Monday, January 22, 2007

Me and Walter ... I tell ya, I coulda been great

(Disclaimer: The following events occured well before I met my beloved bride whom I would take a bullet for at any given minute and who has absolutely no competition for my affectionin in this particular galaxy. In addition, any rebroadcast, reproduction or other use of this blog without the express written consent of Major League Baseball ... uh ... I mean, of me, is prohibited)

She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen and she wanted to date me.


Opportunities like this only come along once in a lifetime. Well, actually they came around 3 times for me. This was the first one and I married the last one. The middle one was my pastor's daughter who was moving WAY too fast for me and so I decided to move along. I don't get it. An ugly guy like me got to date 3 of the most beautiful girls I knew while growing up. I told you that God is good. (FYI: I married the prettiest. Hi, honey.)

Ok, all of this is far from the point.

So anyway, this girl decided to grace me with her presence. We were the same age, different genders, same species. It was all good. Except that she lived in Arkansas and I lived in Chicago. While this would be a problem for most people we were maybe 15 years old and so it was no major deal. Only stupid people get serious at 15. She was not stupid and I was too shocked to know what I was. So I went with the flow and enjoyed every minute of it. I enjoyed our families frequent trips to her town and I enjoyed flashing her picture around to my high school buddies when I got back home. Sweet.

Then thanksgiving came. I don't know for sure but it was probably about 1971. Our family found ourselves at her house for a weekend that included football. College football. This was a foreign thing to me. It still is. But college football was as precious as uranium to her father. It was all about Nebraska and Kansas. I never did figure that out what with their living in Arkansas. But whatever. He was her father and thus he held the fate of my date in his hands. If he said we are watching college football then, by golly, college football it would be. To this day I have no idea which team we cheered for. But I must have done alright because we went to a movie that night. Not her dad and I. She and I. Just wanted to make that clear.

The inevitable happened sometime later. She dumped me. (Note: This was the first and last time I ever got dumped. The greatest life's truth she taught me was that it is far better to be the dumper than the dumpee.) As often as I went back to that town after I was a husband with my own children (my parents had retired in her town long after she moved away) I related to them the story of the mysterious queen who "flushed me from the toilet of her heart." She doesn't know it but it's become a part of family lore. Even Debbie loves to hear it because it ends with me in pain. Women can be brutal.

I got over her but I never got over football. I couldn't play it worth a lick but I could watch it with the best of them. When it became less profitable to cheer for college teams from states I had never been in I switched my allegiance to the blue and orange. You may know them as The Chicago Bears.

I know them as ... "Da Bears."

To drive down Lake Shore Drive in Chicago is to be confronted with Soldier Field, home of these "Monster's of the Midway." When I was a kid it was a bunch of roman columns surrounded by a concrete base inside of which was a football field. Da Bears were usually a bad team. They were the Cubs of football. Then 1985 came around and Da Bears were led by Da Coach, Mike Ditka, into the Super Bowl where they decimated New England. I was drunk with joy. There was not a World Series flag flying over Wrigley Field but there certainly was a Super Bowl trophy in Halas Hall where Da Bears practice. It was almost as good.

Being a pastor (we work Sunday's) I've only made a few games in Soldier Field. It's like a new place these days. The columns and the base of the old stadium still stand but within them rises an entirely new edifice ... you hate it or you love it but you don't ignore it. My impression is that a cruise ship landed in the base of the old Stadium. I was blessed to attend the first game at the "new stadium" when a friend and one of my former youth group teenagers now all grown up, Marc Vaughn, snagged some seats from his brother-in-law, Joe Odom, who actually played for Da Bears. Joe made the first tackle in New Soldier Field. It was also about their last tackle of the night because the Packers killed them.

When I was a kid there were two things on Lake Shore Drive that absolutely stopped me in my tracks. One was the U-505, the German WWII submarine that the American's captured in the Atlantic. It had since found its way to it's permanent home outside the Museum of Science and Industry. The other ... Soldier Field. As I grew into a man I knew it as the place where Walter Payton WAS the franchise. Da Bears basically had 3 plays in those 1970's and early 80's days. Payton right, Payton left, Payton up the middle. I lived and I died with them. Mainly I died.

Well, that's my story. I got to see Da Bears beat the Rams in St. Louis earlier this year courtesy of a friend. (Thanks, Mike!) And now I'll go to sleep for the next two weeks dreaming the same dream I used to have when I was a young man ... wearing the blue and orange ... darting down field, faking right, cutting left across the middle, jumping high in mid-stride to bring down a pass while getting clobbered by some lousy Viking. Still, I kept my balance as I came down and of course wound my way into the end zone where Walter was waiting to helmet butt me. I tell ya ... I coulda been great ....