HANNIBAL, Mo. -- It was about an hour prior to kickoff and a few of the Hannibal football players were stretching on the field while others were in the locker room going through pregame preparations.
The coaches were on the sideline testing their headsets, checking equipment and handling other duties.
Mark St. Clair stood at the center of it all.
He was six seasons into a 20-year tenure as Hannibal's head football coach and had established his program as one of the most dominant teams in the North Central Missouri Conference. That night in Fulton would be no different. The Pirates won 43-0, the kind of effort you'd come to expect from a St. Clair-coached team.
The Pirates mirrored their coach. Tough, intense, passionate and stern.
That's all most people saw, the man who put everything into coaching on Friday nights and settled for nothing short of a complete effort. Up until that point, it's most of what I saw.
Hours before that game ended, when only a handful of people were in the stands, I met the person who showed me a different side to a legendary coach. She showed me the kind of husband, father and family man St. Clair was. She helped me see his compassionate side.
That was the night I was introduced to MaryAnn St. Clair.
Since I started covering football nearly 30 years ago, I've enjoyed getting a high vantage point, whether that came from sitting in the pressbox or high in the stands. I like being able to see plays unfold. I like to see blocks develop. I like looking at the big picture.
So that night in Fulton, I hiked myself to the top row of the bleachers and ended up sitting next to MaryAnn St. Clair. We chatted some before, during and after the game. We chatted the next time I saw her at a Hannibal home game.
Heck, we chatted every time we saw each other thereafter.
The more I talked to her, the more time I spent covering the team, the more I respected her husband. Not because he won -- St. Clair did plenty of that with a 170-59 record in 20 seasons before announcing his retirement Wednesday morning -- but because he cared.
He valued the relationship he had with his players. He flourished because of the relationship he had at home, a marriage to his best friend and the unconditional love of two daughters. All three -- MaryAnn, Kelsey and Kallie -- were part of his coaching staff in their own unique way.
Together, they battled everything.
That included MaryAnn's fight with pancreatic cancer. Diagnosed with the disease in 2014, she valiantly tried to beat. They were open about her prognosis, the support in and around the community and the challenges they faced.
They graciously allowed me to tell their story, which wasn't about the disease. It was about their love for each other, their life together and the ability to take life day by day and appreciate all they had, not what they might lose.
MaryAnn St. Clair died in April 2015.
Four months later, Mark St. Clair was back on the field, blowing his whistle, imploring his players to dig deep and cultivating a team that would reach the state quarterfinals. He needed to coach more than he needed anything else.
Now he needs to live the life he wants more than anything else.
St. Clair is not retiring because of the challenges life has presented. He's retiring so he can do the things he wants to do. Right now, that may mean fishing or traveling or watching the sunset from a comfy chair with a cold drink on a warm summer evening.
In the years to come, it may mean being a grandparent or a mentor or a friend. Life is full of surprises, and he's ready to embrace whatever comes his way.
He learned life is too short not to make the most of your chances.
"I'm going to make a decision and then I'll make it right," St. Clair said. "There is no right decision. You make a decision and then you go about making it right. That's what I've always done. That's what I'm going to do."
He's always made it right.
I felt like I did, too. I made the decision that Friday night in Fulton many years ago to sit in the stands. I made it right by striking up a conversation with the woman sitting next to me, a woman who impacted innumerable lives and whose smile was incredibly contagious.
Better yet, it allowed me to get to know Mark St. Clair the man as well as Mark St. Clair the coach.
Both are Hall of Fame in my book.