The other day I met a guy who said he was getting younger. I didn't believe him. Turns out he was just kidding, but it came at a relevant time, considering something that happened a few days prior.Bear with me here.When you're little, you can't get older fast enough. When you're older, the aging can't happen slow enough. Some guy named Merfee told me that.It's August now, about a month away from the beginning of the Breckenridge Flag Football League. Our team in that league has enjoyed quite a bit of success over the years, largely due to little turnover. With little turnover, however, you get more than experience. You get age. Our team has plenty of age.It's great: We've got 175-pound guys in their late 30s mixing it up on the offensive line with strapping young grizzlies in their early 20s. Somehow the smaller, older guys get the job done. I often wonder how. Never, however, do we take their work for granted.
Well, last week I sat on a bar stool next to one of my older teammates, who mans an offensive and defensive line position each fall. Admirable guy, Dave is. Plays fair. Has his heart embroidered on the sleeve of his jersey.Dave is one of the team's longest-tenured veterans, but he treats everyone as if he is the new guy, and they are the established ones who deserve the respect.We're sipping suds when he tells me, as though it means absolutely nothing, that he doesn't think he's going to play this fall. That he's had enough. That he's getting old.I put my glass down. "What?""Yeah," he says, shrugging his shoulders. "I think I've had enough. You guys will be fine without me."A bit of background here. Our team already is losing two more veterans because they are moving to Crested Butte to start a plumbing business. One of them, a no-crap-taking dude from Chicago, plays on the offensive line; the other is our thick-necked veteran cornerback from Detroit.
To illustrate the involuntary nature of their retirement, they are contemplating returning to Breckenridge to play if the league ends up moving games to weekends, which had been tossed around a few months ago.Dave's retirement, however, is totally his own decision. He is a busy and successful local business owner. He was recently married. And, perhaps most significant, he's tired of feeling the lingering bruises for eight weeks every fall.We talked for a few minutes after his initial announcement (which, contrary to other retirement announcements, took place at a wooden picnic table behind the local bar that sponsors our team, with the sun setting on the high mountains above). Dave explained his decision in more detail. It all made sense.But I still wasn't ready to accept it.The reasoning here is this: Once you lose someone to rec league retirement, he doesn't return. You only see him at the post office or the grocery store. And maybe on the hill in the winter. Actually, forget about that. It's true, but it's not the reason in this case.
What I realized after pondering our conversation for a while was that every time someone close to you retires, he takes a little of you with him. Not a toe or a knee, but a portion of your athletic existence. His walking away is a reminder that everyone does at one point or another. Even you.I am only 26 years old, so I know my time is more distant than others. But I know it is there nonetheless, looming on the proverbial horizon like a tanker ship in the middle of the ocean. It's coming this way. You can only outrun it for so long.Of course, if you are like Dave, which many in this football league are, your retirement is not as simple as a picnic-table announcement behind the bar. By doing it there, you leave room for second thoughts. And that's exactly what happened to Dave, three beers into his evening, when the memories started showing up.By the end of the night, his "never again" had changed to a "maybe."Bruises last awhile, but so do the plays that cause them.Devon O'Neil can be contacted at (970) 668-4633, or at email@example.com.