Posted by Christopher Johnson | Tuesday, February 5th, 2013 | Uncategorized | 29 Comments
As I begin to write this (UPDATE: And that’s how long this post has been percolating), the championship game of this country’s National Football League, colloquially known on this side of the Atlantic Ocean as the Super Bowl, is underway. The Baltimore Ravens lead the San Francisco 49ers 21-6 at halftime.
Does anybody happen to know won that thing? No? Okay, whatever.
Let’s clear up something right now. For the most part, with the exception of Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas, American holidays or other big public occasions exist for two reasons and only two. To give the American people the opportunity to eat too much and drink WAY more than that.
Do you think that Americans, of Irish extraction or otherwise, actually care about honoring either St. Patrick or the considerable Irish influence on this country? Near as I can figure, most St. Louis “Irish” are Germans. And do you honestly believe that American bars and taverns run specials on Cinco De Mayo to honor the equally-significant contributions Mexicans made to the American national character?
Because if you believe either of those things, I’ve got five words for you.
Wake the effing hell up.
And that’s the way most Super Bowls were, are and always will be with me.
Except one. A game that I consider to be the single most important event in my life. And if I died right now, I’d die a giddily happy man because of it.
Super Bowl XXXIV. Sunday, January 30, 2000. Atlanta, Georgia. The Tennessee Titans versus the St. Louis Rams.
When I was growing up, I didn’t much like my father. There, I said it. He wasn’t abusive by any stretch and we had lots of warm moments but I never had the anywhere near the same close relationship with my dad that my friends had with theirs and I resented the hell out of that fact.
My dad was ex-military. He was thorough and he was detail-oriented and I wasn’t either one of those things so we’d end up yelling at each other as often as not. Or I’d leave the room as soon as he entered it because I just didn’t want to take the chance that he’d scream at me.
Pop and I didn’t have much in common. But we did have the St. Louis Football Cardinals.
The St. Louis Football Cardinals (now the Arizona Cardinals who are actually older, name-wise, than their celebrated baseball counterparts) moved to St. Louis from Chicago in 1960 for one reason.
To wait for the Windy City to get over its ridicuous infatutation with that stupid Decatur Staleys team that set up shop there in 1921 (don’t get comfortable, Phoenix. If something should ever happen to the
Staleys Bears, your boys are back in Illinois the next day).
So the Football Cardinals didn’t put a whole lot of effort into making the team better. They got lucky now and then (Jim Hart, Dan Dierdorf, Tom Banks, Conrad Dobler, Roger Wehrli, Mel Gray, etc).
Three playoff appearances in 28 years, none of them at home and all three of them first-round blowouts. Then the Cardinals wanted a new stadium, didn’t get one and left for Arizona.
I didn’t much care anymore. At that point, as far as I was concerned, having no NFL team at all would have been better than having the Cardinals.
Because our “Super Bowl” was Draft Day. You literally couldn’t get through to radio stations, TV stations, sports lines or anything that might provide football draft information. Everybody in this town had exactly the same question.
How bad are they going to screw it up this year?
To the end of my life, I will never forget the deer-in-the-headlights look that I got back from my deaf but athletically-intense friend Jim when I told him that the Cardinals first-round draft pick was injury-prone Colorado State quarterback Kelly Stouffer (who never played a moment in the STL).
If they no longer gave a crap, why should I? I think my favorite team became the Green Bay Packers at that point.
My dad still liked them though. He watched them every week he could.
Then this town built a new football stadium and in moved the Los Angeles Rams. As St. Louis professional footbal teams routinely did, they basically sucked until 1999.
Then Coach Dick Vermeil brings in Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz. In the preseason, Rodney Harrison, then of the San Diego Chargers, blows out the knee of local favorite quarterback Trent Green (“Vianney High may call you”), paving the way for some Iowan named Kurt Warner.
And my Rams started winning. And winning. And winning. And winning.
We actually got to host two playoff games. We won both of them and ended up in the Super Bowl against the Titans.
A professional football team from St. Louis freaking MISSOURI was going to play for the American professional football championship of the ENTIRE EFFING WORLD!!
Since he and I had that history, since my mom had died eight years before and since I understand loneliness better than anybody reading this ever will, a church Super Bowl party was out of the question. I had to watch that game with my dad, there was no other option.
Granted, the game had its moments. Like the second play from the last one when Steve McNair somehow got out from under a third of a ton of Rams, completed a pass to Kevin Dyson and set the Titans up to tie the Super Bowl (give me the power and McNair goes into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for that play alone).
Then there was the play we call The Tackle around here. And it was done. The Rams had more more points on their side of the scoreboard than Tennessee did. The champions of the American professional football world resided in St. Louis, Missouri.
My dad and I had seen it.
And neither one of us had any conception what to do next.
A few weeks before, a female former teaching associate of my mom’s had given me a bottle of cheap sparkling wine as a Christmas gift (A signal? I don’t know; if I was any good at reading feminine signals, I’d probably be married by now).
My dad suggested that we split it so we did. He went to bed not too long after that and I followed him two hours or so later. And that was that. The old man died a year and half, give or take, after that game.
Chicago Cubs fan? That is what it’s going to be like when the Baby Bears win the World Series that they haven’t won in over a century (and which they will, sooner than you think). The bandwagon jumpers will be drunk off their asses.
But while you, serious Cub fan that you are, may be drinking something alcoholic, you will be totally, completely and utterly silent. You will stare into space and think about guys like Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Ferguson Jenkins or Ryne Sandberg.
And you’ll smile when you do. Actually, you’ll probably laugh out loud with a laugh that’s more joyous than any that you’ve ever known,