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Nicolais: The NFL draft highlighted how much I miss watching sports together with my father

After a lifetime of watching big moments in sport history together, the coronavirus has changed that bonding experience for us for the foreseeable future

Just after former Denver Bronco, and now San Francisco 49ers general manager, John Lynch took a defensive tackle with the 14th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, my dad sent me a text. As usual, the message was short and concise and pulled no punches.

“Jeudy is there — if the Donkeys don’t take him, they’re idiots.”

Normally, that’s my father’s homerism coming through — even though he was spot on in this instance. He is convinced that every player coming out of his alma mater, Alabama, should be the next pick regardless of need or expert ranking. His unabashed bias became a running joke in a fantasy football league we played in together.

But, of course, that “together” piece is what was missing from Thursday night.

Colorado Sun columnist Mario Nicolais

Like many fathers and sons, sports play a significant roll in our relationship. Primarily centered on baseball and college football, I do not remember a time in my life when we didn’t have that bond to bring us together.

I have the literal idyllic memory of learning to play catch together with him. He coached my baseball team for five years and earned the honorific “Coach” from my friends growing up.

In 1993, we watched the Crimson Tide beat Miami in the Sugar Bowl and win a national title together. I can still remember how we celebrated as George Teague ran down the trash-talking Miami wide receiver Lamar Thomas and stripped the ball away. 

We’d watch each of the subsequent Saban-era national titles roll in together and even took a trip to Dallas in 2016 to watch them kick off the season against USC in the ostentatious home of the Dallas Cowboys.

In 2007, my dad and I sat in his living room and watched every out of all 13 innings from the Rockies classic Game 163. We jumped up and down together high-fiving when Matt Holiday slid across — and definitely touched — the plate.

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A few years later, my dad took his first trip to my favorite soccer bar, The British Bulldog, to watch Didier Drogba and Chelsea win the UEFA Champions League against Bayern Munich. We were soaked with beer together the moment Drogba’s last-gasp goal rippled the back of the net.

We went to Folsom Field together to watch CU beat Utah and win its first, and only, PAC-12 South division title. We did not storm the field but watched together as thousands of others did.

The following year I took him to Coors Field for Father’s Day. We stood up together in anticipation, urging Nolan Arenado’s walk-off cycle homerun to clear the left-field fence below us. I still have the ticket and the bobblehead to prove we were there.

Those memories made Thursday — when we couldn’t be together — particularly difficult.

But my dad is in his late seventies and falls squarely in the at-risk population for COVID-19. He’s been good about staying at home and my family has been ardent about practicing safe social distancing since early March. We still didn’t feel safe getting together just to watch the draft.

That’s maybe what I didn’t realize as I watched live as the NBA announced it would suspend the season during a surreal Nugges-Mavericks game a month ago.

One of the things I cherish doing together with my father would be stripped away, likely for an extended period of time. In particular, I can’t imagine we will be going to another Rockies game anytime soon given the proclivity for such events to act as a “biological bomb” to spread the coronavirus.

It’s obviously an easy decision to make in the abstract — his health is worth more than any game — but nonetheless disheartening.

Until then we will do our best to be together via text or phone call, maybe watching a couple of classic games on replay, picking apart draft picks, and trying to figure out if Jeudy will be the best Broncos draft pick since they took Bobby Humphrey from Alabama in 1989.


Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, healthcare, and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq


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