If I'm a rabid sports fan, it's because of one guy's influence. He grew up a Tigers and Red Wings fan. At UW, he became a Badgers alum, and bled red and white for the rest of his life as much as I bleed midnight green. His loyalty was rewarded in his later years. When I was in Madison on business a few years back, I bought him a bunch of UW stuff, including a Badgers slammer (you whack it on something and it proclaims, "Go Badgers!"). It was still on his end table next to the lounge chair the last time I was in his house, and now occupies a place of honor in my home.
As I was growing up, I became (to his everlasting chagrin) a Yankees fan in one season, even though we lived in the Southwest. Though I was a young pup at the time, I lived through the classic Maris / Mantle battle - and he was as excited as me. I was hooked on baseball forever, even though baseball wasn't hooked on me as a fan. I sucked at the game, but he never missed one that I played in during several seasons with the Goens Garage team.
And then he taught me football. I wasn't a fast learner, though. Baseball always had more appeal to me, but he suffered that indiscretion with me, and somehow knew that I'd catch on eventually. Like most things, he was right. There's no doubt in my mind that he was secretly thrilled when I embarked on my journey through higher education at the first college Roger Staubauch played for (if you thought it was Navy, you would be wrong). He was thrilled because he was a Cowboys fan, back when someone like Staubauch could make a person proud to be a Cowboys fan. And so I became one, by default or inheritance, I'm not so sure.
But I learned the error of my ways quite a few years ago. I married a Cardinal Dougherty lady, and would not be let into the family until I swore my allegiance to the Eagles green and Phillies pinstripes. Maybe it was just karmatic, but when the Eagles whipped the Cowboys in the 1980 NFC championship to get to the Super Bowl, there was a measure of sweet filial justice - but that justice started a tradition, at least twice per year. The loser made the call. In the subsequent 23 years, I made many more phone calls than he did.
They say that with age comes wisdom. So, it kind of surprised me several years back when the die hard Cowboys fan began to see the error of his ways. I could probably trace the falling out back to when the Cowboys unceremoniously dumped his icon, Tom Landry. "The Cowboys organization lost its star when they dumped Tom," he groused to me. So he kind of adopted my team, although the phone calls still continued. His phone bill mounted in the last couple of seasons. So did mine. We commiserated when the Birds lost; we cheered beer-induced chants when they won.
A year ago this month, he delivered some bad news to me in his usually stoic and strong tone. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, but told me he was optimistic. He was always the optimist - it was in his nature. On reflection, I think it's the nature of every sports fan. But I suppose I knew the deal even then. When he entered the hopsice program last August, I was emphatic that I expected a phone call from him after the Birds whipped the Cowgirl's butt in their first meeting season. I was even more insistent that he be around for the Eagles parade at the beginning of this year. Ok, so the parade never happened. Perhaps I inherited my optimism from him.
On an early morning in mid-September last year, after enduring the remnants of a hurricane that dumped a tree in my yard and brought police to my house at 3AM telling me a voluntary evacuation was in effect because the river was rising, I received word from my sister that Dad had passed away. He went strong, and raged against the disease that took him. We had talked last the prior Sunday about the Eagles getting whipped by the Patriots, and he assured me that the season would turn around. Even in his obvious pain, it turned out he was right, sort of.
I'll still be waiting for the call after the first Dallas game this year. Happy day, Pop! Love ya!
(PS - Dad was a raving lunatic Roosevelt Democrat. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, huh? ;-)