Dear Uncle Harold:

So there I am, walking in the front door, carrying the folding chairs and the ice chest and all that junk you always take to the beach (and never use). It kind of surprised me to see your letter there on the floor. But why the surprise? After all, aren't you Harold the Elephant, the uncle who never forgets?

Harold, you are absolutely incredible. It's 22 years since that day the coach pulled me aside and told me, and still, every summer, you write, and you remember. You are a true sweetheart, you know that? If only we could both live those days again.

I can remember every detail. How I picked up the phone and called you in Pittsfield right after I got home from practice. How I asked you if you were sitting down. How I said, "Harold, you aren't going to believe this, but you are speaking to the starting quarterback on the football team."

Do you remember how you let out a war whoop like the Indians on the late movie? I'll never forget it. Mom overheard you, and she must have thought I was calling Dial-a-Weirdo or something. She gave me one of her famous what-is-going-on-here looks. But when I explained that I was talking to you, she just nodded, as if to say, "I should have known."

Anyway, it isn't necessary to remind me of what you said that day, because I'll always carry it with me. You told me that becoming the starting quarterback on the high school football team was like getting my little slice of the American dream. And you were absolutely right.

Every time I completed a pass that season, I would recall what you said, and I'd think about all the quarterbacks in Arizona and North Dakota who were seniors in high school and who were feeling the same excitement I was feeling.

Every time I'd pick up the Sunday paper and see "Filson, 16-yard touchdown pass from Levey," I would get weak in the knees. I mean, Harold, they even spelled it right!

And I used what you said to motivate myself. I'd be lying in a pileup, four huge bodies on top of me, and I'd think, "You don't have it so bad, pal. Somewhere, some other quarterback is lying under five bodies. This builds character."

When the season ended, and my football career along with it, I remember thinking that every kid ought to have an experience like this. I had learned how to compete, how to lead and how to cooperate. Besides, the girls paid attention. A whole bunch of attention. What could be better?

But I don't feel the same way today, Harold. There's been a loss of innocence everywhere, I suppose. But have you talked to any high school quarterbacks lately? I don't recommend it.

Television has corrupted these kids so completely, Harold, that the only thing they're thinking about from the time they're 13 is making big bucks in the pros. They don't pay much attention to teamwork, or leadership, or even girls. They're thinking of themselves and their bank accounts, period.

If a high school quarterback is any good today, he's worrying about recruiters, and college scholarships, and what kind of car he's going to buy with his $200,000 bonus.

And the way they imitate the pros! One kid I know plays on a team where every player is expected to have memorized 177 pass plays. A hundred and seventy-seven! I don't know that many phone numbers, Harold. Hell, we used to draw plays on the ground with a stick sometimes.

I weep for these kids, because they're missing the point--your point. Starring in high school football should teach you about yourself. It should show you your limits. It should give you a chance to learn what winning and losing feel like. It should give you a sense of being part of an American tradition, just as you said to me back in '61. But it should never be an end in itself or a one-man ego trip, or a step down a commercial road.

Maybe if these kids had Uncle Harolds, they'd understand. I just want you to know that, all these years later, I'm awfully glad I have one who keeps remembering. It makes me feel like pulling on that helmet all over again.

Your Loving Nephew,

Bob