05 November, 2009


Back in the Sixties, My best friend from my elementary school days, Ricky Elliott, had taught me how to box, play football, and find fossils in the Alabama piedmont rocks. And the team he loved was The Dallas Cowboys. And I, in turn, cheered for the team, through Staubach, Bob Hayes, The Doomsday Defense, and Tony Dorsett. In 1986, the monolithic Tom Landry benched my hero, Danny White, in favour of some goober quarterback whose name I’m vaguely recalling. Was it Garry Hogeboom? It doesn’t matter. My Cowboy heart broke, and the NFL passion of my youth dispersed. The Dallas Cowboys no longer thrilled my Sundays, no longer created a week’s worth of anticipation; much less beat the hated Deadskins. I flirted with the Raiders and Patriots, but the team I fell in love with in the waning days of the ’86 season was the New Orleans Saints. I’d always liked the team, liked the colours, loved the logo, as I recall the bed of my toddler years being adorned with the Fleur-di-Lis. And Archie Manning was an easy guy to cheer for. I liked Bum Phillips a great deal, but when the new owner of the team hired Jim Mora –

I knew the Saints had picked a winner, and they’d be getting it together very soon. So when I made a bold prediction back in ’87 that the ‘Aints would be playoff bound, I was roundly scoffed at. But the success of the season shut my detractors up, and by the time Sam Mills stuffed the goal line thrust of the Pissburgh Squeelers, my football love affair was in full bloom. The Dome Patrol unit of linebackers were a quartet of heroes that fired me up every Sunday. An eighties version of Jake Delhomme, the Cajun Cannon, Bobby Hebert, captained an offense that was very similar to the Panthers in their heyday. The names of the players I cheered at full throat for I still recall – Ruben Mayes, Dalton Hilliard, Eric Martin, Ironhead Heyward – I knew I had found a team to call my own, not just my third grade best friend’s team.

In a perspective only this closet romantic could view, I’ve increasingly compared my passion for my teams like that for my women.

Watching a ball game involving my Saints was intoxicating, like watching the bouncing wave of blond hair rushing down the hallway to meet me – A touchdown was as exhilarating as a soft, but passionate smooch – And victory? As satisfying as sex, and possibly moreso. Did you ever know there was such a thing as bad sex? Neither did I. And there’s no such thing as a bad victory! I would spend hundreds of dollars ordering tickets over the phone, and sometimes, unsuccessfully, to the old Fulton County Stadium to see them once a year, and twice, made the trek to Naw’lins to experience the SuperDome. It was an affair to remember, and warmly, even though the relationship never produced a playoff WIN. But a growing relationship requires give and take, and real growth. The inability to advance farther than the first round of the playoffs was disheartening. To make things worse, my heroes Hebert, Pat Swilling and worst of all, Morten Andersen, all departed – Hebert and Morten to the HATED DUCKIES!!! And in 1993, well, a suitor came to pull me away from the love of my football life, as he did yours.

I bought the ring.

And to sweeten the deal, who comes to play for my brand-new football fiancĂ©? None other than Sam Mills and Brett Maxie, two defensive stalwarts of my soon-to-be jilted football girlfriend. We were married for keeps in 1996. And me and Brother Serge invented “The Claw” instead of hi-fives. And “Gimme some Claw” was born!

Forgive me if I’m getting sappy on y’all, but once in a while, I get sentimental about the Panthers-Saints game, and this upcoming contest feels particularly poignant, with my former NFL love doing so well, and my current one under siege. I actually put on my old Dalton Hiliard jersey and doffed a Fluer-di-Lis hat and headed out to Hickory Tavern to watch the Saints-Duckies game just like old times this week. I actually pulled out my harmonica to toot Louis Armstrong’s classic after every touchdown to the delight of the Saints fans catching a buzz there. Fun, but not the same. I still love the Saints, but not like I used to. My ex-wife is still hot, but I’d never entertain the notion of a reunion.

And like my second marriage, there’s really no regret about embracing the Carolina Panthers as my football wife. Yeah, we’ve hit some bad spots, and I guarantee you I don’t berate Kathie’s pot roast as I would the Panther’s Defense, but overall, the experience of being a fan, and the experience of belonging to a woman you find beautiful and comforting are two big things that make life worth living. A kiss is a good as a touchdown, and victories come more often than sex, but it’s still a good life. And this year, I realized I was probably going to grow old and meet my eternal reward as Kathie’s husband. And I fully expect, through Dom Capers to John Fox to whoever roams the sideline in years to come, from Jerry to Mark, from Jake to that undrafted cannon that’s still in middle school, from Salt N Pepper TO just Peppers to the Hall-Of-Fame reincarnation of Lawrence Taylor in Silver, Blue and Black –

I will grow old and die –

A Panthers Fan.

And our children, God Willing –

Will do the same.


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