The Big Game and the Little Games

Dearest Rachel –

I’ve been asked by a few people which team I’m rooting for today. It seems I’d completely forgotten that this was Super Bowl (can I say that, or will the NFL give me a copyright strike for that?) Sunday.

Look, I’ve had a lot on my mind, and none of it to do with sports.

I’m sure you’re well aware of it.

Honestly, honey – and I know you used to tell me I should enjoy it whenever I felt like it – I kind of gave up most of my interest in sport when I married you. It wasn’t anything particularly personal, mind you. It was just that… well, it clearly didn’t interest you, and you were more important to me than any team or game I might be interested in.

The thing is, spectator sports are meant to be shared. That’s why they’re held in those big stadiums, where you can hear the roar of the crowd, the smell of the food, and the cries of the vendors hawking their wares. It’s meant to be experienced, and experienced with others that enjoy that sort of thing.

I recall many a day spent watching WGN with my grandparents, and then, just my grandmother, cheering on the Cubs – or all the good that did them in those days. Listening to Harry Carey try to pronounce a player’s name backward during a lull in the action, or Steve Stone’s attempts at pure analysis, even as he ultimately wound up playing straight man to Carey’s antics. It was the watching with them, or her, that made it enjoyable.

But when she passed shortly before we married, well, it just wasn’t as fun anymore.

And you brought whole new levels of fun to my life. So who needed sports?

I did try to interest you, from time to time. When Northwestern made its run for the Rose Bowl, I think you really did find the saga intriguing. You could respect a team that had struggled so long with a terrible record, and took a certain perverse pride in it, an attitude of ‘we’re bad at sports because we focus on what’s really important – our studies!’

“That’s all right / That’s okay / They’re gonna work for us some day!”

Northwestern Wildcat cheer after a football loss

And of course, there were the purple uniforms. You just couldn’t resist purple livery, could you?

Of course, Cinderella could only get so far in the real world. I think it was the USC Trojans, but whoever it was, they clobbered them.

I don’t think there were enough Northwestern faithful in Pasadena to recite their infamous chant after the game. Even if there were, I can’t imagining the network bothering with the losers at that point, in any event.

I didn’t abandon sports entirely, of course, but it wasn’t a huge part of our lives. Since I listened to the news radio on my way to and from work, I could keep up with the standings of the hometown teams.

Being from a small town, I’m not sure you ever grasped the concept of a hometown team. Sure, you had the WIU Leatherbacks all but in your back yard, and your folks were both professors at the university, to boot. But the art department doesn’t give a gibbon’s glutes about what’s going on with the sportsball, and so, you never developed a love for Rocky the bulldog and his boys.

Even less so with regard to the professionals. Situated as you were between Chicago and St. Louis, you lived in a sporting no-man’s-land, where declaring for one would mean alienating others. Although it was perhaps easier to root for the Rams when they used WIU as their fall training camp.

But that was after you left there, for the most part, and I was – to little effect – attempting to introduce you to the Bears (maybe it’s my white-collar suburban upbringing, but I never knew anyone who called them ‘da Bearss’ until after SNL made it a thing. And even then, it was never used unironically)

You rejoiced with me when the Bulls won each of their championships, and I danced in the middle of our street (a rare feat, since we live on a fairly major thoroughfare. But everyone was at home, glued to their TVs as the celebration commenced, so… we could do that).

You wept with joy as I called my dad that midnight in 2016 to say “We did it, Dad!” when the Cubs finally broke their century-long drought. It may even have been your suggestion to buy a “W” flag to set on Grandma’s grave, which we did shortly after two new year.

(It was then that you told my parents that, while you admired the fact that our extended family had a considerable plot together, that you still wanted to be poured out into the Lake off of Middle Bass Island. My dad, in particular, found that upsetting, as a nephew of his had complained that – since his mom, dad’s cousin, had been poured into the Atlantic off the Florida coast – “I have no place to grieve her.” That’s when you determined to take my parents to the island, and make them see the error of their ways.

But that’s a story for another letter.)

But I knew you merely tolerated my love of the games. And it wasn’t much fun to watch sports with someone who just tolerates it for my sake, any more than if you weren’t enjoying it when we would make out together. It just wasn’t worth it.

So, I confined myself to our Thanksgiving family get-togethers to truly watch and enjoy sports. Between Dad, our brother-in-law Bill (who coordinates all the sports at Wheaton College, so he becomes the default analyst when we’re watching together), and our nephew and niece (both of whom were imbued with a love of sport, although Will tends to emphasize NASCAR, of all things), it’s actually fun to watch.

Of course, the Superb Owl (can I call it that and get away with it?) is a little different. It’s supposedly one of those cultural touchstones where everybody in America is watching – the ultimate in shared experiences. That used to be a fairly common occurrence, when we were growing up, and there were basically only three networks, but in this day and age, not so much. And of course, there were the parties, which was your thing. Whether to attend or host, even a small gathering was your environment.

But between the frigid cold – even our church scaled back in-person services to just the one at each campus, rather than bother with the usual three (learning from the poor attendance from last week’s snowout) – and the Covid restrictions, both mandated and internalized by some within our friend circles, there wasn’t going to be much in the way of any kind of gathering.

Which is a pity, as we are so well stocked for SOMEthing. As little as I care about this evening’s big game, it would have been nice to be invited to a game day party, if only to fob off the many bags of chips and containers of salsa and dip that cram our kitchen.

But you don’t hold a party to dump old leftovers; indeed, you bring out the newest you have – or go out and get fresh. So it’s up to Daniel and I to (ever so slowly) clear this place out.

And even yesterday, more was coming in. Mark and Akiko (I guess she prefers to go by Ako) dropped by, to extend their sympathies and offer us some food. You might recall how broken up she was at your funeral. I tell you, honey, it is so surreal to be the widower and have to be the strong one as others weep for your passing. I know I wasn’t the only one to lose you, but I still find myself in awe of how profound your loss is felt among so many.

But I will also confess, it’s kinda weird how people think that a father-and-son bachelor team can’t figure out how to feed themselves, and need assistance.

On the other hand, it’s not that we’re not grateful. Especially from Ako: who else would bring over kappamaki as a comfort food? And who but Daniel would enjoy it in the spirit in which it was given? If you’re reading this, Ako, he demolished those in a matter of minutes – although you did slow him down by wrapping every. single. piece. in plastic wrap. The care and attention you put into these was just something else.

We also used some of your melon bread as we watched the church service online, as communion bread. Just a little connection with you as we remembered our Lord’s sacrifice. Thank you once again. I promise, we’ll get to the rest shortly.

So, while I’d more or less given up on sport for your sake, you brought something into our lives to replace it. Games. Board games, card games, any kind of game, you were up for it (Except maybe truth or dare. But maybe, that was the rather long game of our relationship. I don’t know). I admit, I wasn’t always keen:

  • Before your time, I had upperclassmen at IWU try to teach me euchre, and gave up in frustration as I simply couldn’t seem to grasp what trick to play when, or what my turn was supposed to be. I really didn’t think hand-and-foot would prove any better.
  • Hand-and-foot was also an example of one of those games where, if you were losing, you could see it a mile away – Monopoly is another example. Unlike you, who played to play, I could never keep myself from playing to win, and those kind of games were just awful. If I was losing, it was sheer torture, and I’m not proud that I’d lapse into complaining throughout. If I was winning, I knew what everyone else was going through, and I was so apologetic.

But you had and could make friends other than myself, so you had you community to game with. And throughout this last year, we could reach out to others who couldn’t come over anymore regardless of where in the country they were, and we could just play over Steam and chat over Skype. It wasn’t perfect, but it had advantages over just playing in person, too.

Even gaming as a spectator sport grew on us. You and Daniel introduced me (and anyone else who would listen) to so many YouTube creators whose whole act had to do with playing video games for the entertainment of audiences:

  • Matthew Patrick (aka MatPat) and his wife Stephanie, who have a whole cottage industry of gaming and explaining.
  • Markiplier, particularly the Three Stooges-like interplay between himself (the Moe analogue) and his friends Bob (Larry) and Wade (Curly).
  • Jack Septiceye, including his ‘Meme Time’ segments (“The only cure for sadness” he claims – I guess I should check him out at some point soon).
  • 8-Bit Ryan, with his own manic patter (made all the more so by his habit of editing out literally any pauses – even those for breath – in his playthroughs.
  • Ryan’s brother NathOn Games, who you simply decided needed a little more subscriber love and started watching him faithfully.
  • Manly Badass Hero, with his soothing FM-radio voice running over some otherwise scary games.
  • and Flamez Plays, a small-time player with a similar low-key voice, and a sign-off that I can barely listen to anymore without crying: “May your flame burn bright.” Yes, you did, honey. I promise, I’ll keep him on our Patreon list (you chose the pseudonym ‘Cesium’ to represent you and Daniel, since it burns with a purple and blue flame. Don’t know if it should be reduced to ‘Argon’ now, though…)

There are others, of course, and Daniel will probably remind me of them later on, so I can edit this letter and add the appropriate links for others to see and check out. But I can’t write much more for now.

You see, our friends and I are going to be continuing our gaming tradition, even today. Sure, Kevin will check out early to watch The Game with his folks, and things will probably break up between Ellen, Erin and I after that, but then again, who knows?

Maybe in future, others will want to join us Sunday afternoons. We could probably use a few more players for Among Us, among others. We’ll miss you in the game, and in the chat, but you brought us together for these sorts of things, and there’s no reason for us to stop enjoying them just because you’ve left us. In fact, I think you’d prefer we continue this way.

And so, I need to go and prepare for our afternoon games. We’ll be thinking about you there.

I miss you. I love you. We’ll leave a seat for you, ‘Violet Kenzan’

P.S. For what it’s worth, Chompers slept in the bedroom from about 10:30 to a little bit after six. I think this will work, although Daniel and I need to properly calibrate when to give him his pill.

Talk to you later.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

7 thoughts on “The Big Game and the Little Games

  1. Ah, watching the Cubs on WGN in the early 80s… brings back memories. And yes… I also remember crying the night they won in 2016. It is, as you point out, very much a family thing; it’s about being together with family and friends and watching the game and rooting for “your team”.


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