Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on Father’s Day of 2019. Some dates and time periods have been updated. This story can serve as a reminder for all fans who had their love for the Black & Gold passed down to them from previous generations. For you moms and dads out there, remember your love for the Steelers and the experiences you share with your children are all part of building memories.
Today is Father’s Day and it’s a double-dip of delight for me. After a bout with cancer at the age of 31, I was told that conceiving children would be very difficult for me. 17 years later, I am grateful to boast two children (a nearly 13-year old boy and an 11-year old girl) that look a lot like me and share my idiosyncrasies and a third (my stepson) that I am proud to call my son. I’m also blessed to still have my dad, who, at age 24, thankfully started a lot earlier than I did. I already gave him his Father’s Day gift last week, but I didn’t think it was nearly good enough after the 48 years of love and encouraged that he’s granted me, so I decided to give him these printed words of thanks... but it’s still not even close to being enough.
The man who fathered my dad, left his wife and four kids in 1951 when my dad was four. My grandmother scraped and clawed to barely make ends meet for her family, but the void left by this man was mammoth like the Grand Canyon or Casey Hampton. Thankfully, there were a couple of neighborhood dads who noticed and offered wisdom and support to this kid in the Moxham section of Johnstown, PA. As appreciated as these father figures were, my dad still longed for his real father. One story that will forever hurt my heart, was an unisolated incident in which my grandfather phoned and promised to take all four kids to the movies. They eagerly awaited in anticipation on the porch, but he never arrived. No courtesy call, no apology, no rain check... just unadulterated heartbreak.
After a Vietnam-Era stint in the Navy, it came time to have kids of his own. My mom bore him a daughter in 1968 and I appeared in December of 1971. My father had the opportunity to follow the same path of the aforementioned biological parent and become an absentee father, but instead he made a vow so sacred to his family, but most importantly to himself that he would be damned before he would ever inflict the emotional heartbreak that wounds, festers and never really heals on his wife and his children. To this very day, he’s never even come close to denting, let alone breaking, that vow as he’s been married to my mom for 53 years and is celebrating his 52nd Fathers Day today.
My dad had an amazing work ethic, but always found time to do stuff with his kids. He introduced the Steelers to me in the glory years of the 70s and we’ve always shared that bond. I recall one time in 1980 when Terry Bradshaw threw a last second pass to Lynn Swann for a come from behind walkoff against the Browns. My father leapt in the air like he was shot out of a cannon and bloodied his knuckles on our plastered ceiling. I was wondering why he was so excited from just a game. But soon he had infected me with the same over exuberance and I dwarf his accomplishments with my foolish and juvenile celebrations.
Two days after my 11th birthday on December 5th, 1982, my dad surprised me with tickets to my first Steeler game. At Three Rivers that day, we saw Terry Bradshaw throw a 74-yard TD bomb to John Stallworth, Franco Harris score from a yard-out, Gary Anderson kick five extra points and Donnie Shell intercepting a pass. Seeing my heroes play was awesome, but one thing I remember the most was my dad heroically helping a car out of a ditch on the way home. Other great memories from that day were my getting a Steelers 50th anniversary mug from Arby’s (which I still proudly have displayed in my fan cave), eating a hot dog in the upper level concourse while freezing and my dad refusing my request to take me to a bar called Froggy’s (the very same pub that Jack and Rebecca Pearson conceived their children during Super Bowl XIV on NBC’s “This Is Us”) after I saw a plane fly over with a banner trailing behind advertising a Steelers party. The Steelers won 35-14 and I was hooked even more.
There are too many father-son Steeler memories to mention like his teaching me never to cheer an opponent’s injury or to always wait for three zeros on the clock to celebrate. Also I can’t forget my shunning my buddies to come home from college every weekend with subs to watch the game with Dad, his kicking me out of the room briefly after berating Tim Worley through the television after a trip to the playoffs died when he fumbled (he teases me about that til this very day) and my getting to return the favor by taking him to a game in 1992 and his getting to sit in the press box. I made it a point to take my dad to a number of Steeler games every chance I got over the years and I know how proud he was to tell his buddies at work all about it. There were great wins and crushing defeats. But the box score never really mattered, it was the unbreakable bond of a little boy sharing a ballgame with his dad...no matter what year was on the calendar.
I moved out in 1995 to start my adult life. I’ve had successes and failures over the years, but he has always found a way to tell me how proud he is of me, even if I screwed up. He still does. He’s my biggest cheerleader and biggest fan. Sometimes I feel like he’s way too biased and he gives me much more credit than I deserve. I realize that he’s so proud to keep that vow from so many years ago. But here is the truth of all truths. I’m not as great a son that he thinks I am and it’s his amazing treatment of me that has backfired on him. I think of the last part of Harry Chapin’s No. 1 hit from 1974, “Cats in the Cradle” when I think of how often I see my dad, which is no where near enough.
I’ve long since retired and my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, I’d like to see you if you don’t mind
He said, I’d love to, dad, if I could find the time
You see, my new job’s a hassle, and the kids have the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you
And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me
And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
”When you coming home, son?” “I don’t know when”
But we’ll get together then, dad
We’re gonna have a good time then
You see, he taught me so much about how to be a father...that I want my kids to feel like me the way that I think of him. But even though I try to make time to see my parents, it’s not enough and that’s something I’ve got to change. As I write this, I realize that 2018 was the first season in my lifetime that I didn’t watch a single game with my dad. We would talk afterwards on the phone, but that’s not good enough either.
Two years ago, I had the opportunity to go to Virginia to meet Terry Bradshaw at an autograph signing. I called up my dad and asked him to join me, which he seemed excited to do. We waited in line in anticipation of meeting the guy that we first bonded over all of those years ago. Bradshaw was very cordial, but something amazing happened when my father leaned in and told No. 12 that he was at Super Bowl XIV in 1980 and thanked him. “The Blonde Bomber” stopped and thought long and hard and said, “Man, that was a tough one”. I jumped in and jokingly explained that I was still mad at my dad for not taking me. “Why didn’t he take you?”, Terry asked. I explained that I was eight and he took my mom to Pasadena instead. The HOFer replied, “Hell son, I wouldn’t have taken you either”. Still joking, I mentioned that I still haven’t gotten over it. I’ll never forgot what Terry Bradshaw said next with a completely sincere look on his legendary face. He said, “Son, just be glad you still got him around”.
I didn’t need Terry Bradshaw to remind me of how blessed I am, but I’m glad he did. Sharing the love for the Steelers always gave us talking points and great memories, but I’m a lucky guy to have all that I have and that’s definitely due to the dedication and love that I got from a man that never was blessed with the same infinite gifts that I was.
Thank you, William Leonard Davis. I can’t wait to actually go to a Steelers Super Bowl with you. I love the Steelers, but I love you so much more. Happy Father’s Day.