During my son’s formative years, I’d often find him and a friend sitting on the living room floor, thumbs clicking away like all get out on video game controllers, eyes fixed on a now-obsolete cathode ray tube, as its electron guns fired at a phosphorescent screen, forming the shifting colors and images of Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog and other characters who lived in code in the cartridges in the consoles in front of the TV.
Much to our relief, they tended to shy away from violent, destructive competitions such as “Grand Theft Auto” since blood, gore, death and mayhem was plentiful in the movies they so cherished.
Ryan Patrick Kelly et al were particularly fond of Madden NFL, a football game named after Hall of Fame and Super Bowl-winning coach John Madden. As I recall, that was the game of games, and I can’t tell you how many hours the boys sat on the carpet like their butts were welded to the Berber weave.
Why didn’t we tell ‘em, “Hey, it’s too nice a day to be indoors? Go outside and find something to do?” As many a parent will attest, the last thing you want to tell a teenager is to go outside and find something to do, because they will.
Often when passing through the living room I’d interject, without looking at either of ‘em or the screen, “are you using a nickel defense?” The first 75 or so times one or the other would say, “What?” and I’d keep walking. The next 75 to 250 times one would reply, “Do you even know what a nickel defense is?” All the times after that I’d get a quick, impatient “Dad!”
If you can’t annoy and embarrass your offspring, what’s the point of parenthood?
No, I have absolutely no understanding of football defenses, nickel or dime or quarter or Euro or whatever. More importantly, I don’t want to.
My life is lived on the periphery of sports, an often-uncomfortable position for an American male. Had bad experiences with baseball, football and basketball way back when. Can’t play ‘em and never could.
The one exception is ice hockey. As described in this space two months ago, I could skate. That’s it. But since I didn’t play organized hockey until my 30s, when up against guys, and gals, who’d been competing for decades, I felt like a 5-year-old on double-runner skates holding a parent’s hands.
Even so, in terms of national interest, hockey comes in a distant 4th behind the aforementioned Big 3. With my beloved NY Rangers stinking up the arena this past season, I silently acquiesced to The Mrs.’ choice of “The Blind Spot” or “Riverdale” or some other strange series rather than negotiate for control over the remote control.
Sad, I know.
Yes, I’m a NY Yankees fan, but only when they’re winning. So sue me, whydoncha?
Yes, I played in a youth baseball program for one summer when age 10 or so. Other than quite accidentally making contract with the ball and driving it into the outfield once during tryouts, I never hit the ball in fair territory. For the season, my batting average stood at .000 with a slugging percentage of .000. I did walk occasionally so my on-base percentage ballooned up to .005 or so.
Consistency is the hallmark of champions.
Still, a champion I was. My team, McLean’s Market, finished on top, providing the only trophy I ever won.
No, it wasn’t a participation trophy, dammit! Had a marble base, a blue plastic column crowned by a goldish figure of a pre-swing batter. Wonder whatever happened to it?
Let’s switch to basketball, shall we? Nobody in my family cared about the pros or played competitively. There was no gym class at my Catholic grammar school and lunch recess was spent on an asphalt parking lot. Gym at the dearly departed Mercy High School in Riverhead consisted of 10 or so minutes of calisthenics before the jocks appropriated the only two hoops available and the rest of us sat on the risers BS-ing.
The thing is, if you don’t work up a sweat, your gym locker never stinks.
When son Ryan played CYO basketball in 5th and 6th grades, he received no words of wisdom from me other than “jump!”
March Madness and the NCAA Final Four? Fuhgeddaboudit.
And since no school I ever attended had soccer teams, when Ryan joined Mattituck’s summer youth soccer league and looked to me for encouragement, all I could offer was, “You run that way, they run the other way, don’t use your hands.”
Golf? Caddied and hated it. If the guy whose bags I carried could read my mind, they’d have heard, “Look, Mister, I have no idea about a dogleg on the next hole or whether the greens are fast or not. Can you hurry it up? I’m missing “The Three Stooges.”
On my own, I regularly scored in the upper 80s. Wait, that was bowling.
Which brings us to football. In my first year at Mercy High I made the freshman team. Quite a surprise as I’m particularly slow of foot. Still, I became first string center on the offensive line and was pictured in “The Monarch,” the school paper, in uniform as a “future star.”
Yeah, didn’t quite turn out that way.
At the time, what’s now the Air National Guard base in Westhampton Beach was an active Air Force base, and our first coach was an airman from Oklahoma or Nebraska or Libya. Who knows? As happens, he got transferred and a buddy of his, whose lack of football acumen rivaled me own, took over. Within a few weeks, he too was off, was on his way to Alaska, and to fill the vacancy the school brought in a guy who, like Lord Voldemort, will forever be, “He Who Shall Not Be Named.”
From all appearances, he gave up on actual football and concentrated on toughening us up. During one practice he picked up a substantially sized kid and threw him to the ground, cracking a vertebra.
As my classmate lay there writhing in pain, the coach screamed, “Get up, you big (expletive deleted).”
Not long after that, I left the field for good. The next year, the school didn’t have enough players to field a JV squad.
Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m bad luck.
When working on Capitol Hill in 1985, a lobbyist stopped by one fall Monday afternoon with five tickets to the Redskins-Giants Monday Night Football game. Since the congressman wasn’t around – with no recorded votes on Mondays or Fridays he flew in from Long Island on Tuesday morning and returned Thursday night – we readily snatched ‘em up.
Yes, I did say I don’t follow football. But, hey, free tickets are free tickets, even if they were quite literally two rows from the very top. We could tell if
the landing gear on the planes headed for National Airport had sufficient tire tread. Ok, not really. I’m trying to make a point here.
Two things about that game also gained permanent residence in me brain.
One, the Giants lost on a fake punt and, Two, all 238 pounds of Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor fell on Washington quarterback Joe Theismann’s lower leg, snapping in two, like he had a second knee headed in the opposite direction. We didn’t see it from our vantagepoint, but the video replay, played on local TV over and over and over, will turn your stomach.
Now a married man with two kids, son Ryan is a VP for Merrill Lynch in D.C., and his responsibilities include hosting special events for prospective customers. Among them is introducing a select few to Mr. Theismann at FedExField, home of the Redskins.
For a few hours they’re living a middle-age fantasy, running routes and hauling in – well trying, anyway – passes hurled by a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
I asked Ryan if he mention to Joe that his dad was at that game. Uh, it didn’t come up, he said noncommittally.
Did you ask if the Giants were running a nickel defense?
He just looked at me.
Tim Kelly is a former congressional press secretary and award-winning reporter, editor, columnist and photographer. He has lived on the North Fork for 30 years. For his mid-life crisis, he became a bagpiper.