Monday, December 29, 2008

Pop's Last Game

I have to give huge thanks to Frank for his poignancy in his blog. It stirred in me some memories of the last game the 4 of us went to.

Some or most of you know that I am a Vikings fan. My brother's were gracious in 1998 and the "unstoppable" Vikings lost to the Falcons and I remember Pop telling tales of the disappointment he had with the Giants over the years from when he first got the tickets to their first playoff appearance in 1984. 1984 was the first year the Giants made the playoffs in my life.

As I look back over the years I think of the stories I heard about my father and his almost maniacal love for the G-Men. I have heard the story about him being so pissed at half-time of a Giants game that he threw a coffee table out the window, only for them to come back and win. I remember as a kid growing up, very young, where if the Giants lost there was more than a little electrical tension in the house until about Monday afternoon or sometimes Tuesday.

But by the time I started going to the games, I remember a different Dad. I remember someone who was more knowledgeable and logical about his perceptions of the Giants and football than any person I have ever met or any broadcaster I have ever heard. The conversations we would have on the way to games about Giants' tendencies and strengths and weaknesses and how that would match up with the prospective opponent. I learned a lot about how to be a fan. I learned that respect for your opponent is key. I learned that frickin' anything can happen... especially with the Giants. I learned the value of joy with trepidation. I learned that there is a sublime joy in rooting for a team that wins it all and how much sweeter it is when they are beating a team that no one thought they could.

I remember the quiet confidence of my Dad on rare occasions where he would just have a vibe and say "They are going to win today." Never from the point of view of an overzealous fan or someone who loves blindly. Sometimes he just knew. This diatribe leads me to my memories of that fateful day in January 2001 when the Giants completely obliterated my beloved Vikings.

There wasn't a whole lot of mystery in the outcome of this game. The Giants came out and scored on a long tochdown pass on the first or second play from scrimmage and the game was over. Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper folded up like lawn chairs and the Giants just kept pouring it on. As I sat and watched, never getting out of my seat, just sitting there in my Vikings hat, I watched my Father and brothers celebrate play after play. I felt more embarrassment than bitterness. The Giants were better and were showing it. Frank and Pete never rubbed it in my face or anything. For some reason our sibling rivalry never really manifested itself in that way. Then, after maybe the third or fourth touchdown in the first half I look over and see the three of them screaming like they were on fire and I am just sitting there watching them. My father turns his head and I see he is crying. Our eyes meet and he grabs me and pulls me to my feet. I ask why he is crying, thinking the answer is obvious. He looks at me and says, "I feel so bad enjoying this so much, but at your expense." I blushed and told him to relax and have a good time. I wasn't taking their joy personally. The rest of the game is kind of a blur.

As I sit here and type this I think about that moment and perhaps I am putting grandiose overtones on that moment because I want them to be there. That is easy to do when we lose people. We want them to seem bigger and more epic in their absence and sometimes we lose perspective on the reality of who they truly were. I don't think that is the case with what I am about to say.

Our father had passion. Of that I do not believe anyone could deny. In his youth, or his youth as it is represented to me, it was volatile and scary sometimes, but it never lacked. As he got older he seemed to gain persepctive. Maybe it was his becoming a more religious man and using that to soothe his soul. Maybe it was just age and looking at his life and finding that there was more to feel joy about than anger. Maybe it was looking at his family and feeling pretty good about the job he did raising his children and enjoying his grandchildren. I think it was all of that. But the thing I take out of this singular experience is this. At that game I witnessed in its naked and personal best, the selflessness my father had developed over the course of his life. The moment of one of his most personally enjoyed triumphs that he could enjoy with Frank and Pete he had a hard time doing it. He was worried about how I would feel and if I was ok while they were celebrating.

People say sports don't matter in the big picture and intense enjoyment of sports and games we have no control over is just silly and we are trying to hold on to our own glory days or lapses in who we are and putting the onus of our shortcomings on the teams we love. I don't believe that. I believe that finding joy, true sublime joy, like my father and brothers felt that day is worth it. My father taught me that. And to be selfless and try and soothe your youngest son when you are at your highest point was a lesson I am happy to have learned, be it at a football game or anywhere else.

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