by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
October 17, 2003
HOW I LEARNED TO LOVE THE GAME
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Well, now, that's a title never, ever, to appear over something I write. I know, never say never, but too many years have been invested being left out to begin joining in now.
I've always been invited in, but I prefer not to sit there yelling hooray, always two seconds after everyone else, without a clue as to what happened, then staring at the screen intently, cheering as I see a spectacular play (or whatever) while the rest are silent. "Duh, Mom, that was an instant replay." We cheered already. (I knew that.)
I like reading about baseball; I like records being broken; I like to know someone hit a grand slam or pitched a no hitter. I even use sporting events as time lines when I want to look up something in my earlier-kept journals.
"Mom," Nancy might say. "Remember that yellow outfit I loved so much? Was I eight or nine?" I went to the computer and started a search. Seconds later, I asked:
"How old were you April 8, 1974?" I might ask. "Well, on the 13th I had my 8th birthday party I wore the yellow outfit. What made you come to that? She asked.
"When we were at the mall, all the sales people were yelling and cheering and jumping up and down," I said. "They squealed and yelled that Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's record." I didn't know who Hank Aaron was but I knew about Babe Ruth -- I saw his life portrayed by William Bendix and his wife by Claire Trevor. I knew he could hit a ball into the stands exactly where he pointed ahead of time.
So, we were talking baseball and that was the day we bought the yellow outfit. And, I told Nancy about the day in 1946 when Babe Ruth was going to visit a local movie theater between features, just putting in a personal appearance.
He didn't have to sing, he didn't have to dance. It was a rainy day and he had on a long (by today's standards) dark gray overcoat. He held his tweed cap in his hand and the rain droplets felt to the wooden floor of the stage. He didn't have to say anything, he wished us well and went on to another movie theater ... there was one on every other corner in those days.
The Babe died within two years and although I lived my life a subway ride from Yankee Stadium, I never saw him play.
Except for baseball, Hank Aaron and Babe, I have few memorable moments of sporting events. There is one forever blazoned in my mind, however. On Saturday, December 23, l972, the family had just left the house with Dad doing last minute Christmas shopping. They had been watching the Pittsburgh Steelers play the Oakland Raiders but, with only one minute to go, Steelers losing, they piled into the car and left.
In less than a minute, I took to the couch, pillow and quilt in hand, for an hour's escape from the strain of Christmas approaching. It was just a few months since our oldest son was killed in an accident and what they say about getting through the holidays is true: it isn't easy. We survived Thanksgiving, always aware that the six surviving children needed their family traditions in perspective so their memories would be whole and wholesome.
I yawned and cozied up in the 22 seconds left of the game, too tired to get up and turn it off. A rumble of sound, then a thunder of voices reaching out, almost deafening the voice of Myron Cope, the Pittsburgh sports announcer, shouting about the ball bouncing through the air and this, and he's that, and rookie running back Franco Harris has the ball and he's running, he's running, 42 yards, and that's what you call an Immaculate Reception with five seconds left on the clock.
To this day, that play is considered the greatest in the National Football League's history. And, it was the beginning for the Pittsburgh Steelers who would go on to win four superbowls after not winning a playoff game in their forty year history.
The family came home, all rosy-cheeked and excited. Somehow the pall that hovered over our Christmas plans was gone. They chattered, "I can't believe we left, we heard it in the car, did you see that miracle catch, Mom?"
"No, I just saw the run, Franco Harris running. The noise woke me up."
Then there was hiding bags behind their backs, rushing to hiding places, whispering, and more giggling than we heard for a long time.
When anyone asks me how I possibly got through that loss I simply tell the truth: I took a pillow and a quilt and headed for the couch. I stayed there long enough to awaken with joy. It never fails.
The children are all grown now with children of their own, and they remember their Thanksgivings and Christmases with love. They remember their brother as the big fun-loving guy he was; they remember the laughter in his life not the sadness of his death.
And I believe Franco Harris' "miracle catch" was a turning point for us. I didn't analyze it then, of course, but looking back I can see that moment as inspiration. The Steelers had 22 seconds left, facing a loss, but they were finishing the game. And, what a finish it was.
I wish I could say that after that day I watched football and enjoyed it with the family. That's just not true. I don't know what led up to whatever happened on the field, so I will take from that moment exactly what the Steelers took. Franco got through the lines, and we got through all the seasons since then. I think we all caught a miracle.