I was a radio reporter working the sidelines at the Detroit Lions training camp with my friend Al Schafer, a.k.a. Big Al at my side. He was such a huge Lions fan that I pinned a press pass on him and told him I could sneak him on to the field. So there we were, just inches from Barry Sanders, Luther Elliss, and his favorite… Robert Porcher. Suddenly the play came directly toward us; some of the world’s largest athletes speeding head first in our direction. I scrambled like a school girl to get out of the way. Big Al didn’t flinch. After the whistle I said, “Dude, you’re going to get killed!” He smiled and replied, “I think it would be cool for them to slam into a wall of Al!” That was my friend.
Al passed away June 22, 2009 from a massive heart attack. He was just 37 years old. He was a big man with a big heart. He took care of everyone else and not enough of himself. But as the priest said at his funeral, “He squeezed a lot of life into a short amount of years.” So true, but it does little to ease the pain of losing my friend. Honestly I’m not sure how to view the world without Al in it. It seems colder, less friendly, and different. I can no longer punch “Big Al” on my cell and hear him break down Sunday’s game for me. When I visit my hometown, I can no longer drive over to his house to see his latest computer toys. I’ll never again log onto Facebook and read about his plan to start an anti-social network where everyone is either rude to you or ignores you all together. That was my friend.
Al became a member of our family. Have something heavy to move? Call Al. Planting some new landscaping? Call Al. Want to put some burgers on the grill and play video games? Call Al, no matter what, no matter when, no matter why. That was my friend.
When my sister moved a few years back, Al and I were charged with getting her king-sized bed to her new house. After figuring out that it wouldn’t fit in our van, we decided to put both mattresses on the roof and tie them down. “Good plan,” I thought and it actually worked – sort of. After running ropes through the open driver side and passenger side windows and tying them down tightly, we discovered we couldn’t open the doors to get in! We laughed until we cried. When we got to her new house I stopped suddenly and the top mattress went flying off onto the ground. My sister never knew. That was us and that was my friend.
I could write a hundred more stories. The places we went, the dorky things we did, the random conversations we had, and the non-stop laughter. I’ll never have those things again, not like that, not like him. I thank God for the blessing, I ask Him to comfort me, and I hold onto the faith that Big Al and I will one day have a fantasy football draft in heaven. As Al would say, If there is such a place, it’s going to have football, metal, and Sarah Michelle Gellar in it. That was my friend.