new face in a familiar place
It’s 3rd down and 15. We’ve spent the first two downs of the possession losing yardage trying force our will against the defense. We’re a running team, but our opponent has scouted us well over the past two seasons and has learned all of our tendencies. Their linebackers are filling the gaps in anxious anticipation prior to the ball even being snapped. Now we’ve again found ourselves in a predictable passing situation. Since we employ only the Wing T, I’ll need to prepare to take the snap under center and execute one of a handful of plays that we have designed for this situation. I look to the sideline and take the play call. My coach finds my eyes and says “C’mon Matty – make something happen!” This is a phrase I’ve heard him shout many times. There was always desperation in his voice. It was as if he knew that we were heading for failure, but he thought that perhaps my ability would somehow direct us to an emergency reprieve. I head to the huddle and make the call, pleading “just give me some time guys”. But I know the defense will be coming for me. Our offense forces play action, but no one bites. Linebackers storm through the middle and the defensive end zeroes in on me. I’m running for my life. It’s time to be a leader. You’re down and now you’re facing insurmountable odds…stay in the collapsing pocket, cover the ball, take the sack and limit the damage…nope. That’s not a part of my make up. Scramble Matt, outrun that linebacker, shake the end, keep your eyes downfield, find a receiver, square your shoulders, deliver a strike…it’s time to “make something happen Matty”…
I’ve often related obstacles that I’ve faced in my personal life to experiences that I’ve had on the football field. I had a passion for the game that I only wish I could have carried through to other aspects of my life. My determination was completely unwavering. I could get kicked in the teeth all game long, but I’d always get back up to play the next down. I would leave it all on the field. Setbacks did not discourage me. And I faced them more often in the game that I loved than I did in other aspects of my life. It didn’t matter. I wanted more. And I think the reason I felt that way is because I took so much pride in overcoming adversity. There was nothing better than converting a 3rd and 15 into a fresh set of downs. Now it was time for me to take that ‘won’t break’ mentality and apply it to my life.
I had been a complete emotional mess as a result of the departure of my fiance. It was such a long and drawn out breakup…it had consumed me for months. I had to learn to live alone in the house that we had purchased, furnished, and decorated together, and I had to make peace with the fact that she would never offer any explanation for her actions. Thank the good Lord for my family, friends, and co-workers. They stuck by me through everything, allowing me to vent when I needed, always offering a shoulder to cry on when it became too much for me to handle. I’m sure I wore thin on them at times. But I’ll never forget their support. I hope that they understand just how critical they were to my survival during that time.
By early October 2007, the college football season was in full swing. The timing could not have been better…I could at least find refuge in the game that I enjoyed so much. My Tar Heels were off to a sluggish start. It was our first year under Butch Davis and we had begun the season 1-4. On October 6th we were set to match up with Miami in Chapel Hill. My father was not interested in heading down that weekend, so I planned a bit of a guy’s getaway with my two best friends from high school. My one buddy would make the drive with me from PA, and my other friend who was living in South Carolina would meet us there on Friday afternoon. It was a much needed escape for me, and I was really looking forward to it.
On Friday night we went out to dinner and then headed over to Franklin Street to party like a bunch of college kids for the evening. We ended up at East End Martini Bar. If you’ve been following the blog, you’ll remember that this was the place where I first met my now ex-fiance for drinks during my senior year of college. That night my friend had taken interest in a girl by the bar who was there with several friends, so I told him that I’d go get the conversation started for us. I was pretty bold that weekend…I had nothing to lose, it couldn’t get any worse for me in the ladies’ department. She seemed happy to talk, so shortly after I invited my friends over and hers as well…we’d all do a shot together.
Minutes later I was introduced to a girl that I had noticed sitting at a table by the window when we first entered the bar. She was attractive and flirtatious, and I found her very intriguing. I learned in talking to her that she was my age and was working for a company based in Chapel Hill. She had graduated from, oddly enough, the University of South Florida in 2005. That was the school that my ex had attended prior to her transfer to Chapel Hill. And she was also originally from Florida, the Atlantic coast side, however. This was all insanely ironic. I couldn’t help but feel like maybe it was all supposed to be happening. Perhaps this was redemption?
We spent the rest of the evening completely lost in one another. Upstairs we danced and held onto each other as if we had been dating for months. It was a great time. And for me, it felt particularly good because I had been down for so long dealing with my broken engagement. For a few hours I was able to feel like my old self again…to enjoy living and experience feelings of attraction and desire, things that I had thought I might never find with anyone again. I didn’t want the night to end. So we exchanged phone numbers and talked about getting together on Saturday night after the game.
My friends had an equally fun time that evening. Unfortunately, we all paid for it the next morning. We were actually so hungover that we contemplated skipping the game altogether…and trust me, I NEVER do that. But eventually we gathered ourselves and found our way to Kenan Stadium for kickoff. And I’m so thankful that we did…because it was the best game that we’d play that entire season. We hammered Miami on both sides of the ball for the entire first half, and in the second we withstood their comeback rally to hold on for a 33-27 victory…an amazing and completely unexpected performance.
I called my new acquaintance that afternoon to see what her plans were for the evening but she didn’t answer her phone. Maybe she was going to blow it off altogether? The boys and I headed back to the hotel room after grabbing a quick bite to relax, catch up on some games, and get ready for that night. A couple of hours into our mutual slumber, she called. It was decided that later that evening we’d meet up at the same place as the night before. I wasn’t going to drink that evening, honestly even looking at an alcoholic drink made me weak in the stomach. I had enough fun for the entire weekend the night before. So I maintained a pretty laid back and quiet demeanor, which she must have appreciated because she ended up inviting me back to her apartment after the bars closed.
It was already 2:00 AM. We had a long drive facing us the next day. But I was running on adrenaline, so I dropped off the guys and headed back to meet up with her. She invited me into her apartment and we spent the next three or four hours laying on her bed talking to and kissing each other. I didn’t want it to be a one night stand, so I never allowed things to progress that far. I liked her and I wanted to get to know her better. I was just enjoying being around someone new. And I had anxiously been hoping to meet the right person to fill the void in my heart…perhaps she could be it? I wasn’t thinking about the logistics of everything…I was just riding the high that weekend.
I finally returned to the hotel around 6:00 AM. After a couple of hours of sleep we got up, said goodbye to our South Carolina buddy, and then made the trip home. I was so excited about my new acquaintance that I didn’t need much rest to function.
As we headed up I-85 North out of North Carolina, my friend looked at me and said, “Matt, I told you last night that you needed to be able to leave that here…if you couldn’t do that, then you should not have gone any further with things…”