Happy Birthday, Erik!

Erik, man.

You’re 27 now!

The first time I went to your birthday party, we were in 8th grade. It was your 14th birthday.

That was in 2003, by my math. Thirteen years ago.

Back then, you were:

  • Really smart
  • Really good at football

Nothing’s changed, I imagine.

I think my favourite thing about you is your ability to combine complete, utter, insanity with systematic, abstract, logical thinking. You’re the only guy I know smart enough to top the honour roll, but dumb enough to put his right hand up into my bedroom fan after losing a ping-pong game (in your defense, we were eighth-graders).

In 9th grade, your average math test score was somewhere around 108%. On every test, you’d get all the answers right, and then the bonus problem at the end.

What’s up with that, dude?

You were also the only freshman to make the varsity soccer team.

What’s up with that too, dude?

You were always meticulous and careful about your homework. Chemistry, math, physics: they came naturally to you. Actually, maybe they didn’t. But you understood how those fields worked. Even if you didn’t know the answer, you were able to figure it out. The principles made sense in your head — which meant every solution was just a matter of time. And you always stuck with it.

On the football field, man, you were (and I hope still are) lethal. You wore #10, after Michael Owen (now we’re really dating ourselves!)

Left foot, right foot, head. You had it all. Strength, power, acceleration, precision. All we had to do was kick the ball in your general direction.

I think, by the end of senior year, you’d scored more goals than anyone else in school history. You were historic.

There are lots of things I could write about: classes together, lunch breaks, adventures on your golf cart. Parties, or competitions: football, basketball, track and field.

But one memory sticks out in my mind. It wasn’t our finest moment. It wasn’t one of the many wonderful goals you scored. It wasn’t even from an actual game.

Still, I’ll never forget it. This memory is tattooed to my brain. Because it showed how you could do things that the rest of us just couldn’t.

It was from practice, I think it must have been in 11th or 12th grade. I think it was 11th grade, because in my memory, I’m wearing blue boots.

We were playing Mr. Heath’s famed Thorpe Arch drill, the one he plagiarised from a Leeds United practice session. The training pitch was short, and wide, but the goals were full-sized. It was every striker’s dream.

The drill was designed to encourage quick interplay, lots of one-twos. You had to have your head up, your wits about you, and your eyes wide open.

In this one memory of mine, whoever was playing in goal played a lofted long ball up to me, and I tried to control it, with my right foot. I had no idea where you were.

You were lurking right behind me.

And as the ball bobbled off my right foot, you attacked the ball with your right foot, and you absolutely belted it. I still don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone strike a football that hard, in person, in my entire life.

You smashed it, bro. And the funny thing is, the ball didn’t go in. It struck the crossbar, and the sound it made, it was a wonderful, sonorous, vibrating thrum. The way that crossbar sung, it sounded like we were inside Big Ben, right up against the clocktower’s bell.

It was loud.

And everyone was stunned. No one on the field did anything for the next few seconds. We just stood there, in silence, listening to the crossbar sing.

Only you, Erik, could make a crossbar sing.

 

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