Today is Sunday, September 4th, 2005: The final non-NFL Sunday of the year. For me, this week will be the official end of the summer, although as far as I’m concerned the NFL’s season should begin today, and thus summer should be over. For some reason that I’ve yet to figure out, the NFL has decided to push its season back a week, meaning that instead of having the season start during the first week of September and end during the final week of December, it now begins during the second week of September and ends during the first week of January.
Indeed, the Bears played their final game of the 2004 season on January 2nd, 2005, and they will play their final game of the 2005 season on January 1st, 2006. Still, sixteen games in 2005, any way you cut it.
As the football season is pushed back, the public school year is pushed forward. Growing up, school always began on the day after Labor Day, but now many schools in the Chicago suburbs begin during the final weeks of August. Even so, regardless of this gap between school and football, and regardless of the 80 plus degree weather and burning sun in Indianapolis, the start of September means the end of summer. These four months, the final four of the year, the four that are connected by season as well as by linguistics, are to me the clear marker for the end of the year, and yet also for the beginning. As a 23-year-old only a year and a half removed from my academic career, I still see the year divided into three clear sections: section one, September to December, the start of the school year to winter break; section two, January to May, the end of winter break to the end of the school year and the start of warm weather; and section three, June to August, the start of the summer into the beginning of a new school year. As it happens, the three big sports fall pretty neatly into these borders, as the football season is played during the fall and beginning of winter, the basketball season picks up after the Super Bowl and ends in May with the Finals in June, and the baseball season is considered a summer sport. Then comes the World Series, the Fall Classic, which gives way to the second half of the football season. And around and around we go.
Just as the start of September was a transitional period, so was Sunday a transitional night. It wasn’t just the fact that Sunday is the last day of the weekend, and the last night to do homework for Monday’s classes; it was my personal Sunday arch that made the day stand out. After Saturday night, the recreational peak of the weekend, Sunday morning was always a relaxed, family morning. Weekday mornings were hurried, with everyone’s mind on the day that would soon be at hand, and Saturday mornings were excited, with the family looking to fully enjoy an entire day away from school and work. Sunday mornings, on the other hand, were simply peaceful and enjoyable, with nothing large on the horizon for the day ahead, and yet as the day went along, our attitudes and moods shifted from relaxation to reflection, and finally, to preparation.
The football season played right into these attitudes, and in many ways, enhanced them. I would wake up and enjoy the morning, but as the clock crept closer to noon, I became more and more focused on the impending Bears game. Next came the pregame shows, and finally the coin toss, and then the kick off, and the game was underway. Football is not like basketball or hockey, and it is the absolute opposite of baseball. One game a week…that’s all you get. Just sixteen chances to show what you’re all about, and in turn, just sixteen chances to watch the Bears, to watch your team, to cheer your heroes. Football brings out the best fans, and the best in them. We, the football fans, we are the real deal. We are the truest, the most intense, the most sincere, the most loving, the most hateful, the most passionate, the most emotional, the ones with the highest expectations for hard play, the ones who have the strongest connections to fellow fans. We are football fans. We endure the most hurt, enjoy the greatest victories, and live for the thrill of the game of football.
After the game, my afternoon mood was dependent upon the game’s outcome. After losses, I sulked. After wins, I soared. My brother and I did our homework, which always took the entire afternoon. If it came after a loss, I slacked off out of anger. If it came after a win, I procrastinated during daydreams.
And then came dinner, my favorite dinner of the week. Sunday night dinners were special, because they were spent with my parents, my brother, and Nana and Papa. Some nights we’d go out, meeting Nana and Papa at one of our favorite restaurants, but most often we ate at home. My grandparents would arrive at 5:30 or so, and we’d go into our routine. Hugs and kisses at the door, the hanging of the coats, big hellos from Nana to Killarney, and then Papa would have a seat on the couch while Nana would go into the kitchen to talk with my mom and prepare some appetizers. Mom would make Papa’s drink—a dry Manhattan with a lot of vermouth—and then we would all sit down, the six of us, and talk. We’d tell stories, we’d laugh and crack jokes, we’d inevitably become involved in some bizarre scenario which was usually spawned by an aggressive encounter with Killarney and some cheese or shrimp or something, and by the time we were done it was time to eat. Mike and I sat next to each other, on one side of the table, with Nana and Papa across from us, and my parents at the head of the table.
Some nights it was barbeque, with burgers, brats, and dogs for all, and other nights it was ribs from Carsons, or Chinese food for the five of them with fried chicken for me. We’d eat and talk, tell more stories and more jokes, talk about what was going on in our lives and what we had “on tap” for the week. We’d talk about the Bears, how they looked that day, and what their chances were for the season. We’d keep Killarney away from the food, only to have Papa secretly feed him under the table. We’d finish up, have some dessert and coffee, and finally say goodnight whenever Nana and Papa were tired. They’d pet the dog, and we’d help them with their coats, give them hugs and kisses goodbye, and walk them to the car to see them off. Then it was upstairs to finish our homework, wash up, and get ready for bed, a new week around the corner, and a new Bears opponent on the way.
I’ve just watched the Cubs shutout the Pittsburgh Pirates to complete a three game sweep, and I must admit that as soon as the game was over, I went online to check the standings. Why? Why do I do this? Why would I put myself through—
Wow! We’re only six and a half games out of the Wild Card lead. Most of the other teams haven’t played yet tonight. If those teams lose, then we’re six games out. We’re 66-70, which means that we’ve got 26 games left in the season, and we’re only six games behind Philly…
Ah, crap. The pain of Cubs fandom. Back and forth I go. The cynic and the optimist. The man who knows that we don’t have a chance because he’s seen how these things go, and the man who knows that anything is possible because, alas, he’s seen how these things go. They string us along, they keep us hanging on until the very last moment, and then they pull out the carpet and say, “Nope, you were right the first time. Shoulda given up two months ago. Sorry fella. Didn’t mean to hurt you.” Of course they didn’t. Fool me once: shame on you. Fool me twice: shame on me. Fool me for 95 straight years: welcome to life as a Cubs fan.
The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina continues to dominate the news; every 24-hour news station is covering the relief efforts…it’s nearly a sure bet that if you want to check in on the situation, you’ll be able to at any time. It’s nice to finally see news clips that don’t include harsh winds and rain, or panicked people shrieking for help. Furthermore, the civilian response in this country has been overwhelming. As of yesterday, the Red Cross had raised over 37 million dollars in relief funds, which is a testament to the spirit and goodness of Americans. Take out the few number of criminals who fired at relief workers and looted anywhere they could, as well as the slow response time from the government, and what I see is a great country doing all they can to help people in need.
As usual, we’re also now seeing the affects of a national crisis in the sports world. The entire Louisiana sports landscape is in disarray, personally, physically, and logistically. With the Superdome in absolutely no shape to host football games, the Saints are still trying to figure out where they are going to play home games in 2005. As is the Tulane football team, not to mention the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets and the Tulane men and women basketball teams. But where the teams will play is the least important concern. The athletes in New Orleans are, first and foremost, most concerned with the safety and well-being of their family members. And the student-athletes at Tulane have to figure out where they will be going to school now, since all students at Tulane are now looking to go elsewhere. What a mess.
My parents are spending the weekend in Washington Island with their friends Cathy and Mike O’Hara. MJ is out in Kansas, getting ready for his senior year. I am in Indianapolis, looking for work and starting a new chapter of my life. Nana is at home.
“Oh, hi! Hi Jack. How’s Indianapolis?”
“It’s fine. Just hanging out, looking for work.”
“Yeah? How’s Meghan?”
“How are you doing, Nana?”
“I’m good. I’m going to the club a little later with some friends.”
“And then tomorrow I’m going to Ravinia for their Labor Day festival.”
“Yeah. Have you talked to your brother?”
“I talked to him the other day. He’s doing well.”
“Yeah. I called your folks today. I talked to Mike, because your mom and Cathy were getting a massage. So it sounds like they’re having a good time up there.”
“I’m sure. I haven’t talked to them yet, but I’m sure they’re having fun.”
“Yeah. Oh, thank you so much for calling. I love hearing your voice.”
“Of course. I realized it was Sunday, so I had to talk to you.”
“And how. It’s our day.”
“Well honey, I have to go and get ready for dinner.”
“OK Nana. Great talking to you.”
“You too, sweetie. Bye.”