There were smiles to cherish and hugs to collect Saturday afternoon for Gus Edwards, the retired Danbury High School football coach and guidance counselor.
Spring and grandchildren are kind of magical that way, even if the calendar stubbornly points to Tuesday as the first official day of spring.
As far as Edwards is concerned, whether it was the last gasp of winter or a sweet hint of spring, there is no greater blessing than sharing the day with your family.
A year ago, with Stage 4 colon cancer swinging sledgehammers at him, Edwards could only pray for days like Saturday. Sometimes, the faces of his seven grandchildren were the pictures that kept him going.
“We’ve been in this for about a year and he’s doing so much better,” said Elaine Edwards, the coach’s wife and lifelong sweetheart. “The doctor told Gus the other day he’s amazed by his progress. We all are.
“Gus just loves spending time with the grandchildren. That’s what he looks forward to now. That’s what he wants to do.”
Edwards, who compiled a 90-60-3 record at Danbury High with two league championships, is pushing 80 years old. That milestone used to seem like a million miles away.
Today, he figures, why stop there?
So does everyone else who loves Gus Edwards.
On March 24, friends and family will gather to celebrate the man who made a difference in their lives, whether it was on the football field or in the classroom.
More often than not, it was both.
The party will be held from 7 to 11 p.m. at Anthony’s Lake Club in Danbury. Tickets, which will be available at the door, are $55 and will include hors d’oeuvres, dinner, and an open bar with beer and wine.
Pete Radlet, one of the event’s organizers with Jack Deep and Jim Blansfield, expects between 150 and 200 people to attend the party, including ex-Danbury High players from around the country.
Darryll Dewan, the former high school All-American who played at Notre Dame, lives in Santa Barbara, Calif.
And he’s coming.
“They’re my second family,” Edwards said, his voice still strong with loyalty. “And I’m very serious about that.”
Edwards said the idea for the party came about two months ago over breakfast with Blansfield. In between sips of coffee, the men swapped stories of victory and the hardest practices in the history of football.
“So Blansfield says — out of the clear blue sky — ‘Let’s have a party,’ and I thought, hey, that’s a great idea,” Edwards said.
Radlet, a longtime Danbury firefighter, thought it was a great idea, too.
“Coach changed my life,” said Radlet, who played for Edwards and graduated from the University of Vermont. “Grades always came first with him. That was the one constant.”
The most important letters on Clapboard Ridge were As and Bs, not Xs and Os, Radlet said. But if you were a good student and a good football player, all the better.
“I can hear the stories now: The 40-yard run is going to become 60 yards,” Edwards said. “And they’re going to say, ‘When I played for him, he was a lot tougher on me than you other guys.’ I can’t wait. It’s going to be a great time.”
Elaine Edwards can’t wait, either.
“It’s wonderful that everyone is going to be able to get together,” she said. “I didn’t miss one football game at Danbury High School. My mother came, my aunts came, every week it was wonderful. Even after all these years, he still loves it.”
And yet, as much as Gus Edwards loves football — and he does — he loves Saturday afternoons with his grandchildren more.