Scott

The game misses you , too. Welcome home. It was good to see you in the Dome yesterday!

By Renee Bujol on September 9th, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Scott Fujita, you are and always will be a part of New Orleans Saints football team. The day you left, there was an emptiness in the SuperDome. Everyone in NOLA loves you and appreciates how you played for our New Orleans Saints. You are a class act, and we are proud to call you a New Orleanian.
Thanks for the memories!!!

Scott I read a lot, and I mean a lot like check out 30 books at a time a lot. I love the way you write with just enough detail to understand what it is you are speaking about and then just enough information to explain your points. To be honest I haven’t read that many books about football players although I am sure there are some out there. You should think about writing one, I would definitely read it.

Scott, just so you know, a picture of #55 has hung on my bulletin board at work since the Saints Superbowl win. My door and my co-worker’s are covered with the best of Saints memories, which you have been a major part of as a Captain of the defense. We appreciate everything you have done and look forward to your efforts in the future. You not only have a large following as a Saints player, but also as a man with a kindness for others. Despite you tough exterior, you exude an aura of gentleness which everyone recognizes within you. True, the football game is over, but you’re now involved in a bigger game where losing is not an option! Suit up, Scott, we’ve gotta stop the enemy and win the game….WHO DAT!!{:->

 

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About

Scott Fujita

Scott Fujita was born in Ventura, California on April 28, 1979. He was a three-sport standout at Rio Mesa High School in Oxnard, CA before heading to the University of California, Berkeley, where he graduated with Honors in Political Science and earned a Masters degree in Education.

Fujita has played in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns. Read more