It gives me great pleasure to report that last Sunday I watched my first NFL game with my newborn son.
Actually, to paint the full picture there were three of us immersed last Sunday, including my 83-year-old father-in-law, and together we were locked down for diaper changes, bottle warming, and burping amidst a ridiculously full slate of pro and bowl games. While the new arrival can't speak as of yet, it's well-documented that I speak enough for two during a game, and my father-in-law can speak for three -- loudly, since he tends to forget to put his "ears" in, and proceeds to talk over a TV set with the volume jacked up to the proverbial Spinal Tap "11."
We were like the three ages of man (or should I say fan?) and it just so happens the little lad has a great sense of timing. I mean how many of us enter the world just in time to see the Pats go undefeated, or see his first Buffalo Sabres game, which just happens to be the Winter Classic, an amazing hockey event played outdoors on a snowy day at the Ralph in front of 70,000 rabid fans?
The Bills loss to the Eagles didn't even sting as we shared a time-honored Bakay family experience -- watching the Bills lose, fall short of .500 for the season, casting me in the role of sherpa as I introduced him to the familiar task of packing up our hopes and dreams and loading them on a bus with the destination sign "Next year!" Not to pick on the Bills -- I love 'em, and I'm sure every father with a passion for the game will understand my pride on the day my son was initiated into a series of grand traditions -- home, family, and a Buffalo Bills loss. I mean that with no smirk and no winks, because the bottom line is the glory of being a football fan is paid in full every year your team falls short. That's what makes the wins so sweet. Welcome to my world, little man. I have no complaints.
Ironically, just as I assume the role of father, Marv Levy, the franchise father figure, stepped down after taking on a messy situation and doing an incredible job of getting the team back on track in two short years. As I watched the '07 Bills play with a baby boy in my arms, I couldn't help remembering all the magic moments the Bills have given me over the years.
Sure, the Super Bowl years jump to mind, buxom with sterling memories of Kelly, Thomas, Reed, Hull, Talley, Smith and Tasker. No team will ever be that fun again for me ... but for some reason, harder years resonated on a deeper level. Maybe because they took me back to when I was a boy and everything was fresh and undiscovered.
I found myself reminiscing to 1970, when I went to every home game at the old Rockpile, loving every second of it despite the fact that the Bills only won three games all year, and only one at home -- although it was against the Jets and none other than Joe Willie Namath. The roster was filled with players I'll never forget, from the brilliant WR tandem of Marlin Briscoe and Haven Moses, Mike "The hit heard round the world" Stratton, and the world's most colorful punter, name o' Paul Maguire ... to those who are now infamous -- O.J. Simpson, A.C. Cowlings, and Jim Dunaway.
There were more lean years to come, but it never cut my zeal. As I played football as a youth, I idolized Bills players who may be obscure today but remain immortal to every lunch-bucket Buffalonian who admired the way they found a way to excel despite the moribund team results they endured -- names that mean so much to me, like Tony Greene, Robert James, Jim Braxton, J.D. Hill, and my favorite forgotten kick returner, Wallace Francis.
You bet! I'll even throw in Maurice Tyler and raise you Alvin Wyatt!
It is at this point that it's only natural to look down at your son and wonder: Who will his heroes be? To hell with that, if he becomes a football fan, who will his team be? As of this moment, I live in L.A., so he's got no choice in the matter -- he's a Bills fan by default as long as the team stays rooted where it belongs in Western New York. That being said, with all this talk of Toronto and small market and other terrifying rumblings, I shudder to think both of us might be scouting for a new team to follow in the coming years ... a thought that scared me a hell of a lot more before I was blessed with young eyes through which to rediscover the game.
Alas, I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm starting to realize this fatherhood thing can do that to you -- you look at a 2-week-old child and you start projecting ahead in large, 10-year clumps. Providing he ends up sharing his dad's love for the game, my hope is that he sees his team win a Super Bowl, and if it's the Buffalo Bills, well ... then I am officially out of words.
Needless to say, our first, glorious NFL Sunday was a fantastic moment for me, all the richer for me because for most of my days I would have bet the house it'd never happen. Such is life. The journey unfolds, people change, destiny rolls the bones, and here I am, delighted to be writing this as a newborn sleeps. Hopefully that explains the lack of column last week, as well as the reason my shirts now sport even more stains than usual ... some of which smell like soy formula -- a protein I have yet to snack on during a game, but after this little miracle, I am officially out of the "never" business.