It was a clear, cool autumn night, and I had to go to bed. I had bathed, brushed my teeth and combed my clean hair into a straight mop, the kind that all the rest of the kids in second grade had. I was hoping that there would be some exception made for me, that tonight would be different. But Dad's firm voice from the kitchen said otherwise. To bed. Where was the justice? This was a rare occasion, a nationally televised event. It wasn't a moon landing. The Jets were on Monday Night Football.
There was something about the way Dad told you to go to bed. He never yelled - ever, really. He spoke and stared with a determined, somewhat amused expression. The more I protested, the more he offered a determined gesture to the stairs. The grim reality of the day's end could not be avoided. I use these mannerisms myself today as I persuade reluctant students to come to homeroom instead of standing around the hallway, blocking the flow of traffic. But Dad also knew that the Jets were never going to beat the Patriots. This was 1976. The Jets were experiencing one of their lowest performances in franchise history, while the Patriots were experiencing their best. Sort of like last year. He was saving me from the worst drubbing the Jets had received since 1971.
Did Dad ever wonder if I would wake up the next morning as some kind of changeling finally capable of hitting a fastball, capable of adding three digit numbers, capable of mastering the art of tying together newspapers in the garage without all the sturm und drang with which I usually applied myself to chores around the house? It's not as if the Jets were going to exceed anyone's basic expectations. This was a game where Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan gained 103 yards against the Jets defense, including a 41 yard sprint in the first half for a touchdown. He recovered a fumble by his offense for a touchdown that made it 27-0 in the third quarter. Clark Gaines would score a late touchdown. The Jets would lose by a final tally of 34 points.
I never learned to hit a fastball. I learned that the best way to collect the newspapers was to tie them into smaller piles, but only after reading as much as I could of them there, sitting in the garage, next to the unused twine. And I simply came to a point, too, where I accepted that my father's strength for Math was not my own. My wife takes care of our bills, and, at present, I do not have an adequate sense of my money's status in a sinking economy, except that I know that I had no real money to lose in the first place. Dad came to accept nearly everything I turned into because that is essentially his way. For themselves, the Jets have never really outgrown their role as the overrun underdog. It has been their way, even in the greatest triumphs. It will likely always be thus. Though the lessons from my life's pursuits and disciplines have sometimes eluded me over time, I know that being a Jets fan, ironically, has permanently granted me my father's gift for patience and acceptance. There is no other way.