Just a game
t is the morning after and contrary to last night’s expectation, tomorrow has come, the sun climbing out of the ocean to shine magnificently over the subtle palette that is Block Island in February. Maybe the news has not yet traveled the distance to our mother star, 93 million miles away, a fact lodged in my mind from a long ago cereal ad.
There is nothing redemptive about football.
Nothing. Not one single thing.
There is nothing ethereal about it, it does not come when the earth is stirring and life is returning to the brown fields of New England. It is not a game that every year is played on the highest of holidays — celebrated only in Massachusetts and Maine (shame on the rest of us) — commemorating Patriot’s Day, when the bridge was held and the shot heard round the world was fired.
We do not hear of football spring training in a warmer land, when the sunlight is increasing but the chill persists — most years. This silly game that is not even properly named does not bring us golden light on verdant grass, nor is it played in open air through the summer. It does not transport us into the fall with the illusion that each game won is all that keeps the dark of winter at bay.
How I long for the days when my response to a breathless “Tom Brady is over at the New Harbor... and he is throwing a football... and he hasn’t got a shirt on!” was “Who is Tom Brady?” When my brother in his office tower in a Midwestern city knew more of the status of the New England team than I did, it was not from some sense of regional loyalty lingering decades after he moved away, but informed by one of the greatest economic offshoot industries of the sport — office pools.
A cousin who lives in one of those football-is-king states once told me, “Baseball isn’t even a sport.” To this day I have absolutely no idea what that even means, but I simply told her “No, in New England it is a religion” — and did refrain from adding “Football is a cult.”
I put the responsibility for the fact that I even know who was playing almost entirely on a Giants fan. Many of the readers of this column know him, and if you do not, you have seen his photographs that so well capture the shifting light that falls through the seasons and decades of landscapes, changing in ways you often do not see happening.
Were it not for knowing I have free will, I might even try to blame it on that guy, who takes his cameras to New Jersey (and what is that all about? That team don’t even play in New York), and returns with extraordinary shots of the evil team dressed in blue, and stories of how the shots were gotten, told with an enthusiasm that is infectious. Somehow, I got sucked into the vortex of this national insanity. I know not only that Justin Tuck is a Giant but where he went to school; this is not a fact that should be taking up space in my memory bank.
I did not even watch The Game, or listen to it on the radio, not so much because I have no idea what is going on nor any desire to learn, but because I could not take the tension. The morning after, I have to wonder: If I feel the way I do when I have so little invested in this business, how did others get out of bed, if they went to bed at all?
It is hardly a surprise, the results of Sunday’s game. I grew up in New England, I remember well the soaring joy of Carlton Fisk’s thirteenth-inning home run, the one that won the game but not the series; I know where I was standing when Game Six imploded and even though there was another game to play, I knew as sure as I had ever known anything that I would never see the Red Sox win the World Series.
And I know when I go out to the post office I will forget to go through the Interstate parking lot and thus bypass Rebecca, and instead will go through Fountain Square. When I pause at the stop sign at the elbow of Water Street and look to the right, I will see windows gleefully plastered with photos of various football players. In bright blue garb.
Among the many things I never did as a kid was soap a window...
Even the morning host on Providence radio, the one who fancies himself a pot stirrer extraordinaire — little does he know — called a hiatus on his usual patter. And in the midst of the nonsense, a lady called to tell them it was a trivial matter, hard to argue on Block Island.
Still, many of us remember when the Red Sox finally did the impossible and across New England grown men cried and visited their fathers’ graves in celebration. We know where we were, and a lot of us remember the man who left us this morning as he was, on that night in October 2004. His elation was tempered when he told us he was sorry his father had not lived to see the moment, but returned when he said that while his little boy was too young to grasp the enormity of it, he would be sure he learned of it. I doubt any of us imagined there would be another opportunity, that “next year” [the mantra long attached to New England baseball] would come again in the offensively short time he would have to be a dad.
Sometimes, it — baseball, that is — really is more than a game.