- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"How are you, Son?" was all he said. My stunned, sincere "You mean you couldn't get a ticket?" cracked them all up. and before I knew it I was in the next car with my father, who said, "Don't mention Marilyn Monroe to Mr. DiMaggio. O.K.?"
The weather was springlike that day in Philadelphia; Joe DiMaggio did sit with us; and I got my only in-person glimpse of President Kennedy when he tossed the coin. Navy's sophomore quarterback was Roger Staubach, who was such a spectacular player that I'm sure even the Army rooters were secretly wishing him well. He was all the talk at halftime.
The only other words I said to DiMaggio were "Yes, sir" and "No, thank you" to his offers of hot dogs and peanuts. He left at halftime and didn't return, and later on another man came to use his seat. When the newcomer told us that DiMaggio had gone to sit somewhere else, my father's face, like mine, fell. I'd had my disappointments before, but looking at my father I realized that he, too, was disappointed. He looked from the man to me and managed a smile as we stood to let the stranger pass. "Well." Dad said, "it'll be a good second half anyway, right, Sky?" I agreed with him, but when we sat down I said, "That was pretty rotten of him, wasn't it? Not to even thank us or say goodby."
"Yeah, it was." Dad said tentatively, then, with the force of truth, "It was real rotten." We looked at each other in a way we never had. Both snubbed, both pained, but both stronger. Something happened on the field that caused Navy to erupt. We both stood up to cheer, an outlet I was grateful for. It was a great second half, if you were rooting for Navy, which won 34-14.
On the train home my father was asked to join some men in the other car, but he declined, saying he wanted to sit with me. I said I was glad to hear that DiMaggio had decided not to come back on the train. Dad agreed, and he told me I'd probably have a great many more disappointments like that. I asked him what it was like for him growing up. He told me about his lonely, orphaned youth. He told me about the trouble he'd gotten into and what life had been like for him. I said what I could about me. We talked for the first time.
Of course, there were long stretches when we weren't as close as we were that day, but there were others when we were. The connection had been made, an understanding had been born in shared pain. And for the rest of his life, whenever we'd be watching a game on TV—even after chemotherapy had caused his mind to deteriorate so much that he would be watching a football game and ask who was pitching—my father would say, "Hey, Sky, you remember that Army-Navy game we weren't going to go to, but you made us go, and Roger Staubach and.... That was the best damn game I've ever been to. You remember that?"
How could I forget.