You know the routine.
It’s game day, or race day. You take your seat, be it in front of the television or if you’re lucky among the thousands or tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands attending the day’s event. You watch; you cheer and boo; you exhort your favorite. At the end of the day you celebrate or commiserate depending on how the proceedings went. You talk or grouse about it, feeling happy or ticked for a while depending on what happened. And then you file it all away until the next game, the next race. It’s all part of being a fan.
You see the team or individual you root for, and in them that is exactly what you see. It’s not life or death. The sun will come up tomorrow regardless of their performance on that day. Sure, they’re your team, your driver. But that’s all. They’re the ones for whom you cheer. That’s where it ends.
Most of the time.
Sometimes, you see the team, the driver for whom you cheer, and you don’t see them at all. You see a moment, a place in the past, a time where an inexorable bond was forged indelibly identifying a team or individual with someone you know, or someone you knew; a memory that never fades. You see a team or individual, and suddenly you are no longer where you are. You’re somewhere else, somewhere long ago and far away yet as vibrant as though it was happening in the here and now. You’re at your first ballgame; you’re watching a highlight moment with family or friends no longer here. It is as though these moments live again. It is as though these people have never left.
That’s why you take it far more personally than is the norm when someone speaks against this team, this individual serving as a bridge between today and a bittersweet yesterday filled with magic and loss. Sure, you get your back up when someone trashtalks your team or driver. You give as good as you get. But you don’t take it all that seriously. The same cannot be said about the ones unknowingly serving as a bridge. They’re not just another team, another driver for whom you root. They are set apart, privately sacred. They are consecrated; living servants acting as a conduit from where you were and who you were with to where you are now, without those you were with before.
This is why today’s Super Bowl was far more than another game to me, or even another championship game. As has been said before, I am a card carrying season ticket owning member of the Raiders Nation. That’s my team. I go to the home games, I watch the away games on television, I have far too often buried my head in my hands these past few seasons wondering when this team will start playing like the Raiders I grew up with; i.e. winning. I’m a fan.
But when I see the Colts, I don’t see a football team. I see my heritage, this hybrid of Orange County Republican and small-town Hoosier hick born, raised, and living in the San Francisco Bay Area. I hear the phone conversations with my Dad after he retired and moved back home to rural central Indiana, me going with him and Mom for a spell before returning back here, commiserating over the Colts when they were bad and celebrating when they good following their move to Indianapolis in 1984. I see my first Colts game seen live at home, two years after my beloved father had passed away in 1999. In a touch of bitter irony, it was played the first weekend sports had resumed after September 11th, and the pre-game ceremonies were filled with the kind of heartland patriotism coast dwellers deride as hackneyed cornpone drivel. But not to me.
Every season ended with a promise unfulfilled, at best a playoff disappointment. Every season after that game ended with a different promise unfulfilled, something I had vowed upon my first visit to my father’s grave that September of 2001 would someday be done if it was allowed to be done.
It never was.
Not until tonight.
Tonight, as I pull out my Colts finery to wear with even more pride than usual, preparing to luxuriate in this ultimate triumph and its penultimate companion the amazing, heart-stopping comeback victory against the archrival Patriots in the AFC championship game two weeks ago, a note is made of a promise now enabled. It is not a great thing, but it is an item I swore to both my heavenly Father and my earthly father now in heaven would be done. And it will be done.
I will find a royal blue silk rose, and at the base of the pedals tie around it a white ribbon. On it, printed in silver, will be these words:
SUPER BOWL XVI CHAMPIONS
I will lay the rose on my father’s grave, and then I will look to the skies and say the words I longed to say when my father was here, but know in fact he will still hear:
“They won, Dad.”