Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Folded Piece of Paper

It's so easy for a kid to join a gang, or do drugs. We should make it that easy to be involved in football and academics.
Snoop Dogg 

The Broncos and the Patriots. In a few short days football legends Payton Manning (Yay!) and Tom Brady (Boo!) will meet - for perhaps the last time in battle on a field - in an effort to advance their teams to Super Bowl.... I've lost count.

Football was not just a passion in the Greer family circa 1960, it was a cult. Mom swears that my brother Dave's first words were "Chuck Bednarick," Hall of Fame linebacker for our then-hometown Philadelphia Eagles. If you think my dad was the one who encouraged that...even I'm not sure that it wasn't Mom.

My dad, however, was renowned for his football-related stunts. In the early 60's it was common for games to be "blacked out" from TV in the host cities because stadiums were not always sold out. In mid-winter, ice covering the roof, Dad ascended a ladder carrying an "Earth to the Mothership" TV antenna so we could get Trenton stations. The Eagles were on. In 1961 (I think) he summoned himself off the couch, in the grip of pneumonia, to attend the Army/Navy game. The coin toss at the beginning of the game - first-year President John F. Kennedy.

I caught the bug, mercilessly renouncing the Eagles forever when they traded quarterback Sonny Jurgenson to the Washington Redskins. I remained a 'Skins fan until relocating a decade and a half later to Denver.

Moving to Rochester, NY and the NFL/AFL merger gave my parents the mostly hapless Buffalo Bills (have you ever been to Buffalo in winter?) for whom to root. Mom sits every fall weekend, glued to her flatscreen TV, hoping that this year will be the one Bills fans remember as the road back to glory. Daughter Katy is the spitting image of grand mom - she once invited stepmom Pat and I to watch the Super Bowl not in her living room but out on her front lawn through the picture window. Our transgression? We were not sufficiently appalled at an iffy call that went against her beloved Giants.

Professional contact sports, especially football, have endured a long-overdue scrutiny of late. Chronic head impacts on the field have led to health issues in later life for many players. Depression, dementia.... Rick Reilly's excellent article represents the dissertation of record for the price the players paid for the Sundays we enjoyed, huddled around the TV (first black and white and now, high-def big screen) cheering next to my parents and now next to their grandchildren.

Yet.... The memory of an October 1969 football game still brings tears. My dad and I watched two young college quarterbacks - Scott Hunter of Alabama and Ole Miss sophomore Archie Manning - put on a show. The final score was an afterthought. We cheered both teams, each of them giving everything they had. Googling for this post, I found articles written this year about a college football game few who watched it have ever forgotten. It is the clearest memory I have of watching football with my father.

Housecleaning today, I found a writing notebook I'd tucked in a drawer. Hidden between the pages, an old autograph. "To Jimmy - Lots of luck from the Brookie Tom Brookshier Eagles "40". He'd grown up in Roswell, NM and played football at the University of Colorado with astronaut Jack Swigert. A defensive back, he was signing autographs at a paint store in 1962 in Southampton. Leg in a cast, career in doubt (he never played again) he was friendly to the seven year old Eagles fan.

The slip of paper has survived fifty-two years in drawers, boxes and now a book full of manuscript notes. I should frame it. Then I'll have it close at hand. Just like the memories.


  1. That's amazing you still have that! I have many happy memories growing up of us watching football together, now Graham likes to watch it with us on Sundays too. Although he gets upset when I yell at the TV...sensitive little man.

  2. Uh huh - I'm not sure you guys ever got upset when I yelled at the Broncos.