Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Football and a Fundraiser

You can't really tell in this picture. but James is wearing a Houston Texans onesie. It's the day we took him home from the hospital and we were getting ready to watch the game. As you can see, James was not particularly pleased about the sports affiliations I bequeathed on him.

One of the blogs about the Texans I used to read regularly pre-James is hosting a draft party on Friday that will benefit James' fund.  The party will be at 360 Sports Lounge in Houston on Washington Avenue at 6:00 P.M.

For those of you unfamiliar with the NFL, the draft is the process each year in which teams select college players to play for them next year. It's a big deal, especially for teams like the Texans which have historically been bad. If you're in Houston, feel free to drop by. Below is something I wrote for them. I'll warn you that some of it will only make sense if you're a Texans fan.

Though you probably haven’t noticed, I’ve been away for a while. Over the summer, my infant son developed brain cancer and passed away. I’ve been somewhat occupied.

My son was born on a Friday. My wife went into labor around midnight the night before, and our son joined us ten hours later after an emergency c-section. That Saturday, he watched his first football game. My duly maligned, long suffering Baylor Bears beat the University of Texas. I considered it auspicious, as it had been about a decade since we beat Texas in Austin. My son wore an outfit I’d purchased for the occasion, his very first clothes. My little bear. That Monday I slipped him into a Texans onesie I’d bought as soon as we found out we were having a boy and we watched the Texans play the Colts. They lost. I told him not to worry and apologized, not for the last time, for bequeathing my fandom upon him. For his first birthday party, my wife and I planned a tailgate party, to coincide with that what would have been a football Saturday.

Instead, he son died on a Saturday, 15 weeks shy of a year. We buried him on a Wednesday. Four months away from a tailgate and his first birthday. A month before he died, he was mastering the art of crawling and biting, applying the four teeth he’d acquired to anything within striking distance. Then he started throwing up and wouldn’t stop. We went into the hospital with what we assumed was a summer bug, a precautionary measure our pediatrician insisted on. Because he’d been throwing up, we thought we’d get some fluids and go. We were there for the next two weeks. In fact, we only left twice in the next month, both times for less than twenty-four hours.

No virus caused my son’s illness. Instead, a vicious tumor was lodged in his brain, tucked neatly between his brain stem and and cerebellum. An atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor. It’s a rare tumor, the odds are a bit like winning the lottery in reverse. He was throwing up because of the immense pressure the tumor’s swelling created. A surgery removed 95% of it, the first step in what promised to be a long journey. We hoped a year of chemo would get the rest. The odds were bad but trending in our direction over time.
We never got to chemo. The tumor returned less than two weeks after the surgery, stronger and bigger than before, expanding its reach to new parts of his brain and his spine. The doctors said he never had a chance, that they had never seen a tumor so aggressive in their careers. We took him home and he died three days later in my wife’s arms. I held him until he went cold, and walked him out to the minivan the funeral home sent. It was tailor-made for such occasions with a child seat in the front seat. As if I’d ever allow my infant son to sit in the front seat of anything. I almost asked them to move him but decided that would somehow be more awkward. I bought a new car solely to avoid the possibility of a child in the front seat, an SUV with the capacity to sit three car seats in the middle seat.

I last commented on BRB two days before he got sick. Afterwards, it just fell by the wayside along with other habits and hobbies that seemed snatched from another time or another person. I followed the lockout with the casual interest of a fan who cannot avoid headlines but doesn’t care to dig. I’d long been amongst the contingent of fans that believed the NFL would find a way to slay its golden goose. It reflected my basic cynicism about the sports business model. The end of the lockout challenged my assessment- a surprising, if not robust, display of competence.

Football and I never got along to begin with. My father, grandfather, and even great-grandfather played, all for the same intermittent power of a high school team in the deep south where our family spent the last few centuries. Think "Friday Night Lights" but with pine trees. My Dad’s team went to the State Championship, but he didn’t play, the victim of a broken collarbone. My Mother’s high school (or rather, the Catholic boy’s team affiliated with her school) actually beat them, a fact she still believes entitles her to bragging rights. But my father and I, until recently, did not always get along. We had vastly different personalities. I never felt compelled to emulate him, while he never understood why I so stubbornly resisted pleasing him or anyone. We both had good points, but none of it mattered. I did not play. My brother did, a broad lineman like my father. My high school experience revolved more around anti-social endeavors. I never even attended a game.

College gave me a second chance at fandom. I had a choice between Baylor and UT. I went to Baylor because the campus was prettier in my opinion and because UT wanted me to submit applications for all sorts of subsidiary programs that I was much, much too lazy to complete. I also wanted to get the hell away from everyone I knew in High School and they all went to UT. Bizarrely enough, stumbling onto the Baylor campus and into the worst college football school in the Big 12 somehow suited me. Baylor would not win. You could reasonably expect a front row seat in the section of your choosing, the better to watch the massacre. Football became easy shorthand to make new friends and represented a common language I quickly picked up. My freshman year, Baylor beat Kansas. You laugh, but it was their first Big 12 victory in three years. My hallmates tore down the goalposts and carried them triumphantly the few miles back from the stadium to our dorm’s common room (one of the least of the Baylor football program’s many deficiencies is that it has not had an on-campus stadium in over 75 years). I loved it.

Because Baylor was so awful, the euphoria when we won was exceptional. Something appealed to me about rooting, often hopelessly, for the perennial underdog.
Fortunately for my nascent and masochistic fandom, football returned to Houston the same year I left for Baylor. Like the Bears, the Texans were not a very good football team. They were often a completely irrelevant football team. They lost in innovative ways. I felt right at home rooting for them. So began my relationship with the Houston Texans. My family picked up season tickets a few years later--my first game was the “Bush Bowl." Texans-related news browsing became a staple of my law school study breaks. Like many of you, I made the winding journey from the Chronicle to BRB. In my case, first to DGDB&D, which for some strange reason was at one point linked to from the Chronicle's website, and from there to BRB. I probably lurked for a year or two before I began commenting. Once I did, I was fortunate to join a community of equally obsessed, the long-suffering Texans fans. Nowhere else in the universe could you find people willing not just to watch DeMarcus Faggins “play” football on a regular basis but to discuss the particular horror of that experience. It was like a support group for people abused by Richard Smith and Frank Bush. I loved it and spent the next few years wasting far too much time browsing the comments section. But for life, I’m sure I would’ve enjoyed last season with you all. We sure as hell earned it.

My wife and I have created a fund in James’ memory through the Communities Foundation of Texas to help research rhabdoid tumors. As I said before, rhabdoid tumors are an extremely rare form of tumor. They were only recently distinguished from a similar but less malignant form of brain cancer, thanks to genetic sequencing of the tumor. As a result, treatments are still evolving. The positive side of this is that in the last few years there has been progress. Our goal with this fund is to help facilitate those efforts. Donations are tax deductible. Anything you can do is great. If you can’t give anything, that’s fine too. Either way, thanks for reading and thanks to Tim and BRB for doing this.


  1. I pray that they learn how to stop these tumors so no one else ever has to go through what you have.

  2. thinking of Jamesie always...

  3. Thank you for so beautifully and vulnerably sharing your story. I continue to pray for you and Kara.