I felt the familiar vibration against my thigh. My head was tilted slightly skyward and my eyes glued to the screen. My hand gently, automatically reached into my pocket and fished out my weathered, but diehard flip phone. Without a glance, my thumb popped up the screen half; muscle memory from thousands upon thousands of short messages received and sent. I only needed a split second and slight twitch of neck muscles to quickly read the text and return my focus to the task at hand. The content of the message made me pause however in spite of myself. It read, “Who is this?” I chuckled and closed the phone. Glancing around, soaking up the environs and scratching my head curiously. Who was I? My initial outgoing message, the one that yielded such an appropriate response, was addressed to my wife and read, “Be home later. At a bar watching football.”
This important question, asked now more than three years past, still remains. Who was I and how the fuck did this happen? How did it come to pass that I started watching football again? Even now as I type this in New Jersey, I am excitedly anticipating the throngs that will descend upon the region over the next four days. The ensuing chaos reaching its apex and then sharply departing on the Sunday of Sundays – Superbowl Sunday. May my father breathe a sigh of relief; this aging punk is a football fan…again.
What was once a dirty, little secret amongst the punks is now bared for all. These are the days where one can discuss the Giants offense with members of a crusty anarchist band. Providing opinions on new 7”s; providing opinions on Monday night’s officiating. A bunch of punks gambling on the playoffs – sure, why not! It wasn’t always this way…
I lived the first handful of my years in San Francisco and the only team I can remember my dad rooting for was the 49ers. Naturally, I became a fan as well. You know, it wasn’t a tall order. This was when Joe Montana was ripping passes downfield into the hands of Jerry Rice. This was last second Superbowl wins against the Bengals (XXIII) and embarrassing the Broncos (XXIV). I could give a fuck about any other team. I lived in Atlanta at the time, and I only wanted to watch the ‘9ers destroy my hometown. I jumped on to the field at game’s end in order to shake Roger Craig’s hand. Montana bracketed by police, vanished down to the locker room.
As a matter of course, I put on some shoulder pads and a helmet and (oof) a cup and started playing football myself. Backyard ball was done; association was in. This was a regimented, sweaty, military experience, but with cheerleaders. By the time high school rolled around I was seemingly in it to win it (but possibly in over my head). I didn’t enjoy exercising to country music. I didn’t enjoy hearing the Metallica black album day-in, day-out in the weight room either. Fuckin’ Coach Kin atonally yowling “Ex-errr-cise” at the top of his lungs instead of “Exit light” during Enter Sandman. That asshole also called Kurt Cobain a loser. Ever want to lose the respect and attention of a bunch of high school kids in the 90s? Call Kurt Cobain a loser and see what happens. I also blame Coach Kin for a permanent knee injury, but that’s another story. Rumor has it he built his own log cabin. Whatta guy! Rumor also has it he video-taped the freshman girls during aerobics and lost his job. As usual, I digress…
No, I didn’t want to listen to country music or anything post-And Justice For All. I wanted to go downtown and see 7 Seconds. I wanted to ride around with my skater friends and listen to Minor Threat. I wanted to sit in my room with a dictionary on my knee and attempt to understand Bad Religion lyrics. I didn’t want to hear racist jokes or just dumb jokes for that matter. One of my fellow players used to inexplicably taunt me with “Ken, Ken he fucked hen” each afternoon on the practice field. I wasn’t down with the “macho bullshit attitude.” A divide appeared. Who I was and who I wasn’t became clear.
Clear as mud.
For all intents and purposes, my father bribed me to finish out senior year football. Hey – my band needed a PA! But by the time I limped off the field for that final time, I wasn’t even paying attention to the ‘9ers. When Steve Young ran rings around the Chargers in the Super Bowl (XXIX), I was at a show. I didn’t even know it was the big day. I seriously didn’t care and felt it represented aspects of my culture and my gender that didn’t jive with me one bit. I was taking the moral high ground. I asserted this during those last games by putting X’s on my hands. My teammates thought I was a fuckin’ nut.
And for all of my moralizing, I couldn’t find any irony in moshing my friend’s face with a bunch of other sweaty males when the power chords hit. Digging 10 Yard Fight? Nah, no contradiction there. We looked upon our scene’s fellow show-goers with the utmost contempt when they skipped Sunday matinees for Sunday football. With a great scowl curling across our faces, “how dare they prefer a warm living room with snacks and entertaining TV on a cold November afternoon to paying money to stand in a dirty, unheated basement in a shady part of town, while watching five bands flop around!"
A van-load of us made the cold journey north from Jersey to Boston after the Tear It Up record release show in early 2002. I was aware that this raw Sunday night featured a Super Bowl (XXXVI) in some warm locale. It was impossible to be unaware since New England was playing. My fellow travelers had the game on and when the Pats kicked that last second field goal to seal the deal, they went ballistic. Relatively speaking. When we rolled in to downtown Beantown at 1:00 in the morning, we witnessed the true aftermath of an entire city losing its collective shit. Bob Goldthwait once remarked, “if your team wins the Super Bowl, you can legally do anything you want.” Nail on the head. Nary a trash can or newspaper box was left unturned. Anything not bolted down occupied the street. The flotsam of chaos abounded. Any group of strangers on a corner could be sent cheering towards our van by throaty shouts of “Pats!” But it became eerily quiet as we made it to Boylston St; just the sight of a lone man marching down the middle of the road parading a life-sized cut-out of Brittney Spears. A man and his date going home to celebrate the Pats’ big win.
Fair to say that something changed or a switch flipped or whatever, in my very late 20s. I began to keep my ear to the ground. Passively paying attention to wins and losses. In 2005, while living in Colorado, the Broncos entered the playoffs and I sat on my ass and watched two games. And enjoyed them. From that point on it seemed like harmless fun to watch the Super Bowl each year. After all, the commercials were funny and hey, from my past life as a fan, I knew the game and could talk it socially. Dangerous rationalizations. The Super Bowl acted as a gateway drug to a renaissance in my mid-30s, but sticking with the metaphor, it was an addiction.
So we’re back to that game at the bar. Jets - Steelers in the snow. How could that not be an exciting watch? And since the Jets won, might as well see how they do in the playoffs. Oh damn, the Steelers beat them that time. Well better luck next year, guess I’ll go ahead and see how next season fares. And oh boy the ‘9ers look hot again. Not hard to just starting pulling for them. After all, it’s my birthright. And so on and so on until my wife wants any given Sunday to not feature men commenting on other men running into each other with impressive velocity and force.
Finally, there I was in NYC last night, freezing my balls off in sub-arctic temperatures to have my picture taken with…a trophy. My companion and I kept the conversation upbeat despite the rapid sensory decline in all extremities; until our facial muscles could no longer form intelligible lexis. As hypothermia set in and we gradually slipped into unconsciousness and then death, our turn came and we entered a heated room where ol’ Vince awaited us in a glass case, shining bright. Years of fanatic dedication, moral quandaries notwithstanding, rewarded with five seconds to admire football’s most enduring symbol set in silver. A quick photo - and god, I hope I didn’t blink - as equal proof of my insanity and nerdiness and the ridiculousness of all this. That is who I am.