How I Know My Father Through Football or The Confession of a New England Fan
01/25/2012 § 2 Comments
As I was sitting in the Munro Muffler waiting room watching the mechanics fix the muffler on my wife’s 2007 Nissan Versa I asked the mechanic at the front desk how his day was going. He said, “Like a broken chicken’s neck. It’s gonna turn.” I didn’t fully understand what that meant but I laughed anyway knowing it was something good. He said it with such honesty. He said it with a smile. He was older, early 70’s maybe. I liked him because he smoked cigarettes inside the garage next to a sign that read, “No Smoking In The Garage.” I liked him because he didn’t charge me to simply diagnose the problem like other garages had. And when he did find the problem he suggested places that would be cheaper since he didn’t have that particular part in stock. This was no fake sales pitch, this was real, this was honesty.
In the small waiting room of the garage was an old Sports Illustrated, an ESPN Magazine, and an US Weekly. In the old Sports Illustrated was a photo of Jeff Hostetler. Jeff Hostetler was New York’s backup quarterback in the early 90’s. Phil Simms was New York’s Hall of Fame starter. The Giants were a great team until Simms suffered a season ending foot injury. Hostetler had to replace Simms for the playoff run.
This was in 1991 when the Patriots were simply terrible and all home games were blacked out due to horrendous attendance at Foxboro Stadium. The networks replaced New England home games with New York games. I’m from Massachusetts and I’ll admit it: I was a Giants fan. But I wasn’t a Giants fan just because they were on TV. I was a Giants fan because my father had once been a Giants fan. When he was a kid the Giants were his team. They were the team he lived and died with. They were the team he was watching when he first saw the innovation of instant replay. He saw the first instant replay with his father. When they showed the replay his father yelled, “Oh my god they did it again!”
In 1991 when the Giants won the Super Bowl I finally knew my father as a person—raw and full of emotion. The Giants had earned their way to the Super Bowl by beating the 49ers in San Francisco. The 49ers were back-to-back Super Bowl champions. I was 11-years-old and knew the Giants had no shot against Joe Montana on Montana’s home turf. I mean Jeff Hostetler was New York’s quarterback that day. But the Giants put on a ferocious defensive display and even knocked Montana out of the game. When Matt Bahr, New York’s kicker, put one through the uprights with time expiring the Giants Won 15-13 sending them to the Super Bowl against the Buffalo Bills.
This was getting interesting. Not the drama on the field but how my father reacted. I was witnessing something different. Something truly human. He was excited. He was excited all week.
Everyone had picked the Buffalo Bills to win. Everyone. But when Scott Norwood, Buffalo’s kicker in 91, missed a last second field goal to give New York the championship my father leapt out of his chair and screamed, “All those predictions! All those predictions! All those predictions!” I saw him as a kid. A kid who just watched his team win the Super Bowl. I knew him without words, without facts. Football had allowed me to do this. Football had allowed me to see what my father was truly like. I knew him deeper than I could’ve known him any other way.
My father is quiet about his childhood. He will answer direct questions but usually won’t elaborate. I know very little about my father’s childhood. Both of his parents died before I was born. His mother died when he was just a child. His father died when he was in college. Only recently has he offered up stories unprovoked. I used to think of my father as a single entity, a person that just occurred, someone who existed in college (where he met my mother and played football) but had no prior history to that. But football gives me an insight into my father and gives me a connection to my family. Not just facts about his life. Anyone can read a biography and know facts about someone’s life. I mean to truly know them. When he tells stories about his childhood most of them revolve around watching football games. My father swears during football games. He doesn’t swear any other time. He goes to church every Sunday morning but swearing becomes an art form he has brought to perfection just for football games. Taking the Lord’s name in vain is allowed when the refs don’t get it right.
On January 22, 2012 The Patriots beat the Baltimore Raves to go back to the Super Bowl for the 7th time. That game was followed by the NFC Championship game: New York Giants vs. San Francisco 49ers. San Francisco was at home, the same field as 1991. My father has since become a New England fan and I have developed a healthy hatred of the Giants for reasons that go back to 2007. But as time was winding down on this new chapter of San Francisco-New York playoff history I found myself rooting for the Giants once again. This one went into overtime and I couldn’t control myself—I was becoming a Giants fan one final time.
My father and I were sitting in the same room we were in 21 years ago. I am married now and he is semi-retired. But I was a kid again. His childhood excitement was creeping back in. After a fumble by San Francisco New York had a chance to win the game with a field goal. The same two teams; the same field; Christ, even the same side of the field. Lawrence Tynes, New York’s kicker, kicked the game winning field goal with time expiring. There was no great outpouring of emotion this time around but over the course of 21 years I’ve come to know to my father through football. An unspeakable knowing. I knew he was happy. Something like a “broken chickens neck,” something honest and real, a call that can’t be overturned, somewhere his father screaming, “Oh my God they did it again!”