Highschool soccer teammate family and friends will bear in mind

This is a column by Mark Murphy, a Savannah doctor and writer. He is a longtime contributor to the Savannah Morning News.

Joey, I’m writing you this letter too late.

It is too late because the future has suddenly slipped away from us and escapes our grasp like smoke. It’s too late because we took all of our mornings for granted and assumed something we weren’t entitled to.

It’s too late because you’re gone

Forty-four years ago this month, we were a couple of firm young guys preparing for our first season of high school football. We were strong, ruthless, and immortal, like all teenagers, unaware that all of our youthful bravery was an illusion, a shimmering mirage.

Joey Blissett was a husband, father, grandfather and friend, writes columnist Mark Murphy.

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We wouldn’t have cared if someone had told us. We wouldn’t have believed them.

This season, you and I played on Calvary’s very first football team. We suffered from the sweltering summer heat and endured three days of football practice a day that left us bruised and bruised – and we lost every game, every damned one.

Still, somehow it didn’t matter.

We won four games the next season and four more the following year. In retrospect, the wins and losses weren’t nearly as important as we thought. It was important that we learned to trust each other, to understand the intrinsic value of teamwork and to forge friendly bonds that are never broken.

I can still remember that you came to school in your red pickup with the white roll bar with loading lights. We could hear the throaty growl of your engine a block or more away. This truck was a lot cooler than the stuttering little Chevy Monza I drove back then, and I was jealous. But at least I was allowed to ride it a bit, so that’s a consolation.

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You broke your leg during a game in our junior year. It was a horrific break, the worst I’d seen at this point in my young life. I remember we were all standing in a circle around you, sweaty and stained with mud, as my father, the Calvary team doctor, assessed your injury.

My most vivid memory of that night was the worried look on your father’s face as he kneeled next to you in the field. Lonnie Blissett was a proud man, tough as old shoe leather, but I could see his lip trembling as he watched you writhing in pain on the 40-yard line.

“Lonnie?” said my father to yours and gently put a hand on his shoulder.

Your father gave me a startled look.

“Joey will be fine. I promise, ”said my father.

Your daddy loved you so, Joey. But you know that.

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As hard as it is to believe, we will soon have a 50th anniversary meeting of this first football team. You will not be able to be with us personally and we will miss you – but we know that you will be there in spirit. Teammates do that.

When you were at Southern Tech and I was at UGA, you sometimes came to visit Athens. We saw some great Georgia soccer teams during the Herschel Walker years, including the glorious 1980 national team. Georgia went 43-4-1 during the four years I was there.

Of course, those seasons have ruined us. We Dawg fans have expected to win the national championship every year since, and it hasn’t exactly worked out that way. But there is always hope, isn’t there? I was hoping to bring you back to Athens for a game this fall, if we can relive those championship dreams.

Mark Murphy

You won’t be there now, of course, but I told Renee that I would still give her the tickets for your family members so they could remember them. It’s the least I can do – and of course you can watch the game with them from an even better point of view.

I remember you once told me that you were born with a flashlight during a thunderstorm-related power outage in the hospital. That seems appropriate. You’ve worked as a lineman for Georgia Power all those years, restoring people’s lives in times of darkness.

For your seven children and nine (!) Grandchildren, too, your love was an everlasting source of light and strength – one that will illuminate your life long after you have left this earth.

Maya Angelou once said that we should all strive to be “a rainbow in someone’s cloud”. You were certainly much, much more to the people you love.

So one last time from me, the rest of that very first Calvary football team and the rest of the 1980 Calvary Class, goodbye and blessings. We love you, Joey.

Thank you for simply being you.

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