Jerry and Rosalie Start's was the first pro football generation. Pro football was as crucial to their lives as religion or the harvest or the Depression had been to American generations past. The Starts (she was Rosalie Gail Totter of Bonnie View Drive, Towson 4, Maryland before her marriage) fell between two stools: nuclear war and social revolution. Their generation had pro football. It wasn't much, but it was all they had as a signature.
As the Starts and their contemporaries grew up in the 1950s, football not only replaced baseball as the national sport but, more important, it became a true cause of social change. Pro football could draw huge metropolitan populations together while simultaneously driving families apart. Prior to that, this had been achieved only by selected wars.
Many people came to say, in fact, that pro football bore a close relationship to war, but Rosalie would have none of that. To her, pro football seemed just like sex, particularly all the leading up and looking forward—a new passionate liaison, week after week. Baseball was an old dependable, like marriage; it was a regular sort of everyday thing. Football was an illicit love, to plot, to savor, and then to lie about in a barbershop somewhere.
Rosalie was no extremist in her views either, for the Starts were only a run-of-the-mill pro football household. Rosalie seldom nursed any grudges toward Jerry past April, and once they even had a long conversation on a week night in November. As fans went, Jerry was well-behaved. He did drink a lot of beer during games, and wore a sweaty old maroon high school football jersey, No. 83, but it had been years since he had broken anything valuable, such as the TV set, while watching a game. He cared for his children in season, remembered to have the snow tires put on and went to the office regularly. He even kept on giving to the church of his choice, although he was unable to worship from Trinity through Epiphany, inasmuch as church services were always scheduled on game days.
Still, as relatively normal as Jerry appeared to be, there was no telling what long-term effect his devotion to the pros might have on his children. At this time, late in 1967, Jerry Jr. was four and Kimberly almost two. Rosalie, a recent initiate in the local La Leche League, feared that as the twig was bent, so the tree inclined. What could she tell them when their father bellowed strange noises of joy and anguish from the club cellar and bolted upstairs for another beer, gurgling and disarrayed? Rosalie tried to keep the children far from him at such times. This particular Sunday night, as the Colts played "The Rams On The Coast," she had herded them into the family room, where they could watch a program about antelopes on the little old black-and-white set. Naturally, Jerry commandeered the color set for football. Rosalie laid out their dinner of mashed potatoes and grape Kool-Aid, mixed a frozen banana daiquiri for herself, picked out This Week magazine from the Sunday paper and began reading the cover story on how the trampoline boom was a threat to a healthy America.
Suddenly, Jerry was upon them, reaching for another beer and taking the opportunity to bring them up to date. He was ecstatic. "Clutcheroony," he cried. "Checking off to catch the blitz, old Johnny U. clicks with Orr on a post pattern for pay dirt. How 'bout that, Baby Cakes? Would you believe an upset?"
"Would you believe you look like a shipwreck?" Rosalie replied. In fright, Halfback, the family Schnauzer, scampered under a chair. Jerry suddenly turned and rushed downstairs again. "Back to live action," he cried. "It's almost the ensuing kickoff."
"You can come out now, Halfback," Rosalie said softly. "The White Tornado has gone again."
"Why does Daddy act like that sometimes?" little Jerry asked.
"Hush, child," Rosalie said, tousling his hair. "It's only The Football. When the moon that comes after Christmas is full, the evil spirits will depart, and he will once again be your father."