Super Bowl time always brings my memories back to my years in the NFL. I was fortunate enough to quarterback the Los Angeles Rams to the playoffs one year where we lost in the first round. The next year, our team ended up a game short of going to the Super Bowl – just like had happened with my dad nearly 20 years earlier.

Although Dad and I made never made it as players, we did go to a few games as spectators. One of my greatest Super Bowl memories, though, was flying to Detroit with my son Kolby to watch my former team, the Seattle Seahawks, play the Pittsburgh Steelers.

On the plane flight we got into conversation with two rabid Seahawk fans, two brothers in their late 20s

decked out in full team gear. They explained that their passion for the Seahawks went back to their dad, who had taken them to every game as they grew up. Kolby and I could feel the love they had for their dad in their voices and their passion. But what put these guys over the top was when they gushed about their excitement to take their dad to the Super Bowl to see their beloved Seahawks.

“Where is he?” I asked.

“Oh, he’s up in the overhead compartment. We got his ashes in a blue and green urn up there. We’re so excited!”

After they turned away came the whisper from my wide-eyed 15-year-old, “Dad, that’s weird!”

Yeah, it is. But, hey, I honor those guys for honoring their dad. It’s clear that he made his interest in them – and taking them to football games – a tradition, a memory, and a lasting bond. He must have loved them and they still felt it. They knew how much he would have wanted to see the Seahawks in the Super Bowl with his sons, so they brought him to the Super Bowl.

Three players and their fathers

I love this story and the bond between men, a dad and his sons. And that takes me to this year’s Super Bowl.

Among those playing the game this year will be three very different men who have something in common with the Urn Brothers – they also are bringing their fathers with them, at least in one similar sense. Their names are Manning, Wilson and Sherman, and they love their dads.

Russell Wilson’s dad went to my alma mater, Dartmouth College, playing football in the four years before  I joined the team. He passed away in 2010, but before he died he had built a character of confidence, commitment and caring into his son. Russell remembers his dad regularly waking him at 5 a.m. and encouraging him to “make it a great day.” From what Dartmouth teammates said about Harrison Wilson and what we see from the hyper-prepared and team-lifting Russell, I think the quarterback is compounding the investments his dad made in him.

Kevin Sherman was a dependable dad who wanted his sons to learn from his mistakes and to make the most of their education so that they could have more doors open for them than he had for himself. Compton, Calif., is a blighted neighborhood with few opportunities and scores of dangers, but Richard Sherman’s mom, dad and family have a winsome bond that was respected by gang members who didn’t want to lure Sherman kids away from a great family and future.

The tight family is infectiously affirming. Richard swells with respect when speaking of his dad who worked 4 a.m. to 2 p.m. as trash collector for over two decades. From a dad’s dream to Richard’s attending and graduating from Stanford, quite a legacy is unfolding. His preeminent preparation and on-field intensity have earned him the reputation as a top NFL cornerback. Off the field, his winsome manner and charitable work are fitting evidence of a new legacy emerging in the Sherman family line.

Archie and Olivia Manning raised a super-close family that built Hall-of-Fame character, leadership, and humility into high achievers who make their teams eminently better. Archie labored in adversity without championships for the New Orleans Saints, but his greatest achievement was shaping Cooper, Peyton and Eli Manning. Peyton has a dad and brother as fellow NFL quarterbacks.

Despite what most think, the Mannings’ football career was not their dad’s focus as they were growing up. “We just tried to raise good kids and have a good family,” Archie says. “I don’t like the perception that … I’ve got these boys and I’m going to mold them into being NFL quarterbacks. Not so. You might can do that, and they might be NFL quarterbacks. I’m not sure you’re going to have a great father-son relationship, and that’s what I wanted.”

No wonder Peyton Manning was recently voted by his NFL peers as the most respected player in the league.

An infectiously intentional Ivy-league dad who passed away early, a trash-truck driving dependable dad from the ‘hood and a iconic pro-bowl quarterback from the Mississippi Delta. Each paved a path leading his son to the Super Bowl, and hopefully to even more important things – like walking in the footsteps of the key man in their life – their dad. And in a different but similar way, just like the Seahawk-crazed brothers on the flight to the 2006 Super Bowl, these three players are taking their dad (through his legacy) to the game with them.

This all strikes close to home because of my dad’s legacy as a quarterback in the NFL and as a civic servant and leader in the public square. He and my mom loved and shaped me, as my wife and I have aimed to do with our four sons.

Some day each of us will have a tombstone laid over our physical bodies (unless they scatter us in the ocean or take us to the Super Bowl in an overhead compartment), with a chiseled remembrance to our lives: two dates with a dash in between. What will that dash represent? What will you be remembered for?

Riches, fame, and personal success are transient. But a legacy is what passes on to the next generation, and the next, and the next … that is what endures.

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