I glanced at this magazine cover on the coffee table, and it struck me. Oh, yeah. The Super Bowl is coming up. Then I looked at it a little harder and realized that I had no idea who was playing. Ignorance sure was bliss, but I puzzled over the headline for a second. The Rams? 35 years? Then I shrugged and moved on with, you know, life.
The thing that cycling saved me from was football. Not that I ever played it or followed it, mind you, but growing up in Texas if you didn’t follow football, it followed you.
Every idiot starting at about age six talked about football, and no matter how disinterested you were in it, unless you were deaf you had to listen to the endless, mindless chatter about the game. And when you got older, it was “the big game.” There was always a “big game.” Every weekend.
I learned early that football was for other people. Sandlot and schoolyard football were brutal excuses to pound people’s faces into the dirt, and the smaller and slower you were the harder you got pounded. At some point I came up with the strategy of always lining up on the end, going long, and dropping the ball. This ensured that no one ever threw it to me, and no one ever tackled me.
On defense it was always the same suicidal order from some big dude who had hair on his nuts four years ahead of everyone else. “Everybody rush!” And you’d smash into some immovable meat hunk who would knock you on your butt or run over your head or both.
“Why?” I wondered, “should I spend my time outdoors voluntarily getting my head staved in when my brother did it to me continually at home against my will?”
The brutality was compounded by the fact that any boy wanting his boy badge had to sign up for Pop Warner no later than four, so by the time you were scrapping in the schoolyard during gym at age 12 or 13, half the kids were semi-pro. They ran fast, they threw accurate spirals, and they tackled not simply to knock you down, but to make sure you didn’t get back up.
I hated football and still remember the first time I rode my bicycle to San Marcos on Stupid Sunday. Roads empty. No one out. Best cycling day of the year except for maybe Christmas, and of course none of my buddies gave two squirty shits about football. By late January or February we were already speculating on Flanders and Roubaix, wondering who would open hostilities at Het Volk, eager to see if the Badger was going to to dominate Lemond again, or whether Fignon would make a comeback.
Football fans? Losers.
Still, in the real world you still had to hear the drivel about the big game and see it in the papers. Even though I never watched TV, my roommates did, and game day, always the “big game,” was an orgy of drunkenness, pot, and hysterical screaming.
One neighbor, Joe Vessowaite, was so tied up with the success and failure of the Cowboys that their performance on the field actually had the power to put him into six solid days of solid depression or manic euphoria. “My ‘Boys!” he’d say, as if, you know, they were his children or his friends or his family or his lovers or all of the above.
Then and now I wondered how an adult could have any portion of his identity wrapped up in the sporting success of interchangeable athletes? What difference did it make if Michael Jordan scored another touchdown, or if J.R. Richard kicked the baseball through the uprights?
And although friends knew better than to mention “the big game” to me, strangers and acquaintances didn’t. “How ’bout that game?” they’d say with satisfaction the day after, assuming I knew, assuming I cared, and assuming we’d both settle into an “intellectual” “discussion” of whether the Oilers’ two-minute game was any good, or whether Barry Switzer’s wishbone was what had made the difference in the incredibly important annual “shootout” between Texas and OU, and what this meant for the Southwest Conference standings.
Usually I would simply say “I didn’t watch it and don’t give a shit,” and thereby make a lifelong enemy.
But one day I was having my car worked on Cecil Cashman, a recalcitrant, misanthropic car genius if ever there was one. His garage was inside a fortress off of US 59, and in order to be one of his customers you had to be introduced, which I had been, by his equally misanthropic brother Dan.
It was a Monday and Cecil was ridiculing the grown men who cared about football. “Fuckin’ stupid ass big game,” he said. “It’s always the ‘big game.’ But you know what? I can’t tell ’em they’re a bunch of grown babies. If I did, I’d have zero customers.”
“So what do you do?” I asked.
“Pretty simple. Customer comes in all grinning and ready to talk fooball. ‘How ’bout that game?’ he’ll say. Always the same. They fucking assume you watched it so they don’t even need to say which one.”
“And I just look at ’em with a big old grin, shake my head, and say, ‘Yeah, boy!”
“Yep. Works like a charm. Fucking idiots then rattle on about it while I fix their car and charge them double, once for the work and once for having to listen to their drivel.”
Ever since then I enjoy Stupid Sunday as much as I always have. Empty roads, and a truly peaceful, easy feeling. And when people ask me “How ’bout that game?” they always get the perfect answer.