A Football Story
~ Jesse Owens
Disgusted, I throw my 2-7 offsuite into the muck and stand up to refill my martini. "Anyone want anything?" Grunts from the boys. Jonathan pipes up. "Actually, I think I have something you all might want. Two dollars." He bets in, but none of us think he's talking about the bet.
"For reasons I can't begin to explain, I have boxed seats for Pats/Colts this Sunday, and I don't have a date."
I consider whether I'm going to have to cross some personal boundary and fellate him on the spot. "NO...." I cry in disbelief. I fear he is going to make us play cards for them, most likely a very expensive round of Guts or a single hand of Black Jack. He's like that. He and I share a trading background, and once you're on the street, everything in life can be boiled down to bid and offer. But then I realize -- nobody else in the room seems to even care.
I'm shocked. Football hasn't been a poker table topic before. Somehow, in years of taking each others money, we just haven't talked about football. We've talked about sex, politics, small town intrigue, mountain biking, parenting and everything in between. But we just don't talk about sports. I've known that Jon is at least a Monday morning fan, and I'd just assumed the rest were too.
"So, who's in?" asks Jonathan.
Silence. The reality is that all these guys just have better things to do -- the surgeon has to be stone cold sober and wide awake first thing Monday morning. The magazine guy has sales calls to make, and a young wife at home whom he doesn't see often enough as it is. The two photographers in the room, well, they're just not fans. It's not on their priority list to spend 14 hours of their weekend to go watch 60 minutes of football played over 3 hours, 150 miles away. I love these guys like brothers, but this just isn't something we have in common.
"Good lord take me!" I abandon any pretense of cool. While I play fairly tight and unemotional when the poker chips are actually moving around, there's not a hint of stability in my voice. I'm warbling like a baby chick.
I didn't grow up a football fan. I was the fat kid with glasses, sitting in the corner, reading science fiction. Sports were the enemy. The kids who tossed footballs and baseballs around at lunch were the same kids who shoved me into the lockers and made my life miserable. I had no athletic ability, and didn't see the point of watching other people play games I didn't want to play.
This general ambivalence towards organized sports carried through my life until I met my wife. Sunday in her house was ritualistic. Her dad sat and watched the 'niners. It's what was done. I loved my wife. I loved my father in law. It was clear football was going to be important. My wife bought me "Football for Dummies" and I did the best I could.
In 1997, I spent most of the fall and winter living in Sydney while my wife stayed in San Francisco. The Aussies I worked with were fascinated with American football, and knowing I was a New Englander by birth, naturally assumed I was an avid Patriots fan. As I walked into the office one morning in January, barely cognizant that the big game was nigh, they whisked me off to a local pub where the proprietors had laid out a huge brunch spread and a massive satellite TV screen. They started drinking heavily as the eggs were served.
Throughout the game, I was asked intricate questions about the rules of football: why can't they push people from behind? How come they can't grab helmets? Why don't they just lateral all the time? What happens if the quarterback gets tackled in his own end zone? Not wanting to rain on their parade (much more about drinking at 9AM then about making me feel welcome, I suspect) I did what any good manager would do.
I made stuff up.
In the intervening years, I've had an slow but increasing love affair with football. I'm by no means a SuperFan. I've only been to two professional football games in person. The first was a fluke -- the brother of a friend got extra (free) tickets to the Ravens/Giants SuperBowl, and it was too good to pass up, (did I mention "free?") The second was this past Sunday, when the Colts played the Pats in Foxborough, MA. I sat, inexplicably, next to Tom Brady's dad behind the glass on the 50 yard line, with 20 or so high-schmooze businessmen more interested in contacts than the actual contest on the field. Not something that happens more than once in a lifetime.
As I was sitting there basking in my outrageous fortune, eating ridiculous food and drinking Hendricks on someone else's bill (I don't even know whose to be honest), I realized I was lonely. The act of watching this game, while amazing and spectacular, was solitary and at arms length. 70,000 people, and I found myself phenomenally frustrated that the AIM client on my phone wouldn't connect so I could send pictures to my wife, (or harass Certis with a shot of the waitress). I was in a box with 20 people, each there for their own reasons -- watching a son perform, exchanging business cards, or just enjoying the spectacle. But ultimately the connection we shared was as tenuous as that shared by the people in the pressing dark of a movie theater.
But it was still a great game.