FOR AARON, FOR MARK
Two weeks before last year’s grand final, I unexpectedly lost my brother, Aaron.
He was my only sibling. I was in bed when Dad rang. I missed the call, so he rang my wife. It was about 8 o’clock in the morning. The moment he called Izzy, I knew something was wrong.
I could just feel it.
Azza was my perfect balance as a brother. He didn’t let me get too ahead of myself when we were up and about and he was also my harshest critic. But in the best way possible. The way only brothers would understand.
He was proud of all I achieved in my career and he lapped up the benefits of having a brother who played for the Adelaide Crows! He loved the media room at Adelaide Oval where he could sit and chat with some of the current players and past legends of the club. A footy tragic to a tee.
We had planned to play together after I finished my AFL career. As sad as I am that that won’t happen, I’ll still be representing our club, the Ardrossan Kangaroos, once I hang up my professional boots with our number on my back. I say ‘our number’ because Aaron loved the No. 24, purely because I wore it.
That’s what being a brother is all about.
Reflecting on this almost a year to the day since it happened, I can see how fortunate I was to have a strong network of positive people to help me through those tough times. I’m also lucky we were still in with a chance of making the grand final.
Football provided a good distraction when I got caught up in my own thoughts.
There was no way I was going to miss playing with the boys the following week. Azza would’ve abused me me if I hadn’t! I didn’t want the story of the week being Sam Jacobs loses his brother. Every person on the planet deals with loss. Just because I am an athlete, it doesn’t make my situation any more important or tragic than those not in the public spotlight.
The story was, and deserved to be, the Adelaide Crows have a game to play against GWS at Adelaide Oval to put them through to the prelim. I felt a sense of pride at the end of that game. Not just because I was a footy player who had worked so hard for this moment, but because I do everything in life for my family.
Aaron loved the No. 24, purely because I wore it. That’s what being a brother is all about.
Aaron was with me every step of the way, literally. His name was, and always will be, written on my boots. I think he had a role to play in my performance on grand final day. I managed to get the most best-and-fairest votes for our club in the game. I was also proud that I was able to manage both my emotions with his loss, but also perform for my team.
He’d have been proud of that.
Aaron wasn’t the only person our family lost in 2017. In February, my wife’s father died. Mark was not only an incredible father to Izzy, but a huge support to me and my career as well. He was sport – and, more specifically, footy – obsessed and would come to every home game I played. I could point to where he would sit at Adelaide Oval each game. I won’t ever forget that. I also won’t forget his post-game messages about my performance and that of the team – whether that be positive or, shall we say, constructive.
Losing loved ones is difficult and, over the last two years, those losses have been significant. Many others are in the same boat, the only difference being that more people know about what happens in my life because of what I do for a living. I make it a real focus to ensure that I keep a positive attitude, no matter the hurdles I encounter in life.
You may not realise it in the hard times but, as humans, we are extremely resilient people.
It’s funny how the world works sometimes.
The week we lost Aaron was probably the biggest week of my life in many ways. Aaron passed on the Wednesday and over the next few days came the first final against GWS, the funeral and the news that my beautiful wife Izzy was pregnant with our daughter, Immy.
I’m hesitant to use the word ‘fate’, but there is something special in how beauty can shine through even in tragedy. If you ever need perspective in life, have a child. Honestly, I could have the worst day on the training track, be out-rucked by my opponent or lose by 100 points and seeing the smile on my daughter’s face makes it all better in an instant.
Immy helps me look at footy differently as well.
When you’re young and new in the game, football dominates your life. I was in Melbourne playing for Carlton and I couldn’t walk down Lygon Street without one of the supporters wanting a chat. I loved it. I still do, but in a different way now. I’m 30 and have played 12 completed seasons with all the highs and lows that have come with it. And what I’ve realised is that it’s not about fame or success. It’s all about learning.
With that in mind, if I could offer one piece of advice to the 44 players who will wear their team colours in the grand final this weekend, it would be this: Embrace every single moment.
The highs, the lows, the celebrations and commiserations.
It’s a moment that the whole country wishes they could experience, but less than 50 do each year.
This opportunity might never arise again.
As Walshy would say, ‘Get the job done!’