I never EVER got the little plastic men to do what I wanted them to do on that vibrating sheet of metal. Through trial and error I was able to also determine that orange peels, little army men and live kittens are equally un-coachable. But still, everyone in my neighborhood had the game. Soon, it will pass from sasha to zamani and bringing it up in conversation will no longer illicit a glimmer of an understanding smile. I dread that day.
Don Meredith died just now.
My biggest sports hero was and is Roger Staubach, and my team was and were the Cowboys. Clean cut, their steely determination, their nattily dressed, paternal overseer, Tom Landry, gently but firmly guiding the ‘Boys on to another victory. His strong, silent jaw and his ever-so-masculine hat, those little gray eyes staring at me in the darkness. Veiny, muscular hands wrapped tightly (but patiently) around that thick, hard playbook. All the secrets inside, only for Mr. Landry, Uncle Landry, to decipher. To transcend…mmm…what’s that, Uncle Landry? You think I’m gonna need to come from behind? Ooohh…I’m gonna have to drive deep into your territory for that…oh so deep into your territory…yeah…that’s it…penalty for holding…hands to the face…oooh, you’re calling for the “shotgun” formation? I’m gonna call an audible in my trousers if you keep molesting my defensive end…looks like you’re a down lineman, flag on the play…oooh….bring in the long snapper…..© 2010 Gilbert Neal/Harlequin Books “The Coach And Me” series of Romantic Novels, All Rights Reserved…
Where was I? Ah, yes. The Cowboys were my favorite team and Roger the Dodger my favorite quarterback. My happiness on Sundays, oddly, depended largely upon their success. And even though he didn’t always win, Roger was always a sure bet to get to the playoffs, sometimes to the Superbowl, and twice in that glorious decade, winning it all! They won, which meant that I won!!! I won the Superbowl!!! Better tell Julie Pawlowski!
As with all things, the great and glorious Roger Reign ended, mostly due to the fact that his head kept getting scrambled by concussions, and after a while, the only thing he was dodging was the dreaded “How many fingers?” quiz.
Then Danny White took over, and he was great, but aside from a few games during the regular season, it just wasn’t the same. No Superbowls, not even an NFC Championship. And in the early 80’s the hated Washington Redskins were on the rise, with their Hogs, and the John Riggins, and the Joe Theismann (rhymes with ‘these men’. Why would he change it?)
In fact, during one season (1983) the Redskins seemed literally unstoppable. Scarily so. They were scoring at will, had lost only two games by the slimmest of margins, and were well on their way to a second consecutive championship, everyone thought. And the day they went to Dallas to smite my favorite team, the world held out little hope that there would be much resistance. As a matter of fact, dear reader, I was actually imagining them never losing another football game EVER.
Come with me, my fine friends, to December 11, 1983.
I met Melissa on the CB radio. The craze had long passed, and a few hangers-on to those halcyon days remained. Mostly Broadway/Filmore trash and me, frankly. Sometimes, a new voice would shine through the din. And I would apply to ol’ charm. But this chick was different. She had known me through my sister, whose opaque nature had yet to be addressed fully. CB radio was just the means by which we spoke before meeting that first date.
I wore my cleanest outfit, washed the prime real estate (twice) and brushed ’em good. She was taking me Christmas shopping at the local big box. Was it Big R? Big N? Neisners? If only Mike Rizzo could chime in. The place on Seneca St. near the Dunkin’ Doughnuts. What was it then? Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnyhoo, there we went.
“So…what kind of girl do you like?” she asked as we ambled past the Customer Service kiosk. Every word she uttered dripped out of her smirking countenance as if she was playing with me.
“I like a gal with child-bearing hips…” I recall offering up. What even did that mean to a teenager? She opened up her jacket and showed me her jeans, directing my eye downward (as would so often be the case in the future) and as her voice seemed to dance the words “Will these do?” I felt a stirring. I’m not gonna lie. I thought I was driving into sexy town. Population Wheeeeeee!
She was a smoking hottie, short and bespectacled, pretty and sharp. Robust. Yeah. Robust. Fecund with possibilities unspoken. Maybe about 3 years older than me. Melissa is not her real name, but I’ll be dipt in horseradish enema juice if I can remember her name. We walked. Talked. Maybe even held hands. As her attention was diverted by something frilly, I heard a hi-fi-type sound seemingly synchronized with some flashing light eminating from a few dozen redundant screens. We passed the TV section.
Dallas trailed 14-10 in the third quarter and faced a 4th-and-1 from midfield. Dallas lined up, obviously trying to pull the Redskins offsides. At some point during the snap count, though, Danny White decided to audible into a running play. He handed the ball off to Ron Springs, who ran left. Washington defensive end Charles Mann crashed the right side of the line, and guard Herbert Scott could not block him. Springs lost two yards, and the Cowboys lost momentum they had gained since coming back from an early 14-0 deficit.
The video clearly shows an angry Tom Landry screaming, “No! No! No, Danny, No!”
Though the Redskins did not score immediately, the tide had turned. Later in the third quarter, Joe Theismann hit Art Monk on a 47-yard touchdown pass, and the game turned into a blowout. The Cowboys could not even stop the Redskins from performing the “fun bunch” celebration after the Monk score.
And that was that. The Cowboys were smoten. Smoted. Smatt. The game went downhill, and my mood changed. What had seemed like a sunshiny day full of possibilities had turned into a thick swill of cloudy confusion. What started as a nice vinaigrette with walnuts had devolved into a devil-brine with a hair in it.
Our silent ride to my house. Snowy in Buffalo. Aurora Avenue is abandoned but for us. The caked accumulation muffled the noise of the church bells ringing their unchanging repertoire out to the sinners and the repentant, washing what was once called “the ghetto of West Seneca” in its sweet, gentle rhythm as the sun ducks to hide muted light behind the dark slate of evening.
I slid over to kiss her goodbye. She pushed me away. Her last words to me:
“God…you smell like cat.”
I think I still enjoyed la petite mort in her memory that evening. Ha! Joke’s on her.