It’s a Thanksgiving Day tradition that started way back in 1975, a year before Mike Robertson became the John Curtis offensive line coach.
The tradition will continue Thursday.
The Curtis football team will practice in the morning and then hold a devotional right afterwards. If it seems like the Patriots are always playing football this time of year, it’s because they are.
The 1992 season is the only year in the last 40 years Curtis wasn’t still playing during Thanksgiving week. (It lost in the regional round that year.)
So the Patriots will once again get a chance to spend the holiday together, first with a morning walk-thru in preparation for Friday night’s showdown against Rummel.
Then with a devotional, a time to reflect and give thanks.
“We’re thankful we’re still playing,” said Kevin Fayard, who broadcasts Curtis football games. “But it also gives us a chance to talk about what’s really important.”
Chances are, no one in the gym will be more thankful than the 66-year-old Robertson, who has spent 40 years coaching the Curtis offensive line.
“Coach Rob,” as he is affectionately known by the Curtis faithful, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of cancer, in the spring of 2013.
He spent the past five months at MD Anderson in Houston, but returned home this past Friday.
On Friday night, he’ll be in the Yenni Stadium pressbox, watching the Patriots in person for the first time all season.
“I’m all pumped up about it,” Robertson said.
Robertson got his coaching juices flowing Sunday when he attended the team’s offense meeting for the first time this season. Not that he’s ever strayed too far away from the team while undergoing a series of treatments that included a second round of chemotherapy and stem cells.
Technology has allowed him to help with scouting this season. And he’s watched games on the Internet.
Even when he’s not at the games, a reminder of him is there.
A shirt with the words “Fight Like a Patriot, Champions For Life” hangs in the press box of every game, serving as a backdrop for the broadcast team.
In the center of the shirt is a cartoon-like picture of Michael “Yogi” Robertson.
“Yogi” is a nickname Robertson picked up back in his playing days at Curtis before graduating in 1968.
He started coaching the offensive line full-time eight years later and has been doing it ever since while also teaching at the school.
He teaches world history.
But if you know anything about John Curtis football history, you know just how important Yogi’s role has been for the juggernaut that has won 26 state championships.
It has always started up front with the group known as Yogi’s Bears.
“I love coaching the offensive line,” said Robertson, a former lineman himself. “Those are my people. The only time anybody talks about us is if we screw up. We are going to battle and we are going to show up every week. We just come out and play our game.”
The John Curtis offensive line’s success over the years has given him a chance to speak at clinics all over. He chuckled when asked the secret to Curtis’ success upfront over the years.
“My theory is that we just come off the ball and we communicate,” he responded, making it sound much simpler than it looks.
“I’m a coach and a teacher and I let the kids make the calls,” he said. “If you are too afraid to make the calls, you’re never going to learn. I try to educate them the best I can.”
Friday will be his first game back since last season when Curtis lost in the title game to Jesuit.
He’d like nothing more than to be back in the Dome next weekend.
But that will depend on how well Yogi’s Bears can block a rugged Rummel defense on Friday night.
It’ll be a big test for Curtis, which lost to Rummel 21-14 during the regular season.
Off the field, Robertson is still facing tests of his own.
He’ll find out in December what the next step is in his road to recovery.
“It’s an ongoing process,” he said. “Myeloma is usually not this aggressive, but I have a cell that just won’t quit. We just keep going after it. I’m not worrying about it, though. God is in control. We are just going to keep battling.”
But for now, Coach Rob has a football game to help coach. The doctors won’t allow him to coach from the sidelines, so he’ll just enjoy this one from the press box.
He has to wear a mask to avoid catching germs. The mask prompted a new Curtis student to ask a question to a friend during Chapel on Tuesday when Robertson came to speak.
“If he has to wear the mask and can’t get too close to anyone, why did he come here this morning?”
The fellow student’s reply summed it up quite well.
“Because he loves us, and we love him, and we are family.”
At some point before Friday’s kickoff, he’ll likely do what he’s done every game he’s coached in his 40 years.
It usually happens when the team is stretching.
“That’s when I get away to myself and pray,” Robertson said. “I’m thanking God I have an opportunity to coach the game I love. I will be thankful Friday that I’m able to contribute as much as I can. I’ve been blessed.”