With all apologies to my Buckeye friends, I grew up in a Notre Dame household, so having no strong Ohio State allegiances, when my oldest brother, Kevin, enrolled at the University of Michigan, I instantaneously became a Wolverine fan. It was the 1975 football season. Rob Lytle was the star tailback for the Maize and Blue, and Don Dufek was the All-American defensive back. In the countless games of football with my brothers, cousins, and friends played in the side lot on the corner of Fifth and Marlboro, I often imagined myself to be Lytle and Dufek making plays in the Big House.
I actually met Rob Lytle in 1989. He was helping out his old high school football coach at Fremont Ross Pete Moore by working as Moore’s assistant at Port Clinton High School. At the time, I was an assistant at Sandusky St. Mary’s, and we were playing against the Redskins at True-Lay Stadium. Someone introduced me to Lytle before the game. I shook his hand, but I was too shy or too starstruck to speak. I mean, Rob Lytle was third in the Heisman voting in 1976 and had played several injury-riddled seasons for the Denver Broncos. I used to play with his football card for God’s sake, and now I was shaking my boyhood hero’s hand?! I never crossed paths with Rob Lytle again, but I remember following his son’s, Kelly, football and track career at Ross. After Kelly graduated, I don’t remember thinking about the Lytles again until I read that Rob had died much too young at the age of 56. It sucked the wind from me like landing belly first on a football.
One thing I’ve learned, however, is that life has a funny way of circling back upon itself. This past Saturday, I had coffee with Kelly Lytle. We met to talk writing, for Kelly recently published his first book, a memoir titled TO DAD, FROM KELLY, that I’d read and thoroughly enjoyed. After finishing the book, I felt compelled to contact Kelly. For one reason, in a chapter titled “Accomplice,” Kelly shares that his father suffered multiple concussions and strongly relied on painkillers to alleviate the pain from the too-many-to-count injuries that resulted from his years in the game that he loved. This is just one area in which Kelly’s book intersects with my novel GOODNESS FALLS. Both of our books question whether the benefits gained from playing the game of football are commensurate to the price the sport exacts. Another reason I felt it necessary to contact Kelly was to, in a strange way, repay Rob Lytle for the joy he brought to me while I watched him play football for the Wolverines with as much grit as any player I’d ever witnessed. At the time, I didn’t realize just how much he was sacrificing in terms of his health and longevity to bring me and others that joy.
When I first entered the world of publishing, I had no one to mentor me, no one to warn me of the pitfalls waiting for a first time author, and no one to point me towards profitable uses of my time and energies. I figured that if I could be that person for Rob’s son, maybe I could make up some of that debt I owed him. It was another reason I felt compelled to touch base with him. What I learned in a two-hour conversation, however, is that Kelly, a Princeton grad and an accomplished professional, doesn’t need me. He’s smart, passionate, driven to succeed, and a living testimony to his parents’ successful raising of a strong and independent young man. In the end, I’m sure I walked out of that coffee shop with more gained than I gave.
It would be a huge mistake to think of TO DAD, FROM KELLY as a football book. In fact, it is hardly that at all. Rather, it is a book about family, growing up in a small town, perspective, living with passion, and most importantly, embracing life and confronting grief. There is literally at least one chapter in this book for everyone. It continually strikes universal chords that resonate with poignant truths and warm nostalgia. Readers will hear the voices of their own parents, coaches, teachers echoed in Rob’s raising of his son, and they will recognize many of the selfsame lessons they were taught as children and teenagers. As it provides invaluable insight into the male psyche at various stages of maturation, TO DAD, FROM KELLY should be of especial interest to moms, wives, and girlfriends in their never ending attempt to understand the motivations and behaviors of the men in their lives.
In my lifetime, I was fortunate to watch Rob Lytle play football and to benefit from his example of toughness, hard work, and dedication to his teams and to the sport he loved. Through Kelly’s recollections, I’ve learned that Rob fully embodied the nickname of his Fremont Ross Little Giants. It’s an oxymoron that captures Rob’s own ironic sense of failure – which Kelly so tenderly shares – and that despite his achievements, he was “little,” just a man like the rest of us; however, Rob Lytle – even if he didn’t quite appreciate it or was too humble to admit it – was truly a “Giant” worthy of my adulation and his son’s undying love and devotion so touchingly shared in TO DAD, FROM KELLY.
Order your copy of TO DAD, FROM KELLY: http://www.amazon.com/To-Dad-From-Kelly-Lytle/dp/0692250387/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1415190839&sr=8-1&keywords=kelly+lytle
Order your copy of GOODNESS FALLS: http://www.amazon.com/Goodness-Falls-Ty-Roth/dp/162287529X/ref=tmm_pap_title_0