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I mentioned that as a layman I am rather impressed with his status as a "veteran" NFL quarterback.
"Status doesn't mean anything," he says with a wave of his hand. "Status eats lunch. I know there aren't a lot of guys who play pro football, but I don't think anyone really gives a damn. I mean, somebody's got to play it."
On Sunday he'll take painkillers so he can play. He'll wear his flak jacket, but before that he'll have Novocaine injected into the tissue surrounding his broken ribs so that he won't feel anything even if the jacket is worthless. The thought makes me involuntarily contract my diaphragm and bounce my feet.
I ask Pastorini if he's ever wondered whether his eight years in pro football have been worth it.
"Funny you should ask," he says. "I was just thinking about that when we beat Pittsburgh a few weeks ago on Monday night TV, the game that sort of started things rolling this year. I was sitting in front of my locker after the game, staring off in a daze. Gifford Nielsen, the rookie quarterback from Brigham Young, was sitting next to me and he said, 'Dan, where are you?'
"I just looked at him in a sort of fatherly way and smiled. I was like an old man looking at a kid. I said, 'Giff, you don't know what has happened here in eight years. I've been through it all. I hope you don't have to go through it.' But then I thought some more and I said, 'Hey, you know, I think it was all worth it, just being here with these guys tonight. Other people have families, but this is my family.' I'm not sure he knew what I was talking about."
The Oilers beat the Saints last Sunday 17-12 to guarantee themselves a playoff spot. Pastorini, encased in his tailored balloon, completed 12 of 18 passes for 136 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown that provided the winning margin.
Thinking about my conversations with Gray and Pastorini, I realized that meeting them was something I should have done long before. For years I'd been telling people about my failure in the East-West Game, becoming, I suspect, somewhat of a bore in my constant search for sympathy. Not long ago I had run into Adamle. "Hey, Mike," I said, "do you remember the time when I fell down in the East-West Game?" He smacked his head with his open palm. "Still?"
But meeting one's conquerors puts many of those old problems to rest. I feel now that I have gained two friends in Gray and Pastorini, and that my perspective on the incident is at last healthy and correct. I can live with my stumble.
Watching football these days fills me with memories, makes me feel somewhat wizened and sage and just a bit sad. But it also makes me think about chance and fate and talent and the role each plays in each of our lives. And it makes me wonder if we would change that many things in the past, even if we could.