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This is especially meaningful to me since after serving in Desert Storm Robby was killed in the senseless bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April of 1995, where he was reportedly . . . playing the piano.
Origins: The 1995 bombing that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and killed 168 people was a tragedy with which America is still trying to come to grips, especially in the wake of the recent execution of the man responsible for it, Timothy McVeigh.
Creating and circulating glurge (sometimes true, sometimes fabricated) is one of our cathartic ways of dealing with tragedy, but in this case it appears someone has simply dusted off and refurbished an old glurge to suit the circumstances. We don't yet know the original source for the piece reproduced below (it is often prefaced as being a story told by Bob Richards, the former pole-vault champion), but it's been circulating on the Internet since at least 1998, and in lyric form it was a sappy 1975 hit for David Geddes (infamous for the teenage gun tragedy song "Run Joey Run") under the title "The Last Game of the Season (A Blind Man in the Bleachers)":
THE LAST GAME OF THE SEASON
(A BLIND MAN IN THE BLEACHERS)
He's just the blind man in the bleachers
To the local home town fans
And he sits beneath the speakers
Way back in the stands
And he listens to the play by play
He's just waiting for one name
He wants to hear his son get in the game
But the boy's not just a hero
He's strictly second team
Though he runs each night for touchdowns
In his father's sweetest dreams
He's gonna be a star some day
Though you might never tell
But the blind man in the bleachers knows he will
And the last game of the season is a Friday night at home
And no one knows the reason but the blind man didn't come
And his boy looks kinda nervous
Sometimes turns around and stares
Just as though he sees the old man sittin' there
The local boys are tryin' but they slowly lose their will
Another player's down and now
He's carried from the field
At halftime in the locker room
The kid goes off alone
And no one sees him talkin' on the phone
The game's already started
When he gets back to the team
And half the crowd can hear his coach yell
"Where the edited you been?"
"Just gettin' ready for the second half,"
Is all he'll say
"Cause now you're gonna let me in to play."
Without another word, he turns and runs into the game
And through the silence on the field
Loudspeakers call his name
It'll make the local papers
How the team came from behind
When they saw him playin' his heart to win
And when the game was over
The coach asked him to tell
What was it he was thinkin' of
That made him play so well
"You knew my dad was blind," he said
"Tonight he passed away"
"It's the first time that my father's seen me play"
Notice the similarities between the following (also anonymous) piece and the "Mildred Hondorf" version quoted above: Both involve boys with single parents, both boys are not very good at the recreation they've chosen to pursue yet work hard at it, neither parent can appreciate his or her boy's efforts due to a handicap (blindness or deafness), and both boys beg for a chance to perform in public over their teachers' objections so that their recently-deceased parents can experience their sons' artistry and skill "for the first time":
A teenager lived alone with his father, and the two of them had a very special relationship. Even though the son was always on the bench, his Father was always in the stands cheering. He never missed a game.
This young boy was still the smallest of his class when he entered high school. But his father continued to encourage him but also made it very clear that he did not have to play football if he didn't want to. But the young man loved football and decided to hang in there. He was determined to try his best at every practice, and perhaps he'd get to play when he became a senior.
All through high school he never missed a practice nor a game, but remained a bench warmer all four years. His faithful father was always in the stands, always with words of encouragement for him. When the young man went to college, he decided to try out for the football team as a "walk-on." Everyone was sure he could never make the cut, but he did. The coach admitted that he kept him on the roster because he always puts his heart and soul into every practice and, at the same time, provided the other members with the spirit and hustle they badly needed.
The news that he had survived the cut thrilled him so much that he rushed to the nearest phone and called his father. His father shared his excitement and was sent season tickets for all the college games. This persistent young athlete never missed practice during his four years at college, but he never got to play in the game.
It was the end of his senior football season, and as he trotted onto the practice field shortly before the big playoff game, the coach met him with a telegram. The young man read the telegram and became deathly silent. Swallowing hard, he mumbled to the coach, "My father died this morning. Will it be all right if I miss practice today?" The coach put his arm gently around his shoulder and said, "Take the rest of the week off, son. And don't even plan to come to the game on Saturday."
Saturday arrived, and the game was not going well. In the third quarter, when the team was ten points behind, a silent young man quietly slipped into the empty locker room and put on his football gear. As he ran onto the sidelines, the coach and his players were astounded to see their faithful teammate.
"Coach, please let me play. I've just got to play today," said the young man.
The coach pretended not to hear him. There was no way he wanted his worst player in this close playoff game. But the young man persisted, and finally, feeling sorry for the kid, the coach gave in. "All right," he said. "You can go in." Before long, the coach, the players and everyone in the stands could not believe their eyes. This little unknown, who had never played before was doing everything right.
The opposing team could not stop him. He ran, he passed, blocked and tackled like a star. His team began to triumph. The score was soon tied.
In the closing seconds of the game, the kid intercepted a pass and ran all the way for the winning touchdown. The fans broke loose. His teammates hoisted him onto their shoulders. Such cheering you've never heard!
Finally, after the stands had emptied and the team had showered and left the locker room, the coach noticed that the young man was sitting quietly in the corner all alone. The coach came to him and said,
"Kid, I can't believe it. You were fantastic! Tell me what got into you? How did you do it?"
He looked at the coach, with tears in his eyes, and said. "Well, you knew my dad died, but did you know that my dad was blind?" The young man swallowed hard and forced a smile, "Dad came to all my games, but today was the first time he could see me play, and I wanted to show him I could do it!"
It's the same story, just told in a different way.
(For the record, four men named "Robert" were killed in Oklahoma City bombing.)
We don't know why Mildred Hondorf can't spell "Des Moines," why a music teacher would use the word "virtuoso" as if it were a tempo, or why someone would be playing the piano in a federal building, but we do know that Robby's piano teacher should indeed have been "surprised when he announced that he had chosen Mozart's Concerto #21 in C Major" for his recital piece: It's one of the most technically demanding of all Mozart's concerti, it's a half-hour long, and it requires an orchestral accompaniment -- yet young Robby, the diffident piano student, so well mastered this challenging piece in only several weeks' time (without the benefit of a teacher) that he was able to perform it at a recital, sans orchestra, in a mere six and a half minutes. Quite a prodigy, that Robby.
Last updated: 18 June 2001