West Side Stories: A football tale
So, there’s a question where, if you could go into your house and only save one thing, what would you save? A lot of people answer it with “a photo album,” or “some jewelry from a grandparent” or maybe it’s your kids, or a pet or something like that.
But what I would save is my football.
I want to explain why I would save that ball. It’s a very special football. It’s the same one they use in the NFL, and the one that I would save is actually a replacement of the one I wish I could have saved. The one that I got, I got from my dad when I was in fourth grade. The relationship that bloomed between me and that football was a beautiful relationship.
We would watch the 49ers every Sunday.
My dad and I would watch the Niners, and I would hold my football. And then at halftime we would go out to the horse pasture, and my brother and I would play one-on-one, and my dad would be the halftime quarterback. My brother is two years older, and he’s bigger, stronger and better in everything.
But every once in a while I would beat my brother deep, and I would be streaking down the horse field, and my dad would throw these magical spiraling rainbows from heaven, and they’d come down and bounce innocently off my shoulder or my hands and fall into the mud.
But it was okay. We’d go back in after halftime, and there’d be the smell of a ham hock and some beans cooking on the stove, that my dad made every Sunday. And there’d be a fire in the fireplace.
And if I held my football correctly for the second half, the 49ers would win.
And their championships in ’81 and ‘84 and ’88 and ’89 are proof of that.
My football and I eventually went off to college, and the halftime games were in the Drake apartment building complex and parking lot, on the asphalt. And missed passes would come down and scuff my football. The laces would get scuffed. And we’d go in after halftime, and it wouldn’t be the ham hock on the stove but old mac-and-cheese, or some tuna melts or something. And it’d be freezing.
And I’d call my dad on Sunday nights, and we’d talk about the 49ers and whatever else was going on, and one time I went home and I asked my dad, “How did you throw those magical spirals all the time?” And he put his hand on my football, and he showed me. It’s the pinky finger, and your ring finger, that are the only two fingers that touch the laces. The other three are on the leather. And I looked at his hand, and more than anything else I noticed how strong his hands were, and how powerful they were, and that football was going to be controlled by his hands.
And then I graduated college, and I did this thing that we call, when you’re my age, “finding yourself,” where I was floating around doing nothing. Santa Barbara, Maine, Montana. I was working at a fruit stand in Santa Barbara, and I was actually, no lie, watching the 49er game against the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night football when I got the call from my parents that my dad had cancer.