I grew up with sports as background. Every summer weekend, Daddy would turn on the console radio and listen to Dizzy Dean call a Yankees game—in the fall, it was a football game, in the winter, it was boxing. So Allie Reynolds, Whitey Ford, Casey Stengel, Bronco Nagurski, Sam Huff, and Ezerd Charles were familiar names. In the early 1970s, I lost track of sports but once I met the Sweetie, I was back in play.
If there’s a ball involved, we watch. Baseball, football, and women’s basketball most enthusiastically, but if all else fails, the Sweetie settles for soccer, golf, or if necessary, tennis. So…today’s absence of sports, other than darts and chess, leaves a big hole. Yesterday we were thrilled to watch the rerun of a 1988 women’s softball game between Oregon and Stanford—but it didn’t fill the gap. What we love about sports is the immediacy of the action and the surprise when unexpected things happen in the moment.
There are, however, several sports moments I would just as soon forget:
- 2014, Tacoma, Super Bowl, Seahawks vs. Rotten Patriots. The Sweetie is just starting his treatment and the Super Bowl is a welcome diversion. Seahawks build a 10-point lead to end the third quarter. Patriots rally to take a 28–24 lead with 2:02 left in the game. Seattle threatens to score in the final moments, driving the ball to New England’s 1-yard line. With 26 seconds remaining in the game, Seattle passes the ball in a much-aligned play call resulting in a Patriots rookie intercepting Russell Wilson’s throw into the end zone—Seahawks loose, hearts are broken, expletives are hurled, coaches are blamed, the season is spoiled, and the 12s are stunned into silence.
- 1998, San Diego, NLCS, Game Six, Atlanta Braves vs. San Diego Padres. I’m shopping for a tin-stamped heart in the Old Town Market—all TVs and radios are tuned to the Braves Padres game. In the midst of success-starved Padres fans, I quietly root for my Braves, heavily favored with 106 season wins and a roster that includes Chipper Jones, Javy López, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. The game is scoreless into the sixth inning, when Glavine gives up four runs; Bobby Cox replaces him with John Rocker, who promptly gives up another. Everyone around me cheers—I am silent.
- 1984, Los Angeles, NBA Championship, Game 7, Lakers vs. Celtics. The Sweetie is working in Texas, I’m alone in our Westwood apartment, windows open, following the score by the rise and fall of a united Los Angeles, watching the game together. Lakers rally from a 14-point deficit to three points down with one minute remaining, when Cedric Maxwell knocks the ball away from Magic Johnson. After the ensuing melee, Dennis Johnson sinks two free throws to seal the Celtics’ victory. The Los Angeles voice is silent.
But these agonies of defeat are balanced by one glorious victory:
- 1988, Los Angeles, Game 1 of the World Series, LA Dodgers vs. Oakland Athletics. The Sweetie, Felix (our upstairs neighbor), and I watch the game in East LA. Sweetie and I have tickets to Game 2 because he entered and won the Dodgers’ ticket lottery. Kirk Gibson, on the Dodgers bench with injuries to both legs, is called upon to pinch hit in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs, batting against Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley. Gibson hobbles to the plate, hits a home run, limps around the bases, and wins the game for the Dodgers by a score of 5–4; they go on to win the World Series. The next day, we jubilantly hand over our tickets at the gate and walk up the ramp—Dodger Stadium is still electric with the energy of Gibson’s walk-off homer.
Here’s Vin Scully’s call of that homer: “All year long, they looked to him to light the fire, and all year long, he answered the demands, until tonight when he was physically unable to start—with two bad legs: the bad left hamstring, and the swollen right knee. And, with two out, you talk about a roll of the dice… this is it. He is shaking his left leg, making it quiver, like a horse trying to get rid of a troublesome fly. Gibson works the count to 3–2, Mike Davis steals second base, Gibson hits a high fly ball into right field, she i-i-i-is… GONE!!!”
Scully said nothing for over a minute, allowing the pictures to tell the story, then said, “In a year that has been so improbable… the impossible has happened!”
It’s hard to imagine sports with today’s no touching edict—no LeBron backing into fill-in-the-blank, no Duke crazies linking arms as they jump up and down? Hard to image a soccer goal when the scorer doesn’t jump into the waiting arms of his teammates or a walk-off home run that doesn’t end in a dog pile. Even in tennis, the game’s not really over until Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors meet at the net and shake hands.
For now, we’ll have to wait until the crisis is over and togetherness is back. Until then we’ll remember sitting out on the deck, pulling up a chair, having a beer with my sister and brother-in-law, and listening to Dave Niehaus call a Mariners game.
Sioux City Coney Island dogs (this recipe makes enough for a baseball team)
- 2 lbs. lean ground beef
- 4 medium onions, chopped
- 1/2 Tbs garlic powder
- 1-1/2 Tbs white vinegar
- 4 Tbs chili powder
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/4 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp allspice
- 2 dashes worcestershire sauce
- 6 oz tomato paste
- 1 quart water
This recipe is for the sauce that is one of several condiments that make a right and proper Coney Island hot dog.
Brown the ground beef and drain. Run it through a food processor for a finer texture, if you choose. It seems to go farther that way. Save time by mincing the onions in a processor also, as it cooks down to nothing in the sauce.
In a small Dutch oven, combine all ingredients and simmer. The original recipe says simmer for 3 to 4 hours. I’ve found that about 2 hours is plenty of time. That’s all there is to it.
Makes about 10 cups of sauce. A cup of sauce makes about eight hot dogs.
Coney Island hot dog correct procedure: Place a hot hotdog in a warm fresh bun. Spread a heaping tablespoon of coney sauce beside the full length of the dog, then do the same with an equal amount of chopped onion. Squirt a line of yellow mustard along the full length. Top with two shakes of salt.