Growing up in Montgomery, Jeno James always played football on Super Bowl Sunday. But this year will be quite a bit different. Instead of blocking his cousins in the backyard, he'll be blocking the New England Patriots in Houston's Reliant Stadium in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
Jeno played at Lanier High School and Auburn before being drafted by Carolina in the 6th round in 2000.
After 3 seasons as a backup, he's the Panthers' starting left guard this year. Jeno's blocking is a big reason why his former Auburn teammate Stephen Davis is having the best season of his career.
Jeno says being at the Super Bowl is an "overwhelming experience." He tells the Journal he's hoping to stay focused on the game and not get caught up in the hoopla.
He's not bothered by Carolina's "underdog" status. "We've been the underdog all year," he says.
Jeno will have plenty of people cheering for him in Houston. His wife, brother, sister, mom and dad, aunt and uncle and several in-laws will comprise "Team Jeno."
There are more "Fever Country" participants this year than in any Super Bowl in recent memory. Besides Jeno and Stephen, Panthers assistant coach Richard Williamson is from Fort Deposit. And Carolina rookie defensive lineman Kindal Moorehead played for Alabama.
For New England, there's Brundidge's Fred Baxter and Millbrook's Antowain Smith (who already has one Super Bowl ring from two years ago).
We'll have to wait until Super Bowl LX (that's "Super Bowl 60" if like me, you're Roman Numerically-challenged) to see the newest member of the Fever Team.
Nicholas Jaeden Morgan, son of WSFA chief videographer (and former Alabama State quarterback) Andre Morgan, was born Wednesday with a full head of hair and his mom's good looks. Congratulations to Andre and Dee on their future linebacker and Kevion and DeAndre on their baby brother.
If you've watched WSFA any Sunday morning over the past three decades, chances are you've seen Bill Roper. For 32 years, Mr. Roper served as Minister of Music at Montgomery's First Baptist Church. He introduced the city to the Living Christmas Tree, a holiday tradition he directed for more than 20 years.
After a valiant battle with cancer that lasted more a decade, Mr. Roper passed away Saturday.
His Celebration Service this week was the most moving ceremony I've ever witnessed.
His son-in-law, Dr. Benjy Harris, eloquently recalled Mr. Roper's final days. In the many years I've known Benjy, I've never heard him refer to his father-in-law in any way other than "Mr. Roper." Not "dad." Not "Papa." Certainly not "Bill." And it's not because Mr. Roper demanded that respect. It's because he commanded it.
Quick story: Two years ago, my then 7-year-old daughter expressed an interest in playing piano. I called Mr. Roper, explained we were on a tight budget, and asked if he knew where we might be able to find a used piano. Most folks would've given a few suggestions and that would've been the end of it.
Not Mr. Roper. Always one to go the extra mile, he followed up a week later, offering to let us borrow one of the spare pianos that had been donated to the church over the years and was not being used.
On the day it arrived, I called Mr. Roper to thank him. I held the phone near the piano while my Sara tapped out a few notes of "Ode to Joy." "I hear Beethoven!" he said, encouragingly.
Later, I asked him if he knew where we might be able to find the sheet music for the Doxology. An envelope arrived within a week with each note, hand-drawn by Mr. Roper. Another extra mile.
Wednesday's service ended with Mr. Roper's former youth choir members crowding the stage for a rendition of "Someday My Lord Will Come." For 30 years, Mr. Roper had taken these teenagers across the country on choir tours. In a stirring scene reminiscent of "Mr. Holland's Opus," high school students stood alongside bank presidents and teachers. One last time they performed for their beloved choir director. The sanctuary has never sounded better.