For decades I was the biggest football fan ever. Also baseball. Also basketball. Also ice hockey.
My grandfather, Zeyde (of blessed memory), introduced me to baseball when I was five or six. He lived in Brooklyn, hated the Dodgers for abandoning him, a poor simple immigrant to Ellis Island from Russia, and hated the Yankees for always beating his theretofore-beloved Dodgers (except in 1955) before Dem Bums moved to Los Angeles. So Zeyde was a Man without a Stadium, abandoned, leagueless, until the Mets were spawned as a joke in 1962. Under New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new Gosnell Abortion Law, the Mets would have been aborted well within their first 24 weeks — and humanity never would have gone on to know Ron Hunt, Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Ron Swoboda, the Miracle Mets of 1969, Bill Buckner of 1986, the Sad Tale of the Dark Knight of Gotham, and Jacob de Grom. Those 1962 Mets were the worst of the worst, losing a record three out of every four games. Still, that was what we had. So we rooted for Choo-Choo Coleman, laughed with and at Marvelous Marv Throneberry, loved the original Frank Thomas, and imagined that Jay Hook had greatness as a pitcher because he was a university graduate of sciences, with a masters in thermodynamics, so would develop unprecedented ways to make a baseball spin magically in flight. In the end, he mastered only the science of losing. There would be Gary Carter, the Original Met Ed Kranepool, the greatest Met David Wright, our glorious revenge by getting Mike Piazza from the Dodgers, the year or two when Doc Gooden was the Greatest There Ever Was — until he came to believe it, too, so felt himself invulnerable to drug addiction and destroyed himself. Strawberry. Cespedes. All lost if aborted in the first 24 weeks. (I have discussed my Yankees addiction further here.)
When baseball was out of season, it immediately was football time. You have never heard a great football announcer until you have heard Marty Glickman call a 1960s New York Football Giants game on WNEW-AM radio. All the local games — half a season! — were blacked out on TV, and there were no cable or satellite packages in those days. I was too young then to go to a sports bar, and I later would emerge culturally as an Orthodox rabbi who just does not go to bars. (That’s right — those classic corny jokes about a rabbi, a priest, and a pastor going into a bar do not work because rabbis do not go into bars… except for bar mitzvahs.…) So I would listen to the games on radio. There was never a football play-caller like Marty Glickman. He was music to the ears, like a Beethoven’s Fifth or a Puccini aria. Just music. As he would describe Y.A. Tittle dropping back to pass or hand off to Joe Morrison, or a Sam Huff interception, or a Don Chandler field goal, the sound of his voice somehow would project a 20-20 crystal-clear view in my mind’s eye. I could “see” every play. It was amazing. He was amazing.
(Years later, when writing a graduate school research paper, I would learn his own tragic story. He had been one of the greatest American track stars of all time, perhaps greater than Jesse Owens. When the 1936 Olympic Games were set for Hitler’s Berlin, the anti-Semitic head of the U.S. Olympic Committee, Avery Brundage, nixed Glickman so as not to embarrass Hitler if a Jew would win several gold medals. It is an incredible story. With Glickman and another Jewish American Olympian, Sam Stoller, forced to sit out the competition for the same reason, Jesse Owens ran instead in the relay, getting a fourth medal.)
So I was hooked from a young age on baseball, on football, and also on the New York Knicks (Willis Reed, Dick Barnett, Walt Frazier) of the NBA and the New York Rangers (Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle, Eddie Giacomin) of the NHL. In yeshiva high school, I associated with a bunch of guys who regularly would go to Madison Square Garden to watch the Rangers, the Knicks, and also WWWF wrestling matches where Bruno Sammartino would take on the likes of Killer Kowalski, Hans “the Great” Mortier, and Ivan Koloff.
As I think back now, I realize that I wasted quite a bit of hours on nonsense, but the memories remain warm, and I am smiling fondly even now as I write the words. We all wasted the hours then; I recount my sins this day. Genesis 41:9. Our rabbis, secular teachers, and principal were sure that the five or so in our coterie ultimately would amount to nothing. One of us was nicknamed “Mageifah” (Hebrew for “Plague”) because he reminded our Rabbi of half the Ten Plagues that smote Egypt. Another was nicknamed “Makkah” (Hebrew synonym for “Plague”) because he reminded the Rabbi of the other five. As it turned out, our group came out OK. Makkah became a successful family physician. Mageifah became head of a world-famous hospital’s medical department and a world-renowned expert on a certain rare disease (no, not Locusts or Frogs). Another of us became a partner at one of the world’s leading accounting firms. We did OK.
In college, I stopped following ice hockey avidly — no time anymore; something had to give. Then I started losing interest in basketball as that sport took on a culture that I found increasingly foreign. In my culture, we do not tattoo at all. Leviticus 19:28. I have nothing against the next guy who chooses to eat non-kosher or to tattoo, because we each should live theologically as we believe to be appropriate under our respective religious values and teachings.+ Still, when someone has so many tattoos on his exposed skin that he looks less like a person than like a road map, it is not my flavor. I want to look at a person, not read him. As the basketball players started becoming culturally more foreign to me, and started talking more obscenely and arrogantly, I lost interest in NBA basketball. I have not watched an entire NBA game for more than thirty years. Besides, I still had baseball and football.
Until Kaepernick the Dirt.
When Kaepernick the Dirt started his thing, I treated the matter as one ungrateful dirtbag who was spitting in the faces of millions of American patriots like me in a country that allowed him to draw millions of dollars for no discernible skill other than throwing a ball and running with it. Many five-year-olds do that, too. His kneeling publicly during the National Anthem was and is the most despicable ingratitude. But then the Kaepernick thing spread to other dirtbags, and as it spread I left the NFL two years ago. Although I have continued following college football, I did not watch an NFL game for two years. I wrote as much publicly: If Goodell would not immediately put an end to the cultural repugnancy, I was done with the NFL. The ingratitude by the Millionaire Morons continued, and I left football. A year ago I missed my first Super Bowl. I read the next day that the Eagles had won. Then I read later that the Eagles had refused an invitation to visit President Trump in the White House. To Purgatory with them.
I did not watch a minute of NFL football this year again. If a game is approximately three hours, seventeen seasonal games is 51 hours. Add some Sunday Night Football, sometimes a second Sunday afternoon game, post-season games… and I would guesstimate that I gifted myself 100 extra waking hours this past year and 100 waking hours the year before — that’s 200 hours of extra life. To write. To speak publicly. To provide pastoral care. To teach and to study Torah and Talmudic commentaries. To read and to watch Ken Burns documentaries.
And to read about the baseball off-season!
I had decided long ago to skip the Super Bowl completely this year. Then I read a recent article by Brent Bozell, a serious conservative whom I deeply respect, where he indicated that real patriots were watching NFL games again because the NFL had gotten the Kaepernick Repugnancy under control. Meh. But then Laura Ingraham — that’s My Laura — said she was going to attend the Super Bowl in Atlanta. Now I was challenged. But the last straw was when Melissa Mackenzie, publisher of The American Spectator, published that she was going to follow the Super Bowl. I began to feel like that Japanese World War II soldier in the cave still fighting the war a decade after V-J Day. OK, the Super Bowl.
And here is what happened to me as Super Sunday arrived. I found that I actually did not care at all about NFL football anymore, even with a local team in the game. I live in Southern California, but I care about as much about the Los Angeles Rams as I do about the Los Angeles Mayor or City Council or the L.A. ban on plastic bags. (“Pssst, buddy, want a straw?”) Besides, I read the news, and I knew that the Rams did not belong in the game. In a fair world, it was supposed to be the New Orleans Saints with Drew Brees at the helm, not the Rams and the quarterback who did not even generate a single touchdown in a Super Bowl. Still, Brent was watching, Laura was at the game, and Melissa was following. So I decided — OK, I’ll watch the second half.
I estimated the time when the second half would begin, and I turned on the TV. For a moment, I started to warm up some pizza because I never had watched a Super Bowl without eating pizza. But ritual matters — and this time I was not watching the game to enjoy it as a fan but just to know what transpired. So I pulled out the pizza and popped two potato knishes into the microwave instead. I turned on the TV, and — no surprise — I found myself watching the absolute worst half-time “entertainment” I ever saw. Yukkkkh! Wow — was that awful! I had never heard of the group. I never had heard any of their songs (assuming they were songs). The lyrics were the kind that always elicit a giggle as the singer sings with such passion as though he actually has something of import to communicate when in fact the lyrics are less inspiring than those for a breakfast-cereal or detergent commercial. No Snap. No Crackle. No Pop. Just Thud.
I also am fascinated by the phony “fans” that surround the stage at these half-time shows, waving their hands rhythmically in the air, left to right, as though they are Democrats preparing to surrender to ISIS or Iran or whoever their next leader capitulates to. Like, who are these people? How do they end up on the field? How do they just-so-happen to show up, knowing exactly how and when? It all is so phony — not only a sub-par “music” act but a phony staging of “fans” to give the impression that you actually are watching some kind of major cultural event like Michael Jackson back from the dead, moonwalking in Whiteface to imitate Gov. Northam of Virginia as he signs an Infanticide Law… or Beethoven himself returned to conduct the Ninth. They ought to force all prisoners in Gitmo to watch that Super Bowl halftime show 24/7 until someone cites the Geneva Convention.
Finally, the torture was over, and the second half began. What had I missed? Turns out the score was 3-0. I felt less bad because now it seemed more like a baseball game than football: half-way through, and the score 3-0. Anyone warming up in the bullpen? Not much happened the rest of the third quarter, except for a truly elegant 53-yard Rams’ field goal, aka “Legatron” or “Greg the Leg.” Despite the tie going into the final quarter, I just did not care. B-o-o-o-r-i-n-g. I watched the plays. Saw Edelman distinguish himself. Saw the missed turning-point moment when the Rams quarterback, whatever his name is, was pressured so badly that he did not see a receiver wide open for a moment that could have resulted in a long-yardage game-changing touchdown. I contemplated the theological beauty, the measure for measure Divine Justice, that the Rams would lose the Super Bowl in part because of a failure to see a critical downfield reception opportunity gone awry. I strategized with everyone else who knows the game as to what the Rams might and should do in the final minute: Accept or reject the penalty? Kick for the field goal and then, if successful, try for the onside with the hope for a “Hail Mary” with one or two seconds left?
The Rams’ field goal try was wide to the left, so that was that. I had seen enough, did not care enough to wait for the post-game analysis. It was obvious to me that they would give the MVP to Edelman, although I awarded the coveted Fischer Super Bowl LIII MVP to Drew Brees. He can pick it up in shul. I hope Brent, Laura, and Melissa enjoyed the game. My knishes done, I turned on Netflix and resumed watching my latest distraction, the two seasons of the Israeli comedy-drama “Shtisel.” It is so much better than the Super Bowl that I decided to pop a pizza into the oven.