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CHRIS ERSKINE / The Guy Chronicles

Football, Friends and Messy Nachos

November 18, 1998|CHRIS ERSKINE

Nobody talks much at first. Mostly, we make guy sounds. A snort. A grunt. Sounds we'd never make with wives around.

"What'd she say when you told her you were coming to watch the game?" my buddy Dave finally asks.

"She put me on waivers," I tell him.

"She can do that?"

"I guess so," I say.

We sit there for a moment watching the two teams on TV line up for the next play.

"Wonder if you're not claimed?" Dave asks.

"Then I'm free to sign with another wife," I say.

"What wife would want you?" he says.

"Good point."

And it's true. My knees are gone, blown out during a game of Twister in 1977. What wife would want me? I mean, who wants a husband who can never play Twister again?

"Is this great or what?" my buddy Dave says as a receiver scoops in a touchdown pass.

"This is the greatest," I say.

It's an indoor tailgate party, not as good as the real thing. But in L.A., it's the best you can do on a Sunday afternoon.

Of course, it didn't just happen. My buddy and I had been planning it for weeks, getting together to watch the big game, freed from that prison of female attention we normally live in. Not that we don't like female attention. As attention goes, it's our favorite. We just need parole now and then.

"You dope!" Dave yells at the TV.

"You dope!" yells the boy.

"You dope!" yells the boy's friend.

It is only the first quarter and we're already yelling at the TV. That's a good sign. That's how good this tailgate party is going to be.

"Let's eat," says Dave.

So we head to the kitchen, where the training table is.

"You made this?" I ask, pointing to the stove.

"Yeah," Dave says with a shrug.

"No, really, who made this?" I ask.

And so Dave shows me how he made Italian sausage from scratch, adding the spices--oregano, pepper, fennel seed and salt--then simmering it in a big pot of tomato sauce, so that when we walked into the kitchen the aroma nearly knocked us down. Like a gust of garlic wind.

"Dad, he really made this?" the boy whispers.

"Yeah, I guess," I say.

We take our sandwiches and head back to the den, where we eat awhile, then slump back on the couch and pat our bellies like a bunch of pregnant guys.

"You dope!" Dave yells at the TV.

"You dope!" yells the boy.

On the couch, the boy and his buddy, Bryan, eat nacho chips, taking a bite, then scanning their laps for the pieces they drop. Because even without women around, you can still feel their presence. And who knows? They may have the place bugged.

"Watch the chips," I say.

"OK," says the boy.

And we settle in for the second half, in a male nesting ritual that has been going on for decades now in dens across America, where a few guys get together to yell at the TV and drip nacho cheese on their T-shirts, a few precious hours of football and friendship.

I remember being 12 years old on afternoons just like this, watching the Bears or Vikings square off in chilly Great Lakes stadiums, in games where the players had no teeth and their breath poured out of their face masks like car exhaust.

Back then, the players all had gray faces--coal miner faces--faces that hadn't seen the sun in a month or two. And they were pretty mad about it, not seeing the sun. Which they always took out on the West Coast teams.

That's when tailgate parties were born, back in the '60s, in gritty cities of the Upper Midwest, where one day some guy on the way to the game threw a hibachi and some bratwurst in the back of his truck, just for the heck of it.

Well, pretty soon everybody was having tailgate parties, the smell of grilled meat drifting over the stadium like some frontal system. And the linebackers would stand around before the game and smell this grilled meat. They got pretty mad about it, not getting any grilled meat. In the end, it raised the level of play. In the end, a national pastime was born.

"Remember Butkus?" I ask my friend Dave.

"Yeah, Butkus," Dave says.

We pause to honor the memory of Dick Butkus, a guy who played like he'd just taken a bullet to the knee, limping around icy fields, smelling those tailgate barbecues and swiping at everything he saw. Referees. Beer vendors. Didn't matter, he swiped at it.

"Butkus," I say.

"Those were the days," Dave says.

And for once, the boys don't speak. They just sit there on the couch, making guy sounds and dropping nacho crumbs in their laps.

"I think," says the boy, "that these are the days."

Which is a pretty good point. Because no matter when it is, it's always someone's good old days.

"You're right," I tell the boy. "These are the good old days."

On TV, a blitzing linebacker knocks the ball loose.

On the couch, we all make guy sounds.

"Is this great or what?" the boy says.

"This is the greatest," says his friend.

Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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