Long before the kickoff on Sunday, I will be the guest on Sree Sreenivasan's #NYTReadalong from 8:30-10:15 AM -- a weekly feature, usually with one Timesperson, present or past, discussing that day's edition and the ongoing evolution of this great paper. I will draw from my blessedly varied career at the NYT, news as well as sports, including my love-ennui relationship with the Super Bowl. Comments are welcome during the show. You can watch live or later on social media sites: Facebook | YouTube | LinkedIn | Twitter
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I Just Might Like This Super Bowl
Sunday's Super Bowl will be different from the first LIV Super Bowls: The Young Lady Poet.
In a flash of brilliance, the NFL – or maybe Jay-Z, the impresario of the show -- has recruited Amanda Gorman, the star of the Inauguration, to write and recite a poem honoring three admirable Americans.
Ms. Gorman is imprinted on my brain, a vision in yellow and red, a fresh face blinking in the mid-day sun, reciting her poem of hope to a nation ground down by four years of incompetence and cruelty.
Her presence is one of the great lateral plays ever: a pitchout from Dr. Jill Biden to her husband, who told the Inauguration folks, who made it happen, or rather, Ms Gorman made it happen.
Not yet 23, Amanda Gorman appealed to better selves more than anybody ever did at any Inauguration, including John F. Kennedy (“Ask not…”) and surely more than anybody ever has at a Super Bowl. I hope Ms. Gorman’s deals for modeling and publishing, the mass production of The New Great Thing, will not get in the way of her poetry and her idealism. But for the moment, she's the reason I plan to watch.
The young lady poet from LA and Harvard is quite a step up for the National Football League, in which quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt a time or three in homage to Black Lives Matter and has not thrown a pass since.
It may sound incongruous coming from a long-time sports columnist but I'm just not a fan of football -- waiting around all week for the ball to be in play something like 12 minutes. I covered some Super Bowls and I watched some -- a numbing week of buildup followed by the Big Game plus copious TV timeouts for new commercials plus the pregame show and the halftime show.
For playoff excitement, I’ll take a Stanley Cup final series (Islanders, early 80s) or Celtics-Lakers (mid 80s) or many World Cup soccer matches.
It all comes back to me now: the games I covered mostly blend into each other -- in midweek, buses took reporters to an arena where we made mooing sounds as if being guided by cattle prods, down a gloomy corridor to tables where players waited to be interviewed.
Fortunately, the sainted Dave Anderson was writing his knowing columns about the Super Bowl.
One year, my wife and I went to the New York Philharmonic, where Maestro Mehta asked the audience to please not follow the game on their phones, lest they cheer inadventently. Another time we went to a New Year feast in Chinatown, with the dragon parade from table to table.
I do have a few memories of Super Bowls:
1969. Super Bowl III – I followed up north as Joe Namath, in the good old informal days, could take a few rays poolside and tell reporters the Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts – and they did. Joe Willie’s loosey-goosey persona still looms over the game.
1970. IV. My first Super Bowl in person -- in cold, rainy New Orleans, where I spent a lot of wonderful time in Preservation Hall listening to Sweet Emma Barrett and the house musicians.
1982. XVI. Back after 10 years of being a news reporter in the Real World., I found myself stuck in a snow-bound Detroit suburb, the media piled into buses to the domed stadium in Pontiac. Then, Vice President George H.W. Bush chose to do some fund-raising in downtown Detroit and his late arrival clogged up the roadways with security, which meant reporters had to scramble over snowy fields to get to work, like overladen mountain goats.
1983. XVII. Rose Bowl – The rain-slicked Rose Bowl was no place for fancy stuff and race-horse football but a percheron named John Riggins lugged the ball for 166 yards and a Washington victory -- old-fashioned mudball.
1986. XX. The Chicago Bears, my favorite team from childhood, won, as defensive end Richard Dent, as supple as a limbo dancer, was voted the most valuable player, a rarity for a defensive player.
1987. XXI. Pasadena: Having criticized the management of the Giants in the past, I got to see George Young’s team win the Super Bowl, and in the winning clubhouse I shook the hand of Wellington Mara, the gracious and long-suffering owner.
2000. XXXIV. Atlanta. We were invited to a garden party at the home of Lynda and Furman (the iconic columnist) Bisher – but an ice storm forced them to cancel. My wife and I sat in our downtown hotel, watching drivers careen off guardrails on the Interstate like linemen whacking each other.
2003: XXXVII. In London to write about The Real Football, I watched the Super Bowl on the telly and was impressed by how well the English broadcasters knew the sport.
2015. Laura and Diane had just moved back east from Seattle, where they had become infatuated with the team they lovingly called The Fleahawks. In the closing minutes, Seattle drove toward what would be a game-winning touchdown. All they had to do was hand the ball off to Marshawn Lynch, the powerful fullback….but instead, quarterback Russell Wilson cocked his arm – and we screamed in unison: “Noooooo!!!!!” ---Interception in endzone. Fleahawks lost. Worst bench call in the history of the Super Bowl.
This year, nothing is normal. I may even watch the game itself, because of Pat Mahomes, the Chiefs' quarterback -- sort of the football version of the Lady Poet: young, smart, talented, engaging.
I will be rooting for her to have another great moment, with the world watching.
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(The links to theReadalong:)
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Links to my post: :
Did I have fun in New Orleans in 1970?
Spent most of my time here:
Worst Coach Call in Super Bowl history:
More and More, I Talk to the Dead--Margaret Renkl
NASHVILLE — After my mother died so suddenly — laughing at a rerun of “JAG” at 10 p.m., dying of a hemorrhagic stroke by dawn — I dreamed about her night after night. In every dream she was willfully, outrageously alive, unaware of the grief her death had caused. In every dream relief poured through me like a flash flood. Oh, thank God!
Then I would wake into keening grief all over again.
Years earlier, when my father learned he had advanced esophageal cancer, his doctor told him he had perhaps six months to live. He lived far longer than that, though I never thought of it as “living” once I learned how little time he really had. For six months my father was dying, and then he kept dying for two years more. I was still working and raising a family, but running beneath the thin soil of my own life was a river of death. My father’s dying governed my days.
After he died, I wept and kept weeping, but I rarely dreamed about my father the way I would dream about my mother nearly a decade later. Even in the midst of calamitous grief, I understood the difference: My father’s long illness had given me time to work death into the daily patterns of my life. My mother’s sudden death had obliterated any illusion that daily patterns are trustworthy.
Years have passed now, and it’s the ordinariness of grief itself that governs my days. The very air around me thrums with absence. I grieve the beloved high-school teacher I lost the summer after graduation and the beloved college professor who was my friend for more than two decades. I grieve the father I lost nearly 20 years ago and the father-in-law I lost during the pandemic. I grieve the great-grandmother who died my junior year of college and the grandmother who lived until I was deep into my 40s.
Some of those I grieve are people I didn’t even know. How can John Prine be gone? I hear his haunting last song, “I Remember Everything,” and I still can’t quite believe that John Prine is gone.
Jan. 30, 2023