Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Hollow condolences

My self-assigned mission as an editorial cartoonist back in the 20th Century was to change the world, to kick ass and take names. I wanted the powerful to weep in remorse, to repent and reform.

My reach, in other words, exceeded my grasp.

Every once in a rare while, I kowtowed. Thus, this 'toon.

The 49ers had just trounced the Denver Broncos 55-10 in the Super Bowl™®©.

I probably needed a break from revolutionary zeal and decided to play to the partisan (Stockton, Calif.) crowd, and anointed quarterback Joe Montana and wide receiver Jerry Rice in one of the lamer cliché go-tos for any cartoonist, The Creation of Adam in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel.

Maybe, just maybe, I probably thought. someone would see Joe and Jerry — someone who doesn't usually read the editorial page — and linger a bit before going elsewhere in The Stockton Record.

From sketch to finish, though, it felt false. I wasn't a fan of the 49ers at the time, and I'm not really now; in fact, during that Super Bowl™®©, I was hiking the quiet lonely streets of San Francisco with my wife and brother- and sister-in-law.

I stopped being a football fan during high school freshman football, a languid nanosecond after I discovered that with a certain vector of force, my knees can also bend sideways. (I'm squirming in my office chair just trying to type this sentence and fight off that memory.)

From then on, I couldn't see the point of football.

It was different when I was a kid and invincible. Football was everything. Those old NFL Films recaps of the week's games were like steroids to me. I'd stoke up on the John "The Voice of God" Facenda's baritone rumble as he narrated the highlights in poetic, patriotic gravity. Massive football players would break tackles and teeth in slow motion — always in slow motion — churning turf and sweat and steam as they galloped down field.

They ran to an odd mix of music from Sam Spence, either manic riffs on 1970s detective movie soundtracks, or martial drum- and horn-driven orchestral arrangements of folk music such as "Greensleeves" and "What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor?" (Really? Really.)

I'd run out to the front yard with my football and evade drunken sailors for open field-runs until sundown, humming that tune all the while. Football was cachet in the schoolyard. Catch a pass and the other boys deigned to accept you. Catch a touchdown pass and you became a hero. Intercept a pass for a touchdown, and you basked in simultaneous reverence and revulsion until recess was over.

When I was eight, I announced my plans to play professional football. When I was eight, my parents explained that the odds of me becoming a pro lay overwhelmingly against me, that careers get cut short and players become crippled in their early old age.

I still don't really know if my parents were dream killers, scared to death for me, or imbued with superheroic powers of practicality.

My team then was the San Francisco 49ers. Except John Brodie was the quarterback, and Gene Washington his main receiver, Ted Kwalick the tight end. And that exhausts my memory of that team, because just like every other kid, I never watched an entire game or followed the season. I wanted only to go out and play.

Except I remember that another wide receiver on the Minnesota Vikings was also named Gene Washington. "What were the chances?" I remember thinking. How weird for them, getting confused for one another at restaurants and so forth.

Funny what fascinates an eight-year-old.

And I got to go to a game with my dad. With the magic of the Internet, I now remember that it was Dec. 10, 1972 (I was in fifth grade), and my aunt's husband had given us the tickets to seats on the very top row under the lip of Candlestick Park's rim, which was designed to catch and hold the chill, whistling wind all game long. Somewhere down on the field, far far away, the 49ers shut out the Atlanta Falcons, 20-0.

The 49ers' glory years of Montana and Rice and Dwight Clark and Steve Young passed me by while I became interested in other things. I kept a weather eye out for the team this year because new coach Jim Harbaugh found a way to put a struggling quarterback, Alex Smith, into a new setup (don't ask me what it is; the terminology flummoxes me) and win their way to the playoffs. The team's last-minute win over the New Orleans Saints two weeks ago may go down as one of the best ever playoff games.

The 49ers lost last weekend to the Giants (no news to you), setting up a boring Super Bowl that's already set off orgasmic convulsions of delight for the East Coast entertainment empire.

The team had a Cinderella season. I might watch a game or two next year.

1 comment:

  1. I'm squirming, too, as I think of your knees jutting out past your hips. I'm also scanning memories of my own; the names Staubach, Pearson, Lilly, Landry replacing Montana and company. Yep, many Sunday afternoons bursting out the door, my Cowboy helmet on and football in hand, ready to take on the patsy of the moment - single-handed, of course.
    Now, if I can just be allowed a glimmer that there is sufficient possibility that, perhaps, a Cowboy team could pull off what Harbaugh and his rejuvenated gang of gold-miners did this season?