My Dad has a lot to be proud of. Me, of course. My brother and sister, to a lesser extent. My father dropped out of Lincoln High School in Brooklyn (“You know, Neil Sedaka went to Lincoln,” he told us often, to no reaction at all) to dedicate himself full-time to league bowling, but got serious quickly enough to get his GED, join the army, complete his service, marry my mother, fire me from his testes, work three jobs simultaneously, have my sister, and earn a college degree by age 27. The high school dropout son of an elevator operator went on to become Senior Vice President of a major corporation. The American dream realized.
Among my Dad’s proudest achievements is his role in The Revolution of 2006. As you probably read in the papers at the time, five years ago, some “jerkoff” in my father’s office cafeteria decided to replace the perfectly good coffee that sold for 65 cents a cup — with Starbucks coffee, priced at a dollar a cup. And while many fully employed Americans might shrug a 35-cent price increase off, my father knew that this was his moment to take a stand. He went first to the ground, gaining support amongst fellow cafeterians, who (he says) agreed that a coffee change was unnecessary and unwanted — then took his case to his company’s head of procurement who, for whatever reason (most likely indifference), agreed immediately to cast the money-grubbing coffee mermaid back into the sea. Victory was his. Seattle had been slew.
In other words, my father is cheap. With that said, my parents are the most generous people I know. My Dad would give a needy stranger his last dollar. He took a pay cut voluntarily to avoid laying others off. He’ll fight you for a dinner check — with fists. But he’s cheap. Send him to the market for Oreos, he’ll come back with Hydrox. If “children under eight get in for half price” we, his children, were under eight. I was under eight until I was 15. My father was our landscaper, gardener, pool boy, and light switch turner-offer. Why pay someone 10 bucks to mow the lawn when you can spend four hours on a 110-degree Saturday mowing it yourself?
In 1978, we followed my aunt, uncle, and grandparents from Brooklyn to Las Vegas, land of the all-you-can-eat-buffet. “Enough with the mashed potatoes!” he’d tell me, “Mashed potatoes cost two cents a plate. That’s what they WANT you to eat! Go get some roast beef …” The company my father worked for owned the Frontier Hotel, then the longtime home to a prechewed Siegfried and Roy. Despite a daily barrage of billboards and local TV commercials I, like most teenage boys, had no desire to see The Masters of Impossible at work, but my Dad got free tickets, so we went. (The highlight of the show was an elephant urinating so forcefully that drenched Japanese businessmen in the front row had to take cover under cocktail tables). There were always free tickets (called “comps”) to be had in Las Vegas — and if it was comped, we were there. We saw a college-age Larry Bird, in Farrah Fawcett’s hair, play in the Pizza Hut All-American Game at the Las Vegas Convention Center. We saw “Sha Na Na”, a ’50s cover band fronted by “Bowser,” a man with a mouth the size of a car-wash bucket, perform outside the food court at The Meadows Mall. When we got our first professional baseball team, the Triple-A Las Vegas Stars, we were at the inaugural game, where my usually mild-mannered father erupted in a sudden outburst of intense violence, diving over me, my brother, my friend, and my friend’s father, then wrestling three strangers on the ground for a souvenir foul ball now valued at more than six dollars. But it was free.
Have I mentioned that my Dad looks just like Wolf Blitzer? He does. So much so that, after the Republican national convention in Tempe in 2004, Tom Brokaw and his colleagues spotted “Wolf” on the street and invited him to join them for dinner. (Unfortunately, my father got nervous, making this the one comp he turned down).
In 1986, when I was 17, my Dad got a job in Phoenix, which meant our family would relocate. Already enrolled in college at UNLV, I refused to relocate with them. My parents insisted. I resisted. Finally, at the 11th hour, I agreed to move to Arizona on the condition that we would get cable television at the house. My father agreed. Basic cable, no pay channels.
There wasn’t much to do in Phoenix. There certainly weren’t any elephants urinating on the Japanese. But we did have a (debatably) professional football team, and my Dad’s coworker Dave had Cardinals season tickets. Dave had two seats near the 10-yard line, about 15 rows up. He offered us his seats for a preseason game against the Seahawks. Neither of us actually wanted to sit through a meaningless game between two lousy teams in the oppressive August heat but, again, the tickets were free. We had to go. I had no idea that I was about to bear witness to the most astonishing moment in sports history.
Since this day, I have seen many memorable athletic events. I was at the March Madness game in Boise when Tyus Edney of UCLA raced the length of the court, dribbling behind his back to bank a shot that beat Missouri by a point. I saw a 37 year-old Magic Johnson score a near-triple-double in his first game back after retiring because of HIV. I saw the Patriots shock the Rams in the Super Bowl at the Superdome. At a charity golf tournament organized by James Worthy, I saw 40 men hit the ground simultaneously to avoid being hit in the face by two Special Olympians teeing off backwards. I’ve seen many remarkable things, but none topped this.
Sun Devil Stadium was about half full. My Dad and I were in Dave’s seats. Between the first and second quarters, the PA announcer called out a section, a row number, and a seat. Whoever was in the seat they picked would get a chance to kick a field goal for a sum of money I can’t recall. We were nowhere near the winning section, so we paid little attention to the contest. The game resumed. At halftime, we were not among those in line for overpriced beer or a five-dollar hot dog. “That’s what they want you to eat!” We remained in our seats. The announcer said something to the effect of “Hey, Cardinals fans — it’s time for the Fan Field Goal challenge. Today’s fan is from Section 43, Row H, Seat 5 — and let’s welcome her now!”
There was some cheering, not much — mostly, I’d guess, from Section 43. The first thing that caught my eye was the dog walking across the field. A German shepherd. The next thing I noticed was a man who looked like a Cardinals team representative slowly leading an older woman by the hand. And then I knew the woman was blind. And the stadium fell silent.
My father looked at me with the same threatening eyes I’d later turn on my 5-year-old son when he spotted a very fat man in the supermarket and started to point. “Don’t say a word,” they told me. I didn’t. Back to the action. At about the 15-yard line, a boy placed a football on a tee. Slowly, very slowly, the team representative led the woman to the ball, allowing her to “feel” it with her foot. I couldn’t even begin to process what was happening. A BLIND WOMAN was going to try to KICK A FIELD GOAL in an NFL STADIUM! “Good for her!” you might be thinking, “Now, there’s a woman who refuses to let her disability get the best of her!” And, in retrospect, I agree, but at the time my brain felt like it was loaded with Pop Rocks.
The crowd remained frozen. Still holding her hand, the team rep cautiously backed the sightless woman five steps away from the ball. It was happening. No one made a sound. The only relaxed person in the stadium was a dog, which was now lounging on the turf. “And here we go!” the PA announcer boomed.
I wish I could tell you that she booted the ball through the uprights and into the cheering crowd, but she didn’t. She puttered vaguely toward the ball, came to a complete stop, and kind of waved her foot until it hit something. Her shoe grazed the side of the football, leaving it tilted slightly, but still very much on the tee. And then there was another moment of silence, followed by a round of patronizing applause, and it was over. The dog got up and the Cardinals employee led the woman away.
And then I started laughing very hard. My father, noting that I was the only one laughing, knew then that he’d raised a monster. I still can’t believe it happened. Had this kick taken place 20 years later than it did, hundreds of videophones would have captured it and its view count on YouTube would probably rival a video of Justin Bieber riding a panda on a skateboard. My hope is that someone who was at that game in 1988 will read this and confirm that it wasn’t a fever dream brought on by the Arizona heat. Or maybe the blind lady herself will surface with her account of the events of that day. Or maybe the guy who led her out on the field … anyone. I would at least like to hear from the dog.
On Father’s Day this year, I’ll take my Dad to the racetrack. He won’t gamble, but they have a buffet. I’ll go light on the mashed potatoes and hope that something weird happens. And even though I paid for them, my gift will be telling him I got the tickets for free.