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Why I love sports: Jeff Patterson loves sports and doesn't care who knows

Oklahoman sports editor Jeff Patterson was a self-described "mediocre midfielder" in high school last century in Kentucky. [PHOTO PROVIDED]
Oklahoman sports editor Jeff Patterson was a self-described "mediocre midfielder" in high school last century in Kentucky. [PHOTO PROVIDED]

We had just turned out of the neighborhood on our way to practice when the future of our program grinned like an idiot as he opened the door of my Mercury Tracer and jumped out.

My mind raced as expletives flew out of my mouth.

"Did we just ruin our own season?" I thought while watching Jake Isenhour — then a freshman at East Jessamine High School and years away from captaining Western Kentucky University's soccer team — tumble in my neighbor's yard.

Count it as a failure of leadership on my part, not making sure the child lock was set to protect one of our top players from himself.

Luckily, he wasn’t injured, and we didn’t tell the coaches because I wasn’t going to run sprints for that.

As a mediocre midfielder, perhaps my most important role senior year was shepherding all the talent we had a couple years behind us. But it was a role I enjoyed.

It meant playing Playstation after school before running three miles. It meant allowing the youngins to raid the fridge so they could egg a friend’s driveway on the way to practice.

Why do I love sports?

We don’t have enough space to fully answer that.

The competition, for sure. You play to win the game.

The camaraderie, of course. You make friends for life.

The coaching, no doubt. You can always use guidance.

But, man, what I really love about sports are all those ever-lasting stories. The feeling after making a slide tackle in a rainy game. What it was like to win a tournament after our best player got red-carded. What it was like to have your high school career come to an end and then hangrily scarf down a burrito from Long John Silver’s alone in the car.

My playing days were not the stuff of legend. Heck, I probably peaked in tee ball recording an unassisted triple play at third base.

But sports allowed me to dream. That I would grow up and be the starting point guard at the University of Kentucky and then play center field for the Cincinnati Reds. It was a shared vision for many of us growing up in Lexington, Ky.

Sports allow us to dream big, but it’s always there to humble us.

I made it to UK, but I was chasing a new dream on game days at Rupp Arena working for the student newspaper.

The closest I came to playing a sport at Kentucky was helping organize Friday night pickup football games on Stoll Field — where Bear Bryant's teams played half a century earlier and where the UK band practiced at the time. It was our own “Friday Night Lights” playing 7-on-7 tackle football without pads on a marked field.

My body aches thinking about those hits now. We had a guy break his collarbone. I ended up wearing a boot for two months after one tackle. But we were young and just wanted to play a game we loved.

A few years later, when I was on the football beat for our college paper, head coach Rich Brooks looked at me during practice late in a lost 2004 season and asked a question.

“Do you want to play safety?” Brooks joked.

I laughed.

“Sorry, Coach. My playing days are long gone.”

I mean we all love sports, but I’d be better off jumping out of a moving car.


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Jeff Patterson

Jeff Patterson is the sports editor of The Oklahoman. A native of Lexington, Kentucky, he allegedly once told his father on a childhood trip passing through Oklahoma that he would one day live there. He doesn't recall this, but he fulfilled that... Read more ›