not just a game

I fall back onto our futon and flip on the game. John skips into the den. He is worn out from playing with two of his friends all day. I’m exhausted, having ridden 30 miles. It feels good to just rest together.

“Dad,” he asks, “will you scratch my back?” Lately, this is John’s wish. John has a permanent itch.

“Rosie,” I say, “I need another cuddler over here! Will you sit with John and I?”

No luck.

“I want to sit with my Momma.”

Rosie is not interested. She turns and stands in front of the television. But, that’s ok, I can tell that John really wants some time now. I am trying to explain it to him: the ads, the hype, why they are playing a fall game in February.

“Dad,” he says, “read this book.” He has a copy of The Nutrafroots.

“John,” I say, “reading is important.”

I pause. Its a long book. While it is true that reading to children is good for some things – cognitive development, getting them into college, social acculturation — it is a short three hours when you can watch the Super Bowl.

I’ll same the same thing about nutrition: it has its place.

I turn and look right at him.

“Reading and nutrition are definitely important,” I tell him, “unless it is during the Super Bowl. Then, its important to watch the game.

“Also, you need to see all of the commercials, too.”

I am saying this in my serious voice. That is the one that is supposed to generate “listening,” without too much repetition. Yet, I am thinking, can anyone hear my heresy?

After all, if I read him a book about eating fruits instead of candy bars, what’s next?

I read him the story.

I can’t help but think of another son with his father, waiting to watch the Cowboys and the Broncos play in Super Bowl XII in 1977. The father is sitting not a futon, but on a lime green beanbag chair in a basement with wood paneling and brown carpet. The announcers warm up the crowd. The dad flips open a pizza box and slaps his hands together.

The little boy is ecstatic. He’ll remember the warmth of that time for years.

The details of the game are still clear: Like this year, that game featured a David and Goliath narrative. The Cowboys, run like a machine by a wordless coach and his Navy quarterback, won the NFC Championship not by flair but by precise routes of receivers like Drew Pearson and the bend-don’t break tenacity of their “Doomsday Defense.” It was a team of interlocking parts.

The Broncos had not a system, but the heroics of free will. It was symbolized by the “Orange Crush” defense -one patterned on chaotic blitzing. Sure, they had plays, but the only strategy seemed to be to just hit hard. If that didn’t work, uh, hit harder, and again. Their flashy players — the bearded Lyle Alzado and the graceful Rick Upchurch, played on inspiration and imagination.

That was a fitting analogy for the 70s, I suppose, when farmers started going bankrupt and Wal-Mart began to choke every town’s little corner store.

Sitting before tonight’s game, I feel a circularity to things. It is not just that tonight’s game features another mismatch.

No, its more than that. I think back to that game in 1977. I remember my joy. That man was my dad and he wanted to watch this “best game” with me, to share his dinner and excitement.

Thirty years later, my father is gone. I have a son now. I want to share as much of my life as I can with John. I want to know him.

Not because football is go great. Actually, it’s really not that great. It is brutal to play and a poor fit for almost anyone’s body. Plus, these Super Bowl commercials are bad — Robocop, Fox sitcoms — give me the Budweiser frogs back.

It is just that people are path dependent. Our trajectory is often a reflection of our past.


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