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Pain Worth The Price For Football-Playing Father And Son

Sept. 21, 2010

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There may be no attribute more celebrated in the game of football than toughness. And there's no position on the football field that requires more toughness than the offensive line, blocking for passers and runners and fending off speedy and powerful defensive lineman and linebackers. Ronnie Lee spent 15 years in the NFL in these trenches, overcoming the obstacles put in place by his own body, in addition to the opposition.

That's Ronnie Lee Sr.'s son, Ronnie Jr. Ronnie Jr. is following in dad's football footsteps, albeit away from the trenches. Junior is a senior wide receiver for Midway who also plays on defense. For a kid who wants to play football in college and for a living, it doesn't hurt to be able to pick the brain of a father whose career lasted nearly four times as long as the NFL average. A former Dolphin and Seahawk, he played for Don Shula and with Dan Marino, Bob Griese, and Larry Czonka. To look at both father and son, you'd suspect that sports are a part of their lives. Ronnie Junior is tall and strong, and Ronnie Senior still maintains the size that makes you think "lineman." He also walks with a limp, a holdover from injuries suffered years ago. Senior's pride is evident when he talks about his son, born at the tail end of his NFL career.

And as he got older, Ronnie Junior heard the stories of his dad's NFL career. And many of these stories are shaped by Ronnie Senior's childhood. He said his father was strict, and set a great hardworking example. A baker who worked long hours, he taught Senior to be tough. From the time he was a toddler, his dad's stories made an impact on Ronnie Jr. And since toughness is the word that has come to define his father, it's only natural that it would make an impression.

And what does toughness mean? For Ronnie Senior, it meant going out there and giving his all, no matter how much pain he felt. To hear these injuries gives you pause. In his early 50s, Ronnie wears sandals and a sleeve over his foot; shoes are too painful. There's also a persistent hernia to remind him of the days he butted heads with the most powerful athletes on the planet.

Junior was put to the test two years ago. In just the second game of the season, he tore his ACL. It hurt his father, who knew his son was just like him. Ronnie Junior rehabbed, and had a fine junior year and is on his way to a big senior season. His injury served to prove that he was cut from the same cloth as his father--work hard, deal with pain, and don't complain. But that laissez faire attitude toward pain and injury doesn't extend to the whole family. Denise Lee, wife and mother to the Ronnies knows how the men in her life approach football. And she does sometimes worry seeing her son headed down that path.

But in spite of the fear of injury, or the heat of the Texas day, Ronnie goes all out in practice and in the games. And while some might question whether the constant pain that Ronnie Senior feels is worth it, it's not a cautionary tale to Ronnie Junior. He sees nobility in it. Football is far more sophisticated in dealing with injuries than it was in Senior's day. And Ronnie Junior plays a position with less contact than his father. But if pain and injury are the toll, it's a price Ronnie Junior is willing to pay. His dad has Super Bowl rings, memories, and stories most people could only dream of. And so powerful is this allure that even as his mother worries, she hopes her son gets to experience the joy that provides an overwhelming counterpoint to the pain so many ex-athletes feel.

For KWBU News, I'm Derek Smith.

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