(It's the morning after the first day of the return to Twitter. And I'm beat. I'll have ease up on the pace or I'll end up babbling about the presidential election. ACK! So ... let's get back to basics. Time for Cardboard Appreciation. This is the 159th in a series):
Today is the start of the NFL season, and I'm finally ready for some football.
I don't intend to collect an entire football set or join a fantasy league or anything crazy. But I've been trying extra hard to follow the avalanche of football names while reading stories at work. That includes attempting to connect the dots about which guy with 47 consecutive consonants in his first name is on this team and which guy with two letters in his last name is on that team.
Who am I kidding? I'm never going to figure it out. The NFL is destined to always be a jumbled mass of faceless names and numbers.
So you really appreciate it when one of their players stands out (and why players like T.O., Deion and Ochocinco are so celebrated).
One of those players for me is Daryl Johnston.
Lots of fans know Johnston now as a football broadcaster for Fox. Before that they knew him as "Moose," the productive fullback for the Super Bowl champion Cowboys. Before that, they knew him as a local boy who made good as an All-American at Syracuse University.
I know him as the guy who played for Lewiston-Porter high school in a quiet town outside of Niagara Falls, N.Y.
I never saw Johnston play high school at Lew-Port. I saw the remnants of what he left behind. When Johnston played for the Lancers in the early '80s, they were a powerful team that won championships. Johnston graduated in 1984 with a 4.0 grade-point average and moved on to Syracuse.
I arrived at Lew-Port in 1988 as a young sportswriter with limited knowledge. Fortunately, Harry Lawler, the football coach at Lewiston-Porter and Johnston's high school coach, was there to give me a kindly hand. Lawler was one of the most helpful coaches during that time period when I was figuring things out. Patient. Quiet-spoken. He answered my questions. He wasn't like a lot of other football coaches I encountered then or since.
When I went to Lew-Port's games, I realized that they weren't a very good football team. I saw several Lancers losses, and I can't recall watching a win. But I vividly remember standing in the aluminum bleachers as Guns n' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" roared out of the sound system, an alleged harbinger of the devastation that the Lancers were about to demonstrate, and then watching Lewiston-Porter lose 28-10 in front of an eerily silent, sparse crowd.
I wondered what it was like when Johnston was there. People still talked about Johnston four years later, and older sportswriters let me know that this was the town where Johnston emerged. There was a sign paying tribute to him right off the exit ramp. You got the feeling that some of the fans were waiting for the next Johnston to show up. But he didn't. Not when I was there.
I never talked to Johnston, even while I covered his high school and college teams. I even covered the Cowboys once when he was on the team. But I followed him as if I had several conversations with the man. Because I felt like I knew him, because I knew the community where he once lived.
Today, the card that you see up top is not only the only card of Johnston that I have, but it's the only Cowboys card that I have.
I plan to buy a few packs of 2012 NFL this season, and try to get to know some of those wacky names a little better.
The sport will never match baseball in my eyes. But I won't give up that Johnston Finest card. It's my connection to that time when I was figuring things out in Youngstown, N.Y.