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Pop-pop fulfills pigskin promise

The Baltimore Sun

Let's say you're a baby boomer stuck in one of life's little ruts.

Maybe you feel you're too old to follow your dreams.

Or maybe you have this nagging regret that beats you up every day and won't let go.

If so, here's a new book you may want to check out. It's called The Senior and it's about a man named Mike Flynt who spent an incredible season playing college football at age 59.

With an AARP card in his wallet and probably a colonoscopy appointment, too, he returns to play linebacker at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Tex., where he'd been kicked off the team and out of the school four decades earlier for fighting.

The guy's a grandpa, for God's sake, with a wife of 35 years and three grown kids and a thriving fitness equipment business in Franklin, Tenn.

But he ends up in this dusty sliver of West Texas, goes back in time, really, to smack helmets against kids one-third his age and redeem himself for being a hothead who liked to bust jaws all those years earlier.

And he gets a book deal, too! Although that was about the last thing he was thinking of when this adventure began.

"Now I really feel it's my responsibility to tell my story," he says over the phone after a book-signing in Birmingham, Ala., where all 100 copies sold out. "I hope it inspires people to look at the dreams they've given up or a regret they've had and do something positive to overcome the negatives."

Here's the back-story, as they say in the movies. And, yes, a movie is already being discussed (more on that later).

It's spring 2007. Flynt is at a reunion with old college teammates. The beer is flowing. The stories are flying nonstop. So are the laughs.

Then the conversation turns to the fistfight that got Flynt kicked off the team as a senior at Sul Ross, when he was the captain and star defensive back before he rearranged the face of a freshman player.

Suddenly Flynt blurts out his secret. He tells the guys how much getting thrown off the team hurt him, how he felt he let his teammates down and how it's haunted him all these years.

Now, no one is laughing.

Until Flynt blurts out something else: He still feels he can play, even at 59.

That gets everyone howling again.

Except one guy who says finally: "Why don't you?"

And those three simple words get Flynt thinking: Could I really pull this off? At my age?

After all, before starring at Sul Ross in the late '60s, he'd been a terrific high school player for the Odessa Permian Panthers, the West Texas powerhouse that inspired the movie Friday Night Lights.

And he was still in great shape, an exercise fanatic who has been the strength and conditioning coach at several big-time college programs before starting his own business. Plus, he still had a year of eligibility left, the only positive to come out of decking that teammate long ago.

OK, but how do you convince a football program that the answer to its prayers is a bald guy who's close to Medicare-eligible and hasn't played in nearly 40 years?

A guy who gives new meaning to the term college "senior"?

I won't spoil the book for you.

Let's just say Mike Flynt, with the support of his wife, Eileen, and their three kids, arrives at Sul Ross and impresses the coach in an impromptu workout.

From there, he goes on to make the team, enrolls in graduate courses, wins over his young, skeptical teammates and basically gets a do-over in life.

How many of us ever get do-overs in this life?

Oh, it's not all smooth sailing at Sul Ross for Mike Flynt, the tough guy trying to turn back the clock and become the oldest player in college football history.

He's beset by nagging injuries: a pulled groin, a shoulder strain, bulging discs in his back. The injuries surprise no one. The guy is 59, after all. And football is just legalized mugging, whether you get AARP discounts or not.

But the injuries frustrate Flynt and limit him to special-teams play. For much of the season, he contents himself with being a mentor and inspirational figure for the younger players.

Nonetheless, it ends up being a triumphant return to Sul Ross for Mike Flynt.

"It was exactly what I needed to ... forever put that regret behind me and go on with the rest of my life," he says now on the phone.

And in the last game of the season, when he finally gets to play linebacker ... well, there might not be a dry eye in the house when the movie comes out.

Speaking of which, Flynt says that, while no deal has been signed yet, he has heard the movie might be produced by Mark Ciardi, the heavy-hitter who did The Rookie, Invincible and The Game Plan.

There's even talk of a TV reality show where Flynt helps people realize their dreams or overcome a lifelong regret.

"Who plays you in the movie?" I ask before we hang up.

"People say it should be Bruce Willis," he says.

Perfect. Another bald tough-guy with an AARP card.

But probably not tougher than The Senior himself.

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