Well, we’re in the home stretch of summer now… fall is just around the corner.
Funny how summer no longer holds the same appeal it once did – for me, at least. Time was summer meant warm weather, pools and outdoor activity – but I live in California now, where the weather is pretty much between 65 and 85 year round and I never close down my pool. Time was that summer meant vacations – but now I tend to travel during other times of the year to avoid the tourist crush (since y’know… I hate people). Time was when the ol’ office workload was lighter – but if anything, my current job has been busier than ever. Time was that baseball held enough of my attention to get me through those lean sports months – but now that the LeBron hubbub has died down, I’m bored to tears.
What I’m trying to say is: summer sucks.
However, don’t fret. Salvation is just around the corner. It’s almost football season.
As you may know, I’m a football addict (and most especially, a fantasy football addict), and I’ve been jonesing for my first fix in about six months. I need it. I’m strung out, man.
So while preseason games don’t pique my interest much (other than watching for impactful injuries), it does start the countdown to the news season.
[Speaking of which, the greatest thing my fantasy league commissioner ever did (and believe me, there are scant few good things) is post a countdown clock on our league website. As of this writing, we’re just 22 days, 5 hours, 14 minutes and 18 seconds away from draft time. If you don’t have a countdown clock for your league, you’re missing out. I check this thing every day – it’s like going down to the crack house and staring in the dirt-stained, shattered window... drooling over that first hit and eyeing which corner I'll curl up into the fetal position in.]
Until we can really start talking football, drafts and how badly I get beat from week to week, I thought I’d stir up some nostalgia and share something from my childhood.
In 1983, my friend’s dad took him, me and another buddy to New York Giants training camp to watch practice and beg players for autographs. The previous season was a rough one for the Giants – they would lose 2 of their last 3 games to miss out on the playoffs and then-coach Ray Perkins left for the Alabama job. However, not all was lost. The team had found its new superstar in Lawrence Taylor (second consecutive Defensive Player of the Year award since joining the league) and future football legend Bill Parcells was taking the helm. Things were hopeful.
Now, I don’t remember much about the practice, per se. But here’s what stuck with me over all these years:
“Over here! Over here! Who are you?”
First, I hate to sound racist, but telling the players apart was almost impossible. Cut me a little slack – I was 12, I’d never been around black people in my entire young life, and I followed a sport where everyone wore helmets (and this wasn’t the age of the internet, where there are a million photos of everyone – you had to get your information from a non-HD, crappy 11-inch television with rabbit ears).
And it wasn’t just me… a common first question as a player came off the practice field and a gaggle of kids rushed up to him was, “Hey! Over here! Can you sign this…? Um… who are you?” That must have delighted the players.
Sure, it was easy to spot LT – he was the one always being interviewed on TV (and the one being swarmed by a million other kids and a cadre of reporters. After waiting for about an hour, we were able to wiggle into the crowd and get him to sign for us). But truth be told, they could’ve put a bunch of 6’3 burly black guys out there to pose as players while the real guys went in to a strip club. How the hell would we know?
So I’d like to tell you I also got Leonard Marshall, Harry Carson, Beasley Reece and Joe Morris… but did I really?
Of course, the one guy we all recognized was the Giants’ quarterback, Phil Simms, who also now announces NFL games for CBS. Now, Phil seems to be one of the nicest, most even-keeled players I’ve ever seen… not even Chris Collinsworth can get to him most of the time (despite endless needling) on Inside the NFL. The dude went 22-for-25 for 268 yards and 3 TDs in Super Bowl XXI. He’s unflappable.
It took a hot day after practice and my good friend, Escalator Scarboy*, to press Phil’s panic button.
[*Yes, that’s his alias… and a justified one, given his penchant for falling down escalators for no good reason]
My friend Tim and I were among the first group to get to Phil as he approached the sidelines. So while we had to wait, we were in good front=of-the-crowd position to get an autograph. Escalator, on the other hand, was forced into the second tier. Concerned that Phil might not get to him, and perhaps affected a little by the heat himself, Esclator pressed forward and stuck his pen out, nearly poking Phil in the eye.
Now, you have to understand: Phil had earned the nickname “Phil Ouch” in the local media for an unfortunate string of injuries early in his career (didn’t quite have the ring that “Medical” Bill Cartwright had on the Knicks… but probably stung nonetheless), which cost him his starting job (to the mighty Scott Brunner, of all people). So he was probably a little oversensitive when it came to potential injuries (hell, he probably slept with a flak jacket on, in case he fell out of bed and broke his ribs). So when some wide-eyed, gawky kid started bum-rushing him with a vorpal ball point, in retrospect it wasn’t a big surprise when he shouted:
“GET THAT GODDAMN PEN OUT OF MY FACE!!!”
…at the top of his lungs, stunning the crowd of 11 and 12 year-olds.
To be honest, I don’t really remember what happened next – whether Phil toughed it out and continued signing and/or if Escalator got his Simms signature. I was just so happy to have mine before the eruption, the rest became moot.
[Escalator, if you’re out there – fill us in]
Of course, karma is a bitch… during the sixth game that season, Simms came in to replace the struggling Brunner. On the second drive, he suffered a season-ending injury when his hand hit a player’s helmet on a follow-through. Stories say the injury was so bad, Simms’ thumb was actually dangling off after the impact.
The lesson here: don’t yell at little kids (unless they’re your own. Then, of course, you have carte blanche).
Oh, and kids: don’t bother athletes for autographs – there’s a good chance you’ll get snubbed; you just lose them after a couple of years (or your kid brother goes out and uses your “Reggie Jackson #44” signed baseball because he couldn’t find any others, and smacks it around until the ink fades to white); your heroes are only bound to let you down, anyway (Chris Mullin = alcoholic, LT = drug addict/rapist, Bernard King = career crippling injury incurred on your very own birthday… well, you get the point); and you don’t want to risk getting yelled at. Even by the nice guys.
Don’t worry, Phil… all is forgiven. Your Super Bowl magnificence squares us.
Finally, kids, there’s far more to football than just hounding athletes. Like fantasy. A great way to bond with your buddies, add some drama to an already great sport and make a little cash.
Dear god, I can’t wait.