CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)

AUTHOR: ELLIS

HED:Gregg Ellis: Father's influence, football game lead to sports career

I have no memory of the day I was born, nor the moment I took my initial step as a toddler without falling.

And I certainly can't recall the first recognizable word uttered from my mouth.

I can, however, pinpoint the day I discovered my first passion.

That unforgettable moment for me came Oct. 9, 1976.

As a young, annoying six-year-old brat growing up in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, I hopped into a car with my family one Saturday morning not knowing where I was headed. Little did I know at the time how that particular one-day trip would eventually set the course for my life.

On that fall afternoon, it was homecoming at Ole Miss, and the Rebels were playing against the much-heralded Georgia Bulldogs coached by the famed Vince Dooley.

I remember being overwhelmed by the large mass of people in attendance and being confused as to why everyone kept clapping, yelling and cheering. Usually, a large gathering meant a time to be still and quiet - such as church. But, that wasn't the case.

Ole Miss claimed a rare win against Georgia that day, 21-17. In fact, it must have been a hard loss for the 'Dawgs to swallow, because they didn't lose again to Ole Miss until 1989.

I don't remember much more about that day, except that my family certainly was happy and in high spirits. I figured if everyone was this excited about a game, I better start paying attention to football and learning the rules. I did, thus the inception for my passion in regards to sports.

From football grew my love for basketball and tennis, and later baseball. Now, throw into the mix golf and hockey. I guess you can label me a sports fanatic. And since I'm now a writer, it pays to know the in's and out's of what I'm covering (although some may argue that point, and have).

Because of this passion, it pains me to read about sports figures who go astray. Today, the headlines in Sports sections across the country are more about drugs, murder, domestic violence and sexual misconduct than about the game itself.

It's unfortunate, because I'd much rather read about the success of Tiger Woods or the morals of Payne Stewart instead of the unfolding plots of O.J. Simpson, John Rocker or Ray Lewis.

Yes. Sports has taken a hit of late. But today, I'd like to erase the negatives and focus more on the rewards.

The greatest aspect sports offer is not what takes place between the goal lines or the strategies devised during timeouts.

At least not for me.

It's the bond formed between two people, especially between father and child. Today is Father's Day, and I can't help but think how different my life would be if my dad hadn't taken me to those games or the time he spent teaching me how to throw a baseball. Sports was a common link for us then and continues to be today.

As it turned out, his influence was a guide for my career. So were the sacrifices. Tickets aren't cheap. I guess that's why I never got that three-wheeler or my own private telephone line. But that's OK. What a three-wheeler offers pales in comparison to the priceless memories I gained while attending Ole Miss and Memphis Showboats games as a child.

As a father of two, I hope to have the same type of influence with my children. Whether it is sports or not doesn't really matter.

And, I guess I should also thank that 1976 Ole Miss team for introducing me to football. If the Rebels had lost that day, the drive home would have less enjoyable, and my career in sports might not have been. Who knows, if Georgia had won that day, I might have turned out a doctor, lawyer or astronaut.

Hmmmmm . . .

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