Why I’ll be watching the Super Bowl today

You should probably sit down for this, thoughtful reader.  If you’re going to have a sip of that scalding hot cup of tea, now’s the time.  We’ll wait.  If you’re operating heavy machinery, wtf?  Focus on what you’re doing and stop reading blogs online!  If a gay man showing even the slightest interest in sports is upsetting to you, let this paragraph serve as a trigger warning and be done with this post now; there are plenty of pieces elsewhere you can read about how Boris Johnson’s days as Prime Minister of the UK are numbered, about how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is all over but the shouting, about how truckers in Canada protesting vaccine and mask mandates disrupting ordinary people’s lives are disrupting ordinary people’s lives by blocking roads and bridges that ordinary people use to live their lives, and about how Donald Trump, once the most powerful man on the planet, flushed documents down the White House toilets like a sophomore getting rid of his stash when the dorm resident advisor knocked on the door unexpectedly.  Okay, let’s proceed.

As a freshman in high school, I tried out for the basketball team.  Now, one thing you have to know about my alma mater, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, is that it is built on the side of a hill.  It was, back in the 1940s, the La Cañada Flintridge Country Club.  The Capuchin Franciscan Order of priests and brothers acquired the hillside property with a stunning view of the west end of the San Gabriel valley in 1946 and founded a private Catholic school for boys; it was, for a time, also a minor (high school) seminary for young men studying for the priesthood.  Over the years it grew to become one of the premiere Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, known as an academic powerhouse, but also enjoying notoriety for its sports teams, known as the Golden Knights, who compete in the Del Rey League of the CIF (California Interscholastic Federation — the governing body for high school sports in California).  I recently had a phone conversation with the school’s President Emeritus, a fellow alumnus, and told him that I am forever grateful for the outstanding education and preparation for life I received there, even if the whole Catholic thing didn’t really take hold for me; I mean, it did for a time, but ultimately it didn’t.

So, basketball.  You heard it here first.  The guy who has avoided anything involving the throwing or catching of a ball his whole life, the guy who attended Cotillion every Tuesday afternoon until he was 14 so he could learn the manners and comportment necessary should he ever find himself in 18th century Vienna, the guy who took Afternoon Tea at the Hotel Green in Pasadena after school rather than hang out at a kegger in Oak Grove Park (actually named Hahamongna Watershed Park) listening to Michael Jackson and Duran Duran… yes, that guy, tried out for the Golden Knights basketball team.  Sat here 41 years later, I honestly can’t tell you why thoughtful reader.  I think I may have thought the team outfits were kindof cute.

Whatever the reason, there I was with about twenty other hopefuls on the practice court after school.  The coach, whose name eludes me at the moment but who also taught art history in what seems, in hindsight, an odd combination of interests, had us line up single-file facing the hoop, told the first boy in the line to get a running start, and then bounced the ball to him as he ran, shouting, “make a layup.”  I tapped the shoulder of the boy in front of me and asked him, “what’s a layup?”  Visibly distressed by my question, he explained that as you approached the hoop running at it, you did not stop but rather shot the ball at the basket while you were in motion.  Sounds easy enough!

So when it was my turn, I started running toward the hoop.  The coach bounced the ball so it intersected my path, I caught it (yay!) and continued my forward trajectory.  No one bothered to mention I was supposed to bounce the damn thing as I ran, and several rude names hardly worthy of Catholic school boys were shouted in my direction.  Then I took my shot.  Well, “shot” is a bit misleading.  I more or less gripped the ball with both hands, while still running like an epileptic having a seizure toward the hoop, and “pushed” it in the general direction of its intended target.

SFHS campus map

the hillside campus of the Golden Knights, St. Francis High School, La Cañada Flintridge, California

The ball soared through the air, over the basket, over the backboard, over the fence and landed, in traffic, on Foothill Boulevard where it promptly rolled down a steep incline about 200 feet before being flattened by a passing car.  A stunned silence fell over the basketball court.  The other boys even stopped hurling invectives.  Everyone, including the coach, just stared at me, their jaws scraping the blacktop.  I looked at the flattened ball at the bottom of the hill, then back at them, and said, “I’ll just get my things and go now.”

That was the beginning and the end of my participation in sports.

But I love tradition, marking birthdays and anniversaries of all sorts (there’s a big one coming up for me this week as my mother died a year ago Wednesday), and the rituals of our tribe.  I don’t ascribe any supernatural significance or hocus pocus to them, but I think it's a mistake to reject them outright simply because one isn’t directly interested in their ostensible subject.  I think people can all too often reject and push away what doesn't directly or objectively interest them, and that has led to the kind of polarization and lack of national unity we are experiencing at the moment.  I mean, let’s face it, we’re all holding a lot inside right now — the last two years have literally been all about “social distancing” where isolation and disconnection because of the pandemic have been the norm, while the last four plus one or two have seen civility fall by the wayside and watching or reading the news has increasingly become a challenge, as divisions in our country and across the world widen along racial, ethnic, political, and religious lines.  We’ve all had to confront uncertainty in ways we never thought possible, or even necessary.  The truth of the matter is… well, we can’t even agree on what constitutes “truth.”  The never-ending news cycle feels like a carnival ride you desperately want off of because that dodgy kebab, which seemed like a good idea at the time, is not sitting well in your stomach and threatening to repeat upon you.

And in the midst of it all along comes the Super Bowl.  We can suspend our external worlds, our usual conversations, and our worries to focus wholeheartedly on the game and all that surrounds it for a couple of hours.  The Super Bowl is a moment to set aside our agendas and join in on a national, communal event where we can cheer and release what we are holding inside, laugh at ingeniously creative commercials, hang on the suspense of a referee’s call, and be awed by the audacity of the halftime show, whether we like the entertainer(s) or not.  This uniquely American tradition offers us a chance to just be, to unplug from what is happening in the world, and to experience a moment of shared community, of belonging.  It can be a healing ritual.  It is for me. 

And when the game is over, unlike the news, which never ends, it’s over.  There’s a clear winner and a loser, and I honestly don’t care which team is which, although I do have a friendly bet with a friend on the Los Angeles Rams coming out victorious as I am a native Angeleno and I believe rooting for your home team is required in these situations.  So be it.  Win or lose, there’s a sense of resolution and understanding on both sides.  And boy do we need that!

Super Bowl 2022

Then there's the certainty of rest and the hope that comes from looking ahead to another year and another “big” game.  Resolution, understanding, certainty, hope for the future — we all could use those at this moment in time.  Throw in wide receivers and tight ends, and what’s not to like?

I still avoid the actual throwing and catching of balls, though, as my basketball tryout scarred me for life.

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