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This Family Event Is Still Super After XVI Years

January 18, 1998|BILL PLASCHKE

The most enduring tradition of our jumbled lives started in the cramped living room of strangers, two toddlers tugging at our feet, trying to watch a stupid football game.

It was January 1982. We were at a party early. We promised one of my wife's co-workers we would visit his family later.

We arrived just as Dan Bunz was tackling Charles Alexander at the one-yard line.

It would be embellishment to suggest we felt anything special as we left their small house after watching the San Francisco 49ers defeat the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XVI.

"Thanks, that was fun," we said, or something like that. "Let's do it again sometime."

The next year, though still merely acquaintances, we invited the same family to our duplex, on the other side of our Florida town, sitting on saggy couches in front of a dusty TV.

It would be sweet fantasy to think they were sentimental when they left after watching the Washington Redskins defeat the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII.

"Thanks, that was fun," they said, or something like that. "Let's do it again sometime."

When next January showed up, they were gone, having moved 3,300 miles to Portland.

But, in what we are now certain was not a coincidence, we were also gone, having moved 3,500 miles to Seattle.

We called them shortly after both families had moved in. We didn't want to sound presumptuous, but we did have one thing in common.

"Hey, you guys want to come up for the Super Bowl?"

They surprised us. They did.

Later, lounging around our new apartment for Super Bowl XVIII, we decided the only thing stranger than the Raiders' victory over the Redskins was that our two families had traveled across the country to watch it together.

That tug of tradition we felt that night was real. So, now, is this:

Next weekend the Plaschkes and Kummerers will be celebrating the Super Bowl together for the 17th consecutive year.

This, despite living in the same town for only two of those 17 years.

Eight times they've come to our house. Seven times we've gone to theirs. Twice we've celebrated at neutral sites, including once at the actual game, with tickets for which we are still paying.

We have discovered the only sports bar in the world that was closed on Super Bowl Sunday, a joint in suburban Portland.

We have been so worn out after a weekend with the seven children, my buddy Lou Kummerer fell asleep during Joe Montana's famous drive against the Bengals.

Then, three years ago in Miami, I rushed home from Florida in mid-Super Bowl week for the birth of our third child. Lou gave up his ticket and rushed home with me.

Our worlds are as far apart as the AFC and NFC. The Kummerers have moved to Costa Rica; we live here. Those children that tugged at our feet? One is now a student at Notre Dame, the other a high school senior.

But come January, somebody will call somebody else, and arrangements will be made. And when we see each other, we will hug, and mean it, another year survived, another return to shore.

We have no idea exactly what we will be doing on the other important days that mark our calendar. Thanksgiving is harried, the holidays are political.

But for 17 years now, we have known what we are doing on Super Bowl weekend, and who we are doing it with, and in that stability there is a sense of relief that our lives really aren't the madly spinning toys they seem to be.

My hunch is, we aren't the only ones. That is the beauty of next week's game in San Diego, no matter how much the money and hype will try to spoil it.

The Super Bowl is not about the actual game, or it would have died long ago. It is not about the sport--most members of the Plaschke-Kummerer families don't even follow football the rest of the year.

The Super Bowl is the rarest of occurrences in this age of strike and scandals. It is a day you can count on.

The game might be bad, but the day will be good. From that morning battle of backyard touch . . . to the 60-minute championship that fits as well in rural living rooms as million-dollar luxury boxes . . . to the postgame pizza.

You will probably remember only a couple of players. You won't remember the score. But you will remember the day.

This one should be better than ever. San Diego is a wonderful host for these sorts of things. Next weekend should be a wild mixture of zoo and sea and Old Town.

Me, I'll mostly be home, with the Kummerers, sitting on lawn chairs and playing cards and remembering Dan Bunz.

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