Friday, Feb. 5, 2010
Time for my favorite holiday: Super Bowl Sunday. Honestly, does it get any bettor? Oops, Freudian slip, I mean better. Besides Thanksgiving, is there any other day of celebration that we all can agree on? And, theres no tryptophan haze to deal with. Not to mention, for some folks, its not a mandatory family holiday, so many awkward situations, like with Uncle Tommy, can be avoided. Just food, friends and football.
Its the one day of the year that for most of my life, I can remember exactly where I was and what happened that day. (Forget about birthdays. Too many!) My first memory goes back to Super Bowl IV. I just remember part of that game though, it would be years later when I would realize the joy of just keep matriculating the ball downfield boys! and what the 65 toss power trap was. My first full-game memory is of Super Bowl V and Jim OBriens kick to beat the Cowboys. Even as a 9 year old, it was fun to watch Dallas lose, and almost forty years later, its still fun. Good times.
The game with my first official rooting interest was Super Bowl XI when the Raiders beat the Vikings. In my neighborhood, since the Eagles where awful for all of our young lives, guys would pick other teams to root for in the playoffs. Nearly all of them rooted for the Dolphins and Steelers, convenient for them, since those two teams won four consecutive championships. Of course I took a more tortured course (REALLY?!) and rooted for the Oakland Raiders. The Immaculate Reception game against Pittsburgh was especially tough. To fight the whole game and finally take a lead and then lose on a fluke 4th and 10 play with 22 seconds left was hard to take, especially knowing the ribbing I would take at school the next day. (An 11 year old has his priorities!) It only took 4 more long years until the Raiders had their revenge and won the Super Bowl. (The day after that Super Bowl, I could not wait to get to school!) It was made better by the fact that my parents took me to my first NFL game that year and I got to watch the Raiders pound the Eagles 26-7. I think that the fact that the first time I saw the Eagles in-person I was rooting against them explains a lot about me, what I dont know but Im sure that you can figure it out!
The next game of major significance for me was January 25, 1981. Eagles vs. Raiders! Do the ironies in my life ever stop?! Dick Vermeil coming to the Eagles was the start of a golden age of Philadelphia football in which the Eagles actually had 4 consecutive winning seasons and won 3 playoff games! To understand the implications of that statement, I suggest that you que your Netflix to INVINCIBLE and enjoy the show! For some reason, back then, you could not buy mass quantities of liquid refreshments on Sundays in Pennsylvania, so a venture over the Commodore Barry to New Jersey was required. We were on our way back over when Jaworski threw the first of his three picks to Rod Martin in their personal game of catch. Ugh. That was a long night, most of the other problems in the world where solved though. We had a lot of refreshments! (And another thing!)
Like the rest of the country, Philadelphia was caught up in Bears fever during the 85 season. That was a team of which no one has seen the likes of which before or since. That they put a 44-0 beat down on Americas Team made them even bigger in our eyes. But there was something else that made these Bears a fan favorite. I got to explain this to Steve Mongo McMichael at a Cubs-Phillies game this past summer. Noticing that he shot a razor glare at me because I was in a Cub fan V.I.P. area wearing a Phillies jersey, I couldnt help being myself when we were introduced. You know we loved your 85 team in Philly, I told him. You guys liked our personality? he asked wearing a satisfied smile. Nope. Not that. I replied, It was cover, cover, cover! You guys were a lock! Thats why everyone in the rest of the country loved you! He didnt seem to like that much and the smile went away. Too busy still living in 1985 I guess. Oh well, it is what it is. (One note: The house party I was at the night of that game lasted well into the next morning. Can you say parlay?)
Over the next 20 years, just about all of the games included me working or being with people that I got off of work early to watch with. The day has evolved from just a house party day to a party day. In the eighties and early nineties, Super Bowl Sunday, meant a slow work night for us in the restaurant business. No more, especially since I began working at 33 West Kinzie Street almost 15 years ago. In fact, I moved to Chicago on Super Bowl weekend exactly 15 years ago. Drove all day Friday and Saturday, enjoyed the game at a family party on Sunday, then went looking for a job on Monday. Ive only not worked at Harrys during the game once since then.
You guessed it. It was the Eagles next visit to the game after the 2004 season. That was the year that the danger of having hope kicked me in the face. Part of why I living here so much is that all of my family and friends here were so excited for me. I had large groups of friends join me downtown to watch the playoff games before I started work and then they followed me to Harrys when I started my shift to continue the fun. They were interesting nights. I had a chance to go to the game, but that didnt seem right. I needed to go back home to truly feel the emotion and share it with people who felt exactly as I did. My weekend started with my first appearance on Chicago Tribune Live with Dan Jiggetts. (And the celebrity life of an over-weight, over-caffeinated bartender was born! Funny, on that show when I mentioned to 85 Bear Otis Wilson my theory about his team, he laughed out loud.) Then it was an early flight on Sunday with the wife and kids to Philadelphia. The buzz in the airport was incredible. It was like the city was about to burst. Having four generations in the house to watch the game made it seem right, we would endure this together.(And I said endure before the game was ever played, because I know better) (I took a tape of my TV appearance for whoever wanted to enjoy it. What I enjoyed was answering Why are you on TV? thirty times , with no good answer. Honestly! A bartender on TV?!)
After McNabbs first interception, a familiar feeling came over the room as we all shot glances at each other, saying, here we go again. The flight home on Monday was not as fun, although the walk through a depressed city was kind of cathartic, time to leave it behind. Of course, as the plane was about to pull out, a fueling truck was stalled underneath us and would delay our departure. Travelling anywhere with a two-year-old is never easy and doing the math of the flight in my head led me to believe this was not a good sign. (Kids only have so many consecutive good minutes in them!) For the flight, my wife was in a group of three seats with the kids and I was across the aisle. Not very far, but it seemed like miles. After 45 minutes, we were off. As we were preparing for our descent into Midway, Im thinking, that wasnt bad. I mean, I only got about six dirty glances from my wife as the kids took all of her attention as I sat there reading my papers and enjoying snacks, bullet dodged!. Then it happened. My son, strapped into his car seat, lost his mind. Not the usual, I need attention because Im bored lost. No, I mean, top of his lungs, I cant take it anymore lost. As my wife desperately looked over for help, I gave her the, Do I know you lady? look. Not funny! Cmon honey, thats called gallows humor, Im in a state of depression. Still not funny. (To her!)
For my Bear brethren, the 2006 season was quite a ride. The bar rocked all year for the games, and the city was usually giddy on the days in between, with hope of what was to come. (Didnt anybody watch the Shawshank Redemption?!) But I was not a kill-joy, out-loud anyway. I reveled with them, always thinking, I dont feel good about this. (Well, maybe a few people knew that I agreed with Dennis Green.)That Super Sunday was fun at the beginning. We had three 85 Bears at the bar and Notre Dame All-American and nineties Bear Chris Zorich to share in the fun. Then there was Hesters return and the place was up for grabs. ( Zorich is one big dude! He was behind the bar and I was introducing him to all of the regulars. One of our marketing people took a picture of the two of us together. As Chris moved down the bar, I asked if I could see the picture. Oops, it didnt take.
I went down and explained Chris and told him about the picture and asked if he would come back down to my end of the bar to take another. No problem. Then, as these were standing with our arms around each other, and me feeling very small, Bridget, whose taking the picture, starts fumbling with the camera. After what seemed like 5 minutes of awkwardness with us still man-hugging, I turned to Chris and whispered in his ear, I paid her to do that. We laughed about that the rest of the night, although, I think his was nervous laughter. It was a joke! Not that there is anything wrong with that! Then someone handed Jim McMahon a microphone, and like the game, everything went downhill.
So as I get ready to spend another Super Bowl behind the bar at Harrys, I know that no matter what, its going to be a day I always remember. Its all about the game (and the end of the 96-hour pre-game show) and who we enjoy it with. A Super Sunday indeed! And if anyone reading this knows Chris Zorich, please let him know, Im still behind the bar! (Wink-wink!)