PALMDALE — Norma Cook received two very special presents a week before her birthday.
One was a bright-red chrome mini helmet of the Kansas City Chiefs, the team she grew up across the street from.
The other was the final evaluation session for her High Desert Phoenix semi-pro football team at Marie Kerr Park.
One, you see, begat the other.
It was the Chiefs, and many of their players who lived in her apartment complex who so kindly would throw the football around with her, who planted a lifelong passion for football.
That passion eventually inspired Cook to found her own semipro football team, in 2009.
So while Kansas City celebrates the 50th anniversary season of the Chiefs’ only Super Bowl championship, “X” marks the spot for the 10th anniversary of the High Desert Phoenix in 2019.
“I don’t know if that little girl those Chiefs players were so kind to would believe she would own her own football team 50 years later,” Cook was saying as she watched two dozen Phoenix aspirants go through a rugged three-hour evaluation session on the eve of Easter Sunday. “It’s just so special to think we’ve made it 10 years with this team.
“We’ve been keeping football dreams alive and touching people in the Valley for 10 years now.”
Rising from the dead and rising from the ashes go hand in hand this day.
Three years ago Sam Vaiana’s motel coaching intensity was relegated to the couch. Both of his knees had betrayed the longtime winning coach in Valley high school and college football.
Then Coach had both knees replaced. The chains were cut from his legs.
He returned to the sidelines to help Cook win her only Pacific Coast Football Conference championship in 2017.
Like so many of the high school and college kids he coached, Vaiana’s phone started ringing off the hook with coaching offers.
He is now back coaching college football and spreading his love of the game to a new generation of kids.
“To me, Sam Vaiana should have never been coaching in the Valley,” said Dwayne Simon, the irrepressible Phoenix GM who recruited him back to coaching in 2017. “He should be coaching in college or the NFL, that’s how good he is.
“We were blessed to have him. Sam is a great example of the opportunities the High Desert Phoenix can make possible.”
Simon’s not a bad example of what the HDP are about, himself.
The Phoenix website has a video of LL Cool J — THE LL CooL J — wishing the Phoenix a happy 10th anniversary and hoping he can make it up for a pregame coin flip and the game.
This is no photoshop scam, friends.
Simon helped the star of NCIS Los Angeles and Paramount Network’s Lip Sync Battle get his first album produced and distributed.
Of all LL Cool J’s many talents, loyalty may be the most impressive.
There were players on the field Saturday who’ve been with the Phoenix, and Cook, since 2012.
“Norma has put her heart and soul into this team,” noted Simon. “There were times when I don’t even think she realized how much she sacrificed to make the payroll and keep this team going.
“These guys know it. They love her for it.”
The 2017 PCFC championship trophy goes everywhere Cook goes. She’s probably tried to make it a pendant she can wear.
But she knows it looks lonely sitting there by itself on the registration table Saturday. It could use some company.
Call it a belated birthday present.