Sunday Manners

22 Dec

I’m feeling like the old hound dog who curls up on a rug near the fireplace all afternoon, then grunts a little when it’s time to slowly climb to his tired feet and shuffle outside to take care of business in the yard. Catch him at the right moment, though, and you might stir up the puppy still inside him.

This was the image that came to mind a couple of weeks ago when I was watching the Giants game, but doing it in a way I never used to. I was multitasking. Or at least distracted by a multitude of tasks. A story deadline was hovering over my right brain like a storm cloud, and my laptop was open on my lap, whirring. But for what? The computer had three web browsers open. One was at Amazon.com, where an hour earlier I had gone to find a book for a holiday present. Another was looking up something on Google; I don’t remember what it was, but I’m pretty sure it had nothing to do with my story. And the third browser was toggling from You Tube to Facebook to ESPN to a couple other time-wasting sites I regularly quit, cold turkey like Ben & Jerry’s and ganja, only to be drawn back in, again and again, forever and ever.

The point is, I wasn’t focused. Not on the football game. Not on the laptop screen partially blocking my view of the TV screen. There’s too much going on in my life these days for me to focus on what used to be singularly important. Electronics aside, there are home-owner chores and writing projects and job prospects perpetually churning around my mind, or at least the small portion of it not already consumed by my kids and their never-quenched thirsts for my attention. My wife gets whatever homeopathic dose of my attention that’s left.

Football, which for a good four decades consumed my full being every fall Sunday, has become no more than a casual interest. Anyone reading this who’s known me for more than a few years is shaking his or her head as if to loosen and eject a concept that makes no sense. But it’s true. I’m the same guy who couldn’t eat, drink or sleep on the weekends of big games. I’m the guy who used to crawl out of bed at dawn to make the long drive down to the Meadowlands, then drive home hoarse from all the yelling. I’m the guy who did nothing — nothing! — between 1 and 4 p.m. on Sundays but watch the Giants. I’m that guy, but I’m a different person now.

A few weekends ago, however, that old dog in me had a few of his puppy moments. Sitting in front of the TV with the laptop, I knew the Giants were trailing but wasn’t really paying attention. I casually looked up from my computer, saw that there were just 5 seconds left before halftime, and decided to watch the last play. The Giants had the ball at their 43-yard line, and CBS analyst Dan Dierdorff — whom I like a lot because he’s all football and no gimmicks, and as an ex-lineman he talks about the real game inside the game, not just the marquee stars — had just said, “If you’re the Giants, you want to throw the ball downfield, get it into field-goal range and hope there’s a penalty that would allow you one more play.” Exactly. Then the ball was snapped and, as if by my wishful thinking, a defensive player was offside. As the yellow flag flew, Eli Manning dropped back with a free play. Perfect.

But Eli was just dancing back there. “C’mon, Eli throw it,” I said quietly. Then he looked like he was going to run for it. “No!” I said, a little more charge in my voice. “Throw it!” Finally he did throw it, not downfield but just 2 yards ahead to Ahmad Bradshaw, who danced left, danced right, and was tackled for a 4-yard gain. Half over. As the players trotted off to their locker rooms and boos filled the air in East Rutherford, I heard myself screaming at the top of my lungs, “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING, ELI? THROW THE FUCKING BALL DOWNFIELD! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? DOWNFIELD, DAMMIT!”

I felt my heart pumping, just like the old days. I felt peeved but fully alive. The feeling was fleeting, though. I grabbed the remote and hit pause. Rather than listen to the halftime blabber, I decided to get in a few minutes of writing, then maybe catch up with the second half later on the DVR.

The emergence of this new me may be a sign of maturing. Or just a sign of getting old. Whatever, it sure saved me some major anguish this past weekend. The idea of the Giants playing the Eagles for first place in the NFC East, and me doing anything other than driving to the Meadowlands or chaining myself to a chair in front of the TV, would have been unfathomable until recently. Even after the kids came along, Sarah continued to give me a wide berth on fall weekends. But this past Sunday there was an arts and crafts sale at a friend’s house, featuring the work of several people I’m close to. Later there was a friend’s violin recital. So I just set up the DVR and headed out of the house. Set it and forget it.

It wasn’t until well in to the evening — we decided to have a spontaneous dinner with friends — that I got home and started watching the game. But I didn’t have the patience for a three-hour undertaking, so I fast-forwarded not just through commercials but through the huddles and other between-play gab, too. I didn’t get to savor every moment as the Giants built a 31-10 lead, but I still loved just moving forward, fast. And then, as the game’s final 8 minutes wound down and the 21-point lead evaporated, it all happened so quickly that I hardly felt the pain. When the clock was at 10 seconds and the Giants punted, and DeSean Jackson fumbled around for the ball, picked it up, knifed through the coverage team and went all the way for an impossible Eagles’ win, I just hit the delete button on the remote and it was over. There was a momentary dull jab, as if I’d bumped into someone as we were passing in a doorway, but nothing like the lingering ache I used to feel with my team’s every loss. And this was a hell of a loss. Five years ago, I would have been out of commission for half the week.

This is a good change in me. I haven’t lost the ability to experience those moments of bliss that only true sports fans can understand. Yet I’m not so consumed by this one aspect of my life to the detriment of all else. There are other things in life worth savoring, after all. Even on Sundays.

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One Response to “Sunday Manners”

  1. Smooth December 22, 2010 at 8:57 pm #

    I was wondering how you had taken that game; glad it didn’t leave a scar. To the greater point, well said. I had a similar change of attitude after the 2004 World Series. How liberating to know the pain will never feel so bad again, and I won’t have to sit, head in hands at the end of the season, wondering why in the world I invested so much time, energy and emotion in another losing season.

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