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Man of the House by Chris Erskine

The miracle of football

In a house full of fans, the baby is developing a taste for amazing games.

September 25, 2003|Chris Erskine

This new baby is fascinated by many things: dogs, sparrows, Mylar balloons. Every day, he runs across some new thing that will guarantee him a fuller, richer life.

"This is football," I say.

I flip on a game and lay a tiny piece of cheese on his 9-month-old tongue. He takes it like a first communion. "Thank you, God," he thinks, for good food and football and this guy who's holding me, whoever he is.

"You're a guy, right?" I remind him. "Just because you're full doesn't mean you have to stop eating."

The baby nods, accepts this notion, then gums the processed cheese into something resembling school paste. On TV, the Giants are looking for a touchdown.

"And Collins' pass is complete at the 27," the announcer confirms.

"Did you hear that?" I say. "The Giants are moving the ball."

This seems to delight him. He yanks my ear and throws my eyeglasses to the floor. He waves his arms as if conducting the philharmonic through some Wagner war march. A little more violin. A touch more brass. Hey, trombones, a little less vibrato.

"See the quarterback?" I tell him. "Watch the way he freezes the linebacker."

"Touchdown, Giants," the announcer says.

The baby looks up at me. Did that dude just say "touchdown?"

"Yep, that's a touchdown," I say.

There are two Cheerios stuck to the baby's elbow and, based on past experiences, probably several beneath his shirt and britches.

In fact, since he started eating Cheerios last month, the baby's been almost breaded in them, like a nice piece of cod. Friends stop by and just assume we're having seafood.

"Nice piece of fish," they'll say.

"Actually, that's our new baby," we explain.

"Boy?"

"Free safety," I say.

I see this kid playing free safety, perhaps, or as a savvy wide receiver. Big hands. Big heart. Might end up a cello player, I don't care. As long as he'll sit and watch football with me. And rumble on the couch during timeouts.

"Where'd Mom go?" the little girl asks.

"To some school meeting," I say.

"Uh-oh," the little girl says.

"What?"

"Dallas looks tired," she says.

It's a family illness, football is. As hereditary as good teeth or freckles. Rare is the home with only one fan. Usually, it strikes groups and lasts three days -- Saturday through Monday -- though occasional outbreaks occur on Thursday and Friday nights.

"The left guard blocks in and the left tackle blocks out," John Madden says during a replay. "And there's no one there to get Jones."

"This is the best Monday night game I've ever seen," says the teenage boy, blasting out of his bedroom at every score. "This is the best ever."

"This is amazing, this is amazing," Madden adds, as if answering him.

The baby is now standing in my lap and drooling over football. He's got hair like Peter Boyle and a smile like Mr. Magoo. Naturally, the women love him.

"See those bimbos?" I ask. "Those are cheerleaders."

"They are?"

"They used to wear sweaters and pleated skirts," I say. "They were sexy back then."

While he watches, I give him a little background on the game. How football was once the province of curmudgeonly, self-made men who found a sport bloodier than Big Business. Then how it was taken over by the networks and the marketing boys, who turned it into the slick robo-sport it is today. I'm not complaining. The Giants are making a game of it. The Cowboys look tired.

"And Barber spins out of a tackle and picks up maybe a first down," Al Michaels explains.

It's almost 1 a.m. on the Least Coast, where the game is being played. Meanwhile, the baby's got yogurt all over his little arms. He's like baby stickum. If you pick him up, you may never be able to set him down again.

"In a couple of years, I'll teach you how to scream at the TV," I promise him.

"Really?"

"After that, you'll advance to throwing things," I say.

"Like what?" he wonders.

"Pillows. Magazines. In big games, pretzels."

"Wow," he thinks.

There are two Cheerios stuck to my elbow and probably several more beneath my shirt and britches.

The Giants are moving the ball again, making an improbable comeback in a rain-soaked and wonderful early season game. In the booth, Al Michaels is laying out the situation, the best play-by-play man since Vin Scully.

"Do you believe in miracles?" I ask out loud.

I look at the baby. No reaction. I look at the little girl. Nothing. The boy bursts out of his bedroom again, wiggling like a running back. If I remember right, he was conceived during a timeout in a Bears-Packers game in 1985. Third quarter, the Packers were up by a field goal.

"This game is amazing!" the boy screams, then does a somersault on the floor.

Do you believe in miracles?

Why not?

*

Chris Erskine can be reached at chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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