A summary of our last seven years: Moved to grandparents' house in rural south Georgia for a year. Dad unemployed for a while. Red and I spent our days playing one-on-one football in the yard and experimenting with fire and bullets. Moved again, to rural upstate New York, where Dad got a job teaching at a Bible school. Lived in a double-wide trailer for 16 months. I fell in love with a girl who teased me. Red gave himself a strange haircut. The wind howled, and the snow fell. We pooled our money and bought ourselves a TV to keep in our room and watch sports. We rarely saw the Falcons, because they were no good.
Now Red has gone to college in Rochester, N.Y., and Grandfather is still in south Georgia, quietly fading away, and I'm 18, living with my parents, wondering when my life will begin.
We've gone 14--2 this season with an unknown quarterback named Chris Chandler and a touchdown dance called the Dirty Bird. Today our defense has played surprisingly well, holding the highest-scoring offense to this point in NFL history to a mere 27 points. But this 38-yard field goal would seal our fate. I'm hyperventilating on the couch at the home of the Boyd family, good friends of ours from church, and Red watches helplessly in a dorm room in Rochester, and Gary Anderson has made 122 straight kicks.
The kick sails wide left.
We still have a chance. We still have a chance. Two minutes left. We drive. Chandler hits Terance Mathis for the tying touchdown with 49 seconds to go. The Vikings take a knee. Overtime. We stop them. We stop them. We drive. Morten Andersen lines up for his own 38-yarder. Dead center. We're going to the Super Bowl.
January 31, 1999. Not much to say about this one, except that our Pro Bowl free safety, Eugene Robinson, accepted the Bart Starr Award for high moral character yesterday morning, and then last night he left his wife and kids at the hotel and went down to Biscayne Boulevard and got himself arrested, and the police said he had offered an undercover officer $40 for a special kind of favor, and the general manager had to pick him up from police headquarters, and now he's out there on the field, getting beaten by Rod Smith for an 80-yard touchdown, and Chandler is throwing interceptions on three straight drives, and the Broncos are leading 31--6, and the one time we reach the Super Bowl we can't even make it respectable. We are all Eugene Robinson. What we feel most is shame.
January 4, 2003. All this week they've been talking about it on TV. The Packers are unbeatable at home in the playoffs. Seventy years and they've never lost.
We lost Grandfather two years ago. Red finished college and moved back to Atlanta and took a job as a house parent for lost and orphaned teenage boys. I finished college and worked for a year at a small newspaper in south Georgia and then moved back up north, to Beverly, Mass., to be near my college sweetheart, Sara. Now I share an apartment on Railroad Avenue with my old friend Eric and hold a temporary full-time job with The Salem News, covering fires and car crashes. On Sundays, I go to The Pickled Onion on Rantoul Street and order a Coke and a white pizza and ask the bartender to dial up the Falcons on NFL Sunday Ticket. Or I call Red on my new cellphone and ask for a live play-by-play.
The Packers may have history and Brett Favre, the quarterback we drafted and then fumbled away, but we have Michael Vick, the most dynamic young man in the world of sports. He has rewritten the rules for NFL quarterbacks. He passes only when he feels like it, with a powerful left arm, and he runs basically wherever he wants, leaving defenders facedown when they dive for his ankles and miss.
Tonight's forecast calls for snow, but Vick outruns it. Red goes out to buy pizza for the boys in his care, and when he comes back, we already lead 7--0 on Vick's 10-yard touchdown pass to Shawn Jefferson. We block a punt and recover it in the end zone for another touchdown. They fumble a punt on a questionable call. We score again. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila thinks he has Vick for a 15-yard sack, but Vick dances away and runs for 11 yards. The snow comes too late. We lead 24--0 at halftime and cruise to a 27--7 victory. The Packers' 70-year streak is over, and it looks as if the Vick Dynasty is just beginning.