As Glen Moon gazed up at the empty bleachers, memories began to recreate themselves.
"That is our spot," said Moon, father of Woodbury varsity quarterback Sawyer Moon. "We claimed it since we moved here."
At the top of the steps on the north end of the press box, Moon has created a sanctuary. In this corner throughout the past 15 years, he forged a bond with Sawyer, who grew up by his side watching the games in which the senior now plays.
It's become a habit for Sawyer to look up at the spot where he used to sit in his father's lap and dream about becoming a Royal.
"Sometimes I look up there to see if he's not there, but he always is," Sawyer said. "It just makes me glad. He's never late. He's always there before kickoff ... which is pretty cool.
"Even last year," added Sawyer before his voice trailed off and cracked, "yeah."
A year ago last Friday, the teenager learned his father had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. The news came only hours after the Royals defeated crosstown rival East Ridge in overtime. Sawyer and running back Quran Al-Hameed still were celebrating the victory when Glen joined them in his son's room.
The two teenagers choked back tears as the trio sat on Sawyer's bed, absorbing a life- changing moment. Then they tried to turn their attention back to football.
Since then, football, sports and life for all of them never have been the same.
"It's been kind of rough," Al-Hameed said. "I've seen the stress, but [Sawyer] doesn't really show it. But I can kind of tell it's there."
Fulfilling a dream
Talking about an opponent's defense is much easier for the senior quarterback than recapping the past 12 months of his father's fight with cancer. Sitting at home with his parents, Sawyer's responses are muttered as he distracts himself by petting his dog Chaz or doing anything else that will help ease the process.
"Last year when he said that the cancer didn't go away, the first thing that came to mind was that I wanted him to see me play football. I know that was his dream, to see me play at the varsity level, "said Sawyer, also a varsity baseball player. "I didn't know if he'd be there for the rest of the season. I wanted to make more of him being here and make him proud."
Glen made it through Sawyer's junior season as varsity quarterback before the family, including wife Connie and two daughters, endured what is known as the worst month in the Moon household. With doctors unable to surgically remove the tumor in February, Glen's diagnosis became terminal.
The cancer had spread to the outside of the esophagus and its contact with other organs made it inoperable. If more chemotherapy was pursued, doctors estimated that Glen had two more years of quality living. He recently completed more chemo and the tumor stayed the same size. Glen called it "better bad news."
Last week, while watching Sawyer prepare for the East Ridge game, Glen joked about the failed procedure seven months earlier. Bouncing back and forth from serious to humorous, he recalled asking the surgeon for a refund.
It wouldn't be like Glen to remain serious for long. He carries around an invisible "cancer card" that he said provides a lot of perks.
"I joke about it because it's a reality I can't change," Glen said. "We don't know when it's going to happen."
The family's goals have become short-term, with not much talk of next year. But four weeks into Sawyer's final year leading the football team, Glen said "things are good right now" with his health. He still works at the Minnesota Department of Revenue.
The diehard sports enthusiast also always has an opinion about the Royals' most recent performance. The team is 2-2 but he's convinced that the losses should have been victories. He's equally certain that Woodbury can beat Cretin-Derham Hall when they play Oct. 12.
A groundswell of support
Moving through the halls of Woodbury are students and faculty wearing shirts and wristbands branded with encouraging messages for Glen Moon. Support for him has reached far beyond family and close friends, including two fundraisers held earlier this year. A community staple for his involvement in youth sports and now at the high school level, Glen is someone who is hard not to know in Woodbury.
"When I see someone I don't really know or don't talk to all the time wear a [Over the Moon for Glen] shirt, it's pretty cool to see they care," Sawyer said. "I tell them 'That's a sweet shirt.' It makes me happy."
Glen jokes about enjoying being the center of attention, but his genuine appreciation for the support is obvious.
Through Glen's tough exterior and playful personality, Sawyer knows his dad is blessed by all the support.
"I just know he's proud," Sawyer said. "I just know because I look up [to our spot] and he'll have a smile on his face."
Woodbury football coach Andy Hill never will forget the brief conversation he and his quarterback shared a year ago. Few words were exchanged, but each left stronger than before. Said Hill: "I guess we just started moving forward."
Glen smiles at this response, knowing it mirrors his own. He's stopped worrying about "what if" and living for certain milestones. He survives "just knowing it's today."
It's one more day to see his son peek up at the crowd to catch a glimpse of that comforting smile.