“Worse than the chicken at Treskys…Oh well, life must go on.”—Sonja Grushenko
It’s been a while, but I’ve often mentioned we didn’t have any dads on my street growing up. There were zero male role models in a neighborhood filled with up to a dozen boys.
In our dead-end cul-de-sac that opened into a field, we had at various times: a house of prostitution, convicted rapists, shootouts, and polluted waste streaming from a manufacturing plant around the corner.
We also had a neighbor murdered at the liquor store we frequented, and an old woman, who walked the streets at night, convince all of us she was a witch. And a benign but wicked widowed cat-lady who kept any football or baseball that landed in her yard.
(I’ll skip the “Deliverance” cast extras who used the maintenance yard behind our homes for a bathroom. Stories about them would stretch believability.)
Internally, we had a mom who kept us in check even while working seven days a week, rotating shifts, at a glass factory. And externally, only two things kept us from crime, drugs, and gangs—God and sports. The primary sport being football.
I’ll save the God-talk for another time, but I will tell you what sports meant to us.
We were Rams fans, so we got used to disappointment. Any hero worship didn’t last long. Because Roman Gabriel could be traded, as could John Hadl, James Harris, and even Harold Jackson. Lawrence McCutcheon could lose a step. Jim Bertelsen could blow out a knee. And no matter how nice a guy Merlin Olson was, he never played in a Super Bowl.
Our surrogate fathers weren’t the athletes–but the teams we followed. Was it healthy? No, but it kept us on track and out of trouble.
When the Rams lost, it was like someone died. You walked on eggshells. You were incredibly disappointed and hoped for hope to return on Monday morning.
This is how a team gets into your soul, makes an imprint, and never leaves. Maturity has nothing to do with it. It becomes deep-seated and everlasting. Your team can go without saying goodbye, but you still love them. You try to shake them and root for another, but no team ever gets a grip on you like your first dad—biological or spiritual.
This is why Super Bowl 14 (I shouldn’t have to name the teams for real fans) even today makes me emotional. It was the pinnacle. It was the moment we pined for, dreamed of, waited on, and argued with rivals over and over again.
Every year NFL Network plays the highlights of Super Bowl 14. I hear John Facenda’s voice, the NFL Films music, and if I’m not careful, my throat will grow rock hard. I get verklempt as every associated childhood emotion reasserts itself over me.
I want to let it go, but the replay of Eddie Brown coming up in coverage and hanging Rod Perry out to dry always savages my emotions. Like the time Dad didn’t keep his promise, like the time Santa didn’t show up, and like all the times you had to eat cream tuna on toast because there was nothing else in the fridge. It’s not the end of the world, but John Stallworth always makes that catch, and Perry always just misses tipping it away.
It’s a sports form of PTSD.
Watching the Super Bowl every year–no matter where, no matter the company–is like returning to the field, court, or park of your greatest triumph or significant moment. You can still see the ghosts.
I still see Super Bowl 14. I always remember the feelings I had with 12:16 left to play in the fourth quarter–when the world was young and dreams infinite.
Just like you always hope Jim Brown makes it to the truck in “The Dirty Dozen.” (Or Charles Bronson lives in “The Magnificent Seven.”) You always dream that Vince Ferragamo finds Billy Waddy running the post in the end zone instead of Jack Lambert in the middle of the field.
You don’t get it? Fine. Transpose your team’s name for “Rams,” and you will.
“…And that’s why football is important, Charlie Brown.”
The Dude abides…
1 Corinthians 5:12
Joe T. is the author of “Tangent Dreams: A High School Football Novel” … “Temple City & The Company of The Ages” … “The Dead Bug Tales” … “The Dark Norm” & “FaithViews for Storm Riders”…all five available through Amazon.com.
Follow Joe on Twitter @joet13b
MeWe: Joe Torosian