Michael Sharrock hasn't had much time for sports the past decade. How could he? He and Cindy have been drowning in stress, fatigue, fear, anger, frustration and medical bills - always medical bills - since their 9-year-old son Patrick was first diagnosed with brittle bone disease as an infant.
So even though Patrick's warm, sweet face might light up another 1,000 watts or so each time the Tennessee Vols took the football field - "He loves the Orange," said Michael - the kid's parents never had the time.
"All we've known is struggle for so long," he said. "We cut out cable, the Internet, our landline phone; anything to help pay the bills. We finally got basic cable back last year because Patrick loves the kids' shows on PBS so much. But it's been a long time since I've had the time or energy to watch a football game."
As almost everyone in the Tennessee Valley knows by now, the Sharrock's life changed forever for the better the past eight days. ABC's long-running hit television show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" leveled the Lakeview house Michael's grandparents once called home and built in its place, "The nicest one I've ever seen."
What's inside the classic stone cottage with the pale blue shutters will remain a secret until late April, when ABC will unveil the interior of the Sharrock's new digs.
To quote a grinning Patrick, "I can't tell you anything about it."
But the other secrets and surprises were all made public Sunday morning - from a year's worth of $100 gift certificates to Wal-Mart, to 10 years' worth of shoes, to the single gift that will keep on giving back to Michael and Patrick for the rest of their lives: Complete academic scholarships to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
"It's been my dream for years to return to college," Michael said after being handed an oversized blank tuition check from UTC chancellor Roger Brown and Mocs mascot Scrappy. "I've still got all my books from the first time I was there, but I'd kind of given up hope that it would ever happen."
But now it has. And Sharrock is fairly certain UTC athletic teams picked up at least three more loyal fans.
"I hope to go to a lot of games," said the one-time biology major who now wants to focus on environmental science. "I missed that the first time I was in school [at Georgia Southern]."
Over the past week we have witnessed man at his best thanks to the generosity of those who made the Sharrock's new life possible and we have witnessed man at his worst with the despicable poisoning of the century-old oaks at Toomer's Corner in Auburn.
Man's capacity to love has rarely been better shown than by the thousands of hours that went into delivering a new home and new life to the Sharrocks.
Or as Michael so eloquently stated in five words: "Everything's gone, all the problems."
Problems never completely go away, of course. Money never solves everything.
Unexpected nightmares arrive, such as the sicko who probably killed Auburn's oaks because he couldn't handle his favorite football team losing a game to its archrival.
Maybe they can label it a hate crime and maybe they can't. Maybe they'll charge this psycho with environmental terrorism and maybe they won't. But if this is what sports can drive even a few nut jobs to do, maybe the Michael Sharrocks of the world who could never find the time to become emotionally invested in a sports team are the lucky ones.
Then again, Michael had grown darker through the years even without sports to torment him.
"I'd always been a pessimist, a cynic," he said. "I had come to expect the worst."
Then Extreme Makeover arrived. All the problems left, at least all the problems that could be solved by money alone.
"Now I'm seeing the world through Patrick's eyes," he said. "I see hope."
Hope is what all those Auburn fans who've shared so many fun moments around the oaks of Toomer's Corner must cling to now. Hope that the poison hasn't seeped deep enough into the soil to kill the trees. Hope that if the trees are gone, it's only the trees that have been harmed, rather than a far wider area.
But that story's not disappearing for awhile. Tragedy always seems to hold interest longer than triumph.
But that's just fine with the Sharrocks, who after years of struggle plan to, in Michael's words, "Play. Have fun. Enjoy life a little bit."
If only a certain sicko pretending to be a sports fan had embraced that philosophy, two Auburn oaks could have continued to be draped in toilet paper after Tiger victories rather than possibly becoming toilet paper.