It’s the first day of the NFL season, I’m in Green Bay for the Bears’ opener, and I am thinking of my dad.
It is nearly 80 degrees today, which would have made him very happy. I can’t remember ever going to a Bears game with my father when it was warmer than 34. And that was in September.
If you drew up a list of the top three things my father hated, the cold would have ranked somewhere between getting wet with his clothes on and Nazi Germany. That said, he loved the Bears and was a season-ticket holder for over 40 years.
I would go with him and my brothers often, almost every game with my brothers for many years during my childhood, and watching my dad shiver and curse at the cold was more fun than the game (particularly with the Bears teams we were watching).
Bundled up in longjohns, as he would call them, he would drink hot chocolate and sometimes a little something extra slipped in, and then lose his body heat sometime in the middle of the first quarter.
We would watch the Bears’ angry round coach Abe Gibron stalk the sideline and their quarterback Bobby Douglass throw missiles off the hands of his receivers. And then, in 1975, a young running back from Jackson, Miss., named Walter Payton was recruited by the Bears and watching my father shiver lost all its appeal.
Eventually my dad would run out of patience and circulation needed to watch Bears’ games in person but football season never lost its appeal.
My brother Barry’s mood for the entire week was predicated on what the Bears did each Sunday. My dad would watch on one TV with whoever wanted to join him, and my mom would watch on another, unable to tolerate my father’s pessimism.
Typically, as soon as the Bears lost the lead, he’d proclaim, “Well, that’s it.”
He was not basing this on any deep football analysis but more like a succession of losing seasons. My mother had another interesting way of watching games, which was to run out of the room whenever the game was possibly nearing a dramatic conclusion.
This is where I came in handy, offering play-by-play updates to my mother in the bathroom or kitchen or wherever it was she took refuge.
And you wonder why I’m a touch neurotic.
Today when I left my house to drive to Green Bay, my son Alec asked me who I picked to win the game tonight, and I told him the Packers.
“Thank you,” he said dramatically. “You’re always wrong. No offense.”
None taken, of course. Picking against the Bears comes naturally to me. When I was younger and closer to my life as a fan, these media predictions that were required of me really threw me.
If I picked the Bears to win and they lost, I was fairly convinced that I was the reason. So I sub-consciously and superstitiously took the opposite tact and picked against them whenever I was unsure.
And to think fans might have taken these predictions seriously.
No offense taken.