Golden Season

Golden

Well, how about that game last night? After the slugfest with the Spurs last weekend, I’m certainly glad for the easy street win to 73. Thank you for the anti-climactic, history-making game, and the kind reprieve to my stomach because I wasn’t prepared with an adequate supplies of Tums. I did get worried when Steph took one too many tumbles, but the game was as good as it gets. Oh, yeah, 402 three’s….that was a nice touch.

Then, I was a little miffed when my “authentic fans” switched from the Warriors game to Kobe’s Swan Song and oooo’ed and aaahhh’ed over the delighted boyish faces of Hov, Snoop, Kanye, George and Jack as Kobe hit those last five baskets and propelled the Lakers over the Jazz. One kid felt like it was a “We are the World” world peace kinda moment. Awwww, isn’t that nice, can we go back to the Warriors’ game please? But, Mom, it’s Kobe! Unless there’s Nutella involved, gimme the remote.

Back to the Bay, and this Golden Season of the Warriors. As I have said before, I was fortunate to witness history when the Niners dominated the gridiron back in the ‘80’s. Their 1984 season wins of 15-1 broke the Miami Dolphins’ record of 14 regular season wins, even though the Dolphin undefeated season record still stands. Watching the Niners back then, I knew I was watching history being made. I was watching a new phenomenon of the game, an excellence that hadn’t been seen before, “a thing of beauty” on the football field.

Even though I am a basketball bandwagoneer, I admit it, and I confess I don’t like basketball as much I like football, but I can’t help but express profound admiration for a team whose playing surpasses the best that had ever been played. Excellence, beauty, art, wherever they are manifested, should be highlighted and appreciated. I appreciate this Warriors squad not just because they’re winning, but they’re winning with grace and style, with beauty and artistry. This team has excited many who confess not to be “authentic fans”, many who quit watching basketball for whatever reasons, many who never watched the sport to begin with because of their recipe of incredible ball handling, team interaction, joy in playing and, of course, a little dash of Curry.

Excellence is as good as gold, and the Golden State Warriors certainly delivered a golden season to the Bay – to the world – this year. Now, excuse me while I run to Costco to bulk-buy some Tums and Pepto-Bismol because these playoffs are gonna be killers. 🙂

Photo by Coseezy Strachan – @kicknit

Curry shoes

 

“You Made Me Love You”

joe montana

Anyone remember when Judy Garland lovingly sang “You Made Me Love You” to a picture of Clark Gable in “Broadway Melody of 1938”? I didn’t think so. Anyway, here is my paltry tribute to my Clark Gable.

Thirty years ago, Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers brought football glory to our town. And if you will humor me, I give you this tribute to whom I believe is the best to have played the game. (Listening to Judy Garland’s version of “You Made Me Love You” is optional.)

“You made me love you/I didn’t want to do it/I didn’t want to do it/You made me want you/And all the time you knew it/I guess you always knew it.”  

October 18, 1975. Air Force was flying away with this game while the Irish groveled 20 points behind. There was no luck here, so Dan Devine threw in his lucky charm in sophomore Joe Montana, who stunned the Tar Heels during the previous week with a phenomenal fourth-quarter turnaround. Could he do it again? If I did not witness this myself, I swear it did not happen: Montana took the Irish to the end zone three times in less than 15 minutes to ground Air Force with a score of 31-30.

“You made me happy sometimes/you made me glad.”

January 10, 1982. If Dallas was playing any other team, they would have ended up in Pontiac that January instead of the 49ers. You can’t give Joe Montana half a minute because he will wreak havoc. The play that will live on in the annals of football lore: third down, 3 yards to go at Dallas’s 6-yard line, 58 seconds on the clock, sprint right option. Solomon, the first receiver, was covered. But, despite the onslaught of the Cowboys’ defense, Montana shot off an ill-footed pass over the Dallas tidal wave to where he knew Dwight Clark would be…should be…and, wonderfully, was. The sound of the delirious crowd confirmed the incredible catch. The rest is history.

“But there were times, Joe/you made me feel real bad.”

April 18, 1995. Amid a crowd of tens of thousands in Justin Herman Plaza in San Francisco, football great and legend Joe Montana announced his retirement from the gridiron—a day his fans knew was coming, but dreaded nonetheless. No more Joe Cool, no more fancy footwork nimbling away from defensive ends, no more antacid-eating, hand-wringing, blood pressure-checking fourth quarter saves with minutes to go and touchdowns to make. Our delightful dalliance with destiny has come to an end.

“I don’t care what happens/let the whole world stop/as far as I’m concerned you’ll always be the top because you know you made me love you.” (The song lyrics are by Joseph McCarthy.)

Growing up with a father who played and coached football, I saw a lot of games—high school, college and pro games. I watched Johnny Unitas and the Colts, barely remember Bart Starr, the Packers and that toothy Lombardi victory grin, secretly loved Don Shula’s Dolphins and, with most of the West Coast, hated the Steelers (but had to admire their ferocity). But, Joe, none could compare to the gift you gave to San Francisco. We witnessed the best to have played, at least in my lifetime. Thank you for the grace and beauty you spun from pigskin and mud.

Autumn and Joe Montana

joe montana

A family member brushed shoulders with Joe Montana several years ago. My father had called and asked, “Guess who so and so ran into?” I wasn’t in the mood for any guessing games; there was a heat wave, the kids were going crazy, and I’m sure a million other things were going wrong. “I don’t know, who?” I surrendered. “Come on, guess.” “I don’t know, Arnie?” “Bigger than Arnold.” Oh, great, who was bigger than Arnold here in California? “I have no idea.” “His initials are J.M.” I tried to think of someone and gave up. “I have no idea, I have no brain cells left to even try and guess.”

“Joe Montana.” He whispered.

“No way!” I exclaimed, “no way!” “How? When?” He went on and told me the details of the encounter. I was genuinely impressed and very envious.

Joe Montana. The man who I think is the greatest football player in my lifetime. I couldn’t believe it. This man and his extraordinary ability on the field found their way into our family’s existence. I’ve never met him nor ever will. But the thought of Joe Montana not only conjures up images of great football, but also images of intimate, warm memories of autumns gone by. His ball playing added color and vibrancy to my little life here in Northern California.

Today is the first day of autumn, and it’s hard not to recall the autumns of my youth without Joe there, albeit on the sidelines in the game of my life. See, I love fall, I love Halloween and Thanksgiving. I love oranges, and browns, and forest greens. I love the way the wind changes during Indian Summer with the sweet Santa Anas blowing off the East Bay hills. I loved playing and watching football, so for many years, Joe Montana was a part of those colorful memories.

When I was very young, our family went up to the Russian River for our Thanksgiving holiday. My father had a cabin up there; but we went to my uncle’s cabin for the big meal. That cozy cottage has become a shrine in my memory. The dining room table, enclosed on three sides by three benches where we five kids sat below a shelf lined with Italian wine bottles, was where we had our Thanksgiving dinner; I can still see my little Irish grandmother puttering around in the small kitchen, tasting from one pot or another and even offering us some of her mince meat pie. We gently refused. An intimate fire always warmed the living room and off to one corner was a small twin bed where I slept on my rare overnight visits to Uncle Bill’s cabin. Near the bed was a bookshelf, filled with all sorts of literary treasures, and when I was there, I was in heaven.

You know, when you’re young you’re not conscious of the beauty around you, those moments go by, but somehow they’re stamped somewhere in your mind and when the stresses of the present weigh you down, you look back and those memories have become jewels. I wish I spent more time with my grandmother, I wish I could remember her voice, her face – I wish I could ask her about when my father was little (probably would explain a lot), about my grandfather and about her.

But, where does Joe come into this picture? Well, my father played ball for the Navy and then went on to coach. So football was a big part of our lives. Every Thanksgiving guaranteed two things: that incredible meal and tons of football. Football was the only thing on TV from Thursday morning until Sunday night, and if you didn’t bring a book or something to occupy your time, you were destined to watch it all. One year I tallied how many games I had watched: 11; I guess that doesn’t seem like too many now with cable and ESPN.

The highlight of the weekend was always the Notre Dame game. One year some upstart 3rd string quarterback came in and won the game for the Irish. We didn’t know then a legend was in the making. Watching those games with my dad with the redwood logs crackling in the fire, rain pattering on the roof and my mother baking something delicious in the kitchen all at the time seem so average, so typical, so mundane; now, they are photographs in my mind, colors and flavors of who I am.

When I think of Joe Montana, I am flooded with these beautiful memories. Were they idyllic? Absolutely not, there were darker shades that mar some of these memories, but strange as our memories are, those hues fade a bit to the background.

But Joe Montana, like football, transcends seasons. His presence would reappear in bolder, more spectacular strokes with that catch in 1982. After that unbelievable Super Bowl, I went to the celebration downtown to pass out religious tracts. San Francisco hadn’t been rocked with such a force since April of 1906. That was the place to be on January 24, 1982. And in my own life, I too was rocked, with a divine force, after I had recently embraced a living faith in Christianity.

But, that happiness in January of 1982 was just a deposit of things to come. He took San Francisco to the Super Bowl three more times. He catapulted the 49ers into the league with Green Bay, Miami and Pittsburgh. Time after time after time, with seconds to go and touchdowns to make, Joe, with his cool expertise, would go in and do the job.

Football, as you know, is a manly, messy, bloody sport. The sport that gives men license to beat the hell out of each other and gives us fans an outlet for adulation for our team and hatred for our opponents. With the language of longshoremen and the manners of adolescents, Joe Montana took these elements of the game and, effortlessly, made them beautiful. He is an artist of the utmost ability. After he retired, I pretty much quit watching the game. I caught a few Super Bowls with the kids and that was fun, but no comparison.

But after witnessing who I believe is the greatest to play the game during my lifetime, there is no desire to watch anymore. Thank you, Joe, for the beauty and grace that you created out of pigskin and mud, and gracing our autumns with such spectacular color .