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Top 5 Things I Learned About Football From My Grandfather

Jan 28, 2013 1:24 PM EST

By Jeff Risdon

I lost my last grandparent this week. My grandfather, John Seibel, passed away at age 89 after lingering from a devastating stroke for a few days. He was a good man who lived a full life and our family is very much at peace. 

Grandpa was also a very big football fan. My very first memories of watching football are at a Super Bowl party at his house to watch the Cowboys beat the Broncos when I was four. Over the years I spent a lot of time watching the NFL with him, and here are some of things he taught me.

1. Loyalty above all else. Grandpa was a Browns fan, and he never wavered even though they didn’t win anything in his final 49 years of life. There was never any question of abandoning ship on the Browns. There was a certain character forging that comes from that. Even though I chose to root for the Lions instead of the hometown Browns, I understand exactly what he meant when he talked about staying true and how loyalty builds integrity. It often hurts and would be easy to shift loyalties, but that simply cannot be done without sacrificing passion and integrity.

2. Jim Brown is the greatest football player ever. This was not even a debatable point with Grandpa, it was undeniable fact. Suggesting any other options was picking a fight. Even in his late years in declining health he spoke of Jim Brown’s greatness with a real enthusiasm and spark in his eye. Grandpa is also a big reason why I rate Otto Graham higher than most on the QB pecking order too. And no matter how many more catches any other tight end may accrue, Ozzie Newsome belongs near the top of that ranking as well. We golfed together a lot in my teen years and most of our conversations revolved around football.

3. Football is best enjoyed with a little alcohol, and sometimes more than a little of it. My Grandpa was not a big drinker per se, but he and his cronies were known to enjoy a bottle (or two) of a good Scotch on some football Sundays. Perhaps that stemmed from rooting for the Browns and against the Steelers, who were the vastly more successful franchise for the bulk of my lifetime. I credit those Sundays for learning to drink in moderation and for my lifelong hatred of all types of whiskey, as Grandpa let me sample the watery melted ice with a kiss of that nasty stuff as a young lad.

4. Gambling is good, if you are smart about it. My first experience with betting on sports came courtesy of Grandpa during the first Niners/Bengals Super Bowl. San Francisco was up at halftime and my Grandpa offered me a dime bet that the Bengals would outscore the Niners in the second half. Being all of eight years old and thinking that what happened in the first half would certainly persist in the second, I took that bet. Cincinnati won the second half 21-6 and I lost a dime. The lesson was learned, however; seek an advantage and exploit the gullible or ignorant. That’s probably not what he intended to teach me, but it’s always made me strive to not be the gullible or ignorant part of the equation.

5. Football is a great way to understand economics. My grandfather was a banker and was legendarily tight-fisted with his money. When I was fresh out of college and finally making a little money, he and I once had a conversation about the importance of spending money the right way instead of being frivolous. He related it to the Cleveland Browns and Art Modell, who had just moved the team to Baltimore because (among other reasons) he spent poorly and made impetuous deals with his money that backfired. His point was that what might seem prudent or necessary at the time needs to be viewed with a longer perspective. Making the quick cash or risking too much on trying for immediacy will inevitably cost you in the long run. As I had just done my senior history thesis on the USFL, he talked about that too. Being young and rash, I didn’t fully appreciate what he was trying to tell me until I wanted to buy our first house. Maybe that vacation to Florida and first-class upgrade on two flights to Phoenix wasn’t such a good idea after all. 

Unfortunately, I never really got a chance to thank him for all that. I only saw him twice in the last eight years and wasn’t exactly proficient at keeping in touch other than birthday and Christmas cards. So thanks Grandpa, for all you taught and all you brought.