Tag Archives: football

The Lucky Hat

I went for a walk at half time and smoked a cigar.

It wasn’t a victory cigar.

It was a cigar of reflection.

I kept telling myself it’s only a game. It’s only a game. It’s only a game.

When I was good and cold, I walked back into my neighbors’ house to take a peek into that crystal ball and see what the future held.

The future still looks bleak.

It looks big and physical. Not pretty, just tough and gritty and textbook playbook. The way football has been played for more than a century.

Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Continue reading The Lucky Hat

Man 101: How to be a hypocrite

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Most of our dinner table conversations are good.

My kids amaze me with their global prowess, though my wife will complain that we spend too much time talking sports.

With three boys to two girls, I’ll admit that sometimes we do take over the conversation a bit.

Tonight was not a good conversation. And it’s my fault.

I brought up my son’s basketball practice after he started talking about going to play for the local Catholic school.

He talked about playing football for the local Catholic school.

Continue reading Man 101: How to be a hypocrite

Navigating Sporting Allegiances in a Nomadic Family

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By Tim Akimoff

Allegiances in sports are often built around community. 

I live on the South Side of Chicago, for instance, and it is not always safe to wear my Cubs hat around my neighborhood. 

But my neighbors, much like their North Side counterparts, are all Bears fans, and if you’re Catholic, and especially if you’re Irish, you are a Notre Dame fan, whether you live in the city or in the suburbs or within 200 miles of South Bend, Indiana. 

I have thought a lot about allegiances through the years. I was raised in Europe before we moved to Los Angeles when I was 7-years-old.

Several years later we moved to the Pacific Northwest.

As a teenager, my sporting allegiances followed my father’s.

He was raised in San Francisco, and he would sneak in to Kezar Stadium to watch the 49ers play with his older brother Nick. He was a 49ers/Giants fan through and through, and so was I. At least until I decided to like the Dolphins one year.

But after they were routed by my dad’s 49ers, I quickly made my way back into the family fold.

Living in Oregon brought a pressure from the north and the south. To the north were the lowly Seahawks and Mariners from Seattle. During the years that I lived in Oregon, both teams seemed far more cursed than the Cubs.

And to the south were the mighty 49ers and the Giants. It was not a difficult choice. But seeing a team play often meant feigning interest in the Seahawks or the Mariners.

After my children were born, it was natural for them to pick up on family allegiances, but there was pressure too from their peers in school. I’ve always been interested in how those pressures shape a child.

But as a journalist who moves around every few years, my kids’ allegiances are as complicated as a small European country during the Napoleonic Wars.  

When we moved to Montana, it was an 8-hour drive to Seattle, so naturally there was that pressure from the west. But Denver was a 12-hour drive to the south, and many of our friends align with the Broncos on any given Sunday. 

There are also local colleges to consider. The University of Montana Grizzlies made two trips to the national championship game for their division during our three years in Missoula. 

Alaska is a five-day drive from Seattle, but the state bleeds green and blue. The one-time and still supply hub of Seattle is more a large Alaskan city then the Emerald City of Washington and the Pacific Northwest, at least in the minds of most Alaskans. 

But the west is vast and open, and allegiances are forgiven in the emptiness of a region where people rely on other people for survival. 

Not so much in the Midwest, where an 8-hour drive can put you in any of a dozen different Major League ballparks and half a dozen NFL stadiums. 

Allegiances are time honored and geographical. 

The lines are cut like the world’s super powers divided the Middle East after the Second World War. 

And here, finally, my children have come face to face with their identities as they relate to their allegiances. 

My boys wear White Sox hats like their classmates, though they secretly cheer for our beloved Giants. The proximity to two World Series titles in the last few years keeps them in that fold for now. Though I suspect the longer we stay in Chicago, the less that allegiance will hold. 

They have no love for the Bears, but they cannot help but fall into those Monday morning conversations with their friends, nor can I ignore my neighbors and the discussions we have while standing out by the mailbox. 

Even though I only watch my 49ers play on Thursdays, Sundays or Mondays, I have to know the basics of every Chicago Bear game, and I have to have an opinion on Jay Cutler’s performance. 

The same can be said of the Chicago Blackhawks. We are not a hockey family. Ice is not common in the soggy Pacific Northwest from which we hail. 

But this year we became forced fans in the city’s exuberance of a well-earned Stanley Cup. We attended viewing parties, and it’s not difficult for the kids to get swept up in the thrill of it all, even though I truly don’t care all that much about the sport still.

The unspoken glue that holds us all together might just be the one thing we have carried with us on our sojourn. That is our love for my alma mater and it’s well-funded, technically clothed football team.

The Oregon Ducks represent more than a college football team. They are an embodiment of something that we all cling to – home.

When they win, there is pride in where we came from and what we still carry with us. There is the knowledge that so many others, our friends and our families, are watching along with us.

When they lose, there is pain and a reminder of what we left behind.

The Ducks are the one piece of sporting allegiance that is never questioned or forsaken.

We have been in Chicago for a little over a year now. Far too short a time to break down our traveling allegiances but long enough to know a little bit about everything.

That’s part of the art of fitting in, after all.

Our neighbors have lived here their entire lives. Their allegiances are as set in stone as they are. No threat of moving away and no threat of new allegiances forming.

And I wonder how long it will take my kids to become wrapped up in this place and its baseball, football and hockey teams? Already I see them wearing Bulls t-shirts and Blackhawk knit-caps borrowed or gifted from friends.

That is fitting in.

True allegiance is an identity, and it takes time to develop. But I wonder how much time? 

And what cost is there in loving all some but not all one? 

Because surely there is a cost, as there are costs for all things.  

 

The 49ers and me: How I spent the Last Five Super Bowls –

This will be the first Super Bowl in which the 49ers are playing that I won’t be watching with my dad.

I live in Chicago now, and my dad is with my mom traveling in some far off place.

It’s been a long time since we watched a game together, longer still since we watched a Super Bowl that featured our beloved San Francisco 49ers.

In 1981, I was 7, and the 49ers were a family affair, and so it was normal to cheer for them against the Bengals.

My dad and his brothers grew up sneaking into Kezar Stadium in San Francisco, and since the Golden Gate is my family’s Statue of Liberty, and Pier 49 is our Ellis Island, San Francisco football and baseball are sacred.

The 1981 Super Bowl against the Bengals was where I learned that my dad doesn’t care about winning as much as he cares about a great game.

I didn’t fully understand it then, and I wish I could be half as zen as he can when a game is close.

My dad appreciates the game for the qualities of the game more than the faithfulness of being a fan.

At 10, I decided I would break from the family love affair with everything Bay Area, and I chose to cheer on the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX.

That was until Half Time, when I knew for sure that I’d be a San Francisco 49er fan for life.

Joe Montana and my father’s patience quelled a small rebellion in my young heart.

For that first half I did everything I could to annoy my dad, but nothing worked. And thinking back to that, I now understand so much more about the things my own children do to me. And I understand what it is to be right and yet able to hold back from rubbing it in their little faces.

When the 49ers played the Bengals again a few years later in Super Bowl XXIII, I remember my dad getting excited when the Bengals came back from a 20-0 halftime deficit. This was a revolutionary concept to me.

I played football for two years in high school. And after a rib injury during my sophomore year, I lost interest in the game almost completely.

In 1990, I learned that in spite of my father’s preference for close games, I liked flat-out dominance. Super Bowl XXIV gave me a chance to love my kind of football. My dad loves the two-minute drill, the last-ditch effort to win when it comes down to the wire and you have 90-yards of field to chew up. But that kind of football just chews me up inside.

Watching the 49ers destroy the Denver Broncos was pure pleasure for me. I think my dad was reading his Time Magazine by the half.

We both loved the same team, but we had very different ideals for the style of play and the preferred outcome of a game.

And while our mutual love of the red and gold characterized some of the relationship between my dad and I, the team has had a surprising impact on other parts of my life too.

When I fell in love with Cheryl Carpenter, a schoolmate and a rural neighbor girl. (our families lived about three miles apart) I knew my life would never be the same. I also knew I had found a companion for life.

Our first “official” date was a trip to Seattle to watch the San Francisco 49ers play the Seattle Seahawks. It was one of Joe Montana’s last games with the Niners, and up and comer Steve Young played at quarterback.

And she had to suffer my boorish behavior in the King Dome, as I loudly proclaimed the dominance of the 49ers over the Seahawks. Turns out I was right, but many Seattle fans were annoyed with me that day.

In spite of that, she went on a second date with me.

The next few years were a blur of graduation, marriage and jobs. I caught a few games here and there, but the 49ers played second fiddle to all the other interests in my life.

Cheryl and I married in 1994, and we spent the first year together living under my parents’ roof. And so it was that I have seen all 5 San Francisco 49er Super Bowls in that house or at least on a television owned by my parents.

The first four years of our marriage saw the waning of the 49er dynasty, and by the time our first son, Cole, was born in 1998, the best team in football was a footnote in history.

A few years later, when Cole was just a toe-headed two-year-old, we took him to see the 49ers play the Seattle Seahawks at Husky Stadium.

After that we had two more children, I went to college and became a journalist, and I barely had time to read the morning paper, let alone watch a football game.

I caught a few here and there. We moved away from our parents and set up a new home in the mountains of Western Montana.

My boys liked whatever football teams their friends liked. In Montana it was the Denver Broncos by proximity.

I’d catch a game whenever I could, but it was sad to watch something that was once so great. We spent Sunday afternoons hiking in the Bitterroot Mountains or skiing at Snow Bowl.

Then I lost my job, and our world came crashing down. We had to leave our mountain home, and my new job took us to Alaska and a brand-new adventure.

We moved there in November, and a week at home in Oregon with my dad gave me the opportunity to watch a 49er game in my parents’ home as I had done for so many years.

We moved to Alaska in November, and we spent our first night in Anchorage in a hotel room watching the San Francisco Giants win the World Series.

That was a special night.

We learned quickly how tough Alaska winters can be, and with the 49ers out of the playoffs yet again, our interest was on the Oregon Ducks, a college team and my Alma Mater to hold our interest when it was too cold and too dark to do much outside.

The Alaskan summers are the opposite, and there is too much going on outside and too much daylight to do it in. So it’s difficult to force yourself inside on a Sunday in August or even September.

So it wasn’t until about halfway through the season that I discovered my two boys had been watching 49er games.

They filled me in that Stanford’s coach had been hired away and was leading the 49ers to a pretty respectable season.

I watched the last two regular season games with my boys.

Then it was the playoffs, and when I had to be away for various projects, Cole would text me the scores.

When they lost to the Giants in the NFC Championship game, we were disheartened but not deflated.

Not only was our team back, but it was OUR team. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but something about our new adventure in Alaska had turned my boys into 49er fans.

Six months later we left Alaska for Chicago, and I wondered how long it would take the boys to become Bears fans.

But they didn’t flinch, not even at the excitement of seeing Soldier Field up close.

This is the first season in many years that I’ve watched NFL football in addition to college football. It’s also the first season that I’ve watched games with my boys.

A few weeks ago we watched the 49ers beat the Falcons to advance to the Super Bowl for a Sixth time.

And as great as the memories of the last five Super Bowls with my dad are, I can’t help but feel blessed to be able to keep the tradition alive in my own household.

I don’t know where I’ll be in the next five years. I don’t know if my boys will be lifeline 49er fans.

But I know that as I look back on more than 30 years of loving the same team, you realize that it looks a lot like life.

You don’t always win the close ones, but you relish it when you do. The blowouts are great, but they are boring too. The Super Bowls are highlights, for sure, but having fans through the darkest times is what makes the next Super Bowl appearance so special.

I’m excited for today’s game. I hope it’s sufficiently close to keep my dad happy, but I simultaneously hope we blow them out of the water.

It’s only football – and other sporting sins –

Our first date was to a Seattle Seahawks game to watch them play the San Francisco 49ers. 

The first time I ever called my wife the terrible word was because of a football game. 

It was a San Francisco 49ers game, and they were losing. And she wanted to do something else, so she started in to me about this and that.

My rising blood pressure at the lack of defense displayed on the field combined with a headache brought on by my wife’s insistance on activities that had nothing to do with what I was currently focused on brought me low, very low indeed. 

I lashed out. I said it, and the look on her face was enough to tell me that I had crossed a line that should never be crossed and once you do, you can never go back. 

All because of a stupid football game. Twenty-two large, sweaty men on a green and white grid smashing at each other to score points. 

It took us a while to recover from that one. No amount of apologizing worked. She was hurt badly, and I had nothing better than a stupid sports excuse to show for it. 

It made me hate sports and despise my weakness at getting emotionally out of control within the context of something that truly does not matter.

I stopped watching football after that. I gave up on the rest of that NFL season, which was painful yet good medicine. 

It made not watching football the next year much easier. 

Gradually the 49ers fell from grace, the Joe Montana and Steve Young years slipped away, and the team fell into a funk.

It was easy to ignore.

My Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde football personalities gradually gave way to a more balanced me, one who could take or leave sports with impunity.

A few years went by where I watched very few sporting matches, if any.

Then I decided to go to university and specifically a university that was on the verge of breaking out of the West Coast sporting doldrums and onto the national stage with a superstar quarterback in Joey Harrington.

I could get discounted tickets to games as a student at the University of Oregon, and so I did. 

I got caught up in the hype of the Heisman chase that year, and in a way, it connected me to the younger more normal students there. We had Duck football in common, if nothing else.

My boys were young, very young then. And I felt like I kept a balance to things, especially my education and family life, which was about all I could manage. Football was a side pleasure, a more balanced interest than it had been previously.

I graduated and became a reporter at a newspaper in town with virtually no football, at least no football to speak of. The nearest big city didn’t even have a baseball team. And I worked Sundays. 

Other than Super Bowl Sunday, I forgot about the sport that had torn me up so much in the past. 

Then we moved to Montana, a state with no pro sports at all and vistas so unimaginable, no sporting event in the world could compete with a chance to be outside in nature. 

On Sundays we hiked and played in the great wilderness. We floated the rivers and made bonfires at night and enjoyed good craft beer under stars so bright they lit up the way for you. 

And gradually summer turned to fall, and the leaves fell off the trees, and Montanans started talking about nothing but their beloved University of Montana Grizzlies. The kids came home from school with Griz helmets and jerseys signed by players. 

The newspaper where I worked was awash in maroon and silver every Friday, and on Saturdays, the sounds from the stadium could be heard far up on the trails on the surrounding hills where we often hiked.

I wasn’t dragged back in kicking and screaming. It was gradual. A watch party here or there, and then suddenly, my alma mater, my Oregon Ducks were right back in the thick of the national college football scene. 

Suddenly Saturdays were a blur of kids soccer games and rushing around to grab chips and salsa and beer for the evening game against this PAC-12 school or that. 

Suddenly the nerves were raw again, the tension palpable in the room as games came down to field goals or two-minute drills. Soon I was completely caught back up in the same mess I had been before.

I was overly bought in, too emotionally attached to something of little significance. I was like every other manchild in the United States. 

Then we moved to Alaska, where the only pro sport is hockey and where hockey is not merely sport but religion too. 

And there is nothing in this world I care less for than hockey. Perhaps it’s the way my eyes fail to track that little black puck around the white surface of the ice rink, perhaps it’s the sound of sticks clattering and skates slicing through ice, but I despise hockey. Unless there is blood. A good boxing bout on ice is always enjoyable but nothing that can’t be caught on the recaps on the news. 

WIth fewer people than Montana, Alaska still was not the refuge from football that I needed. A sojourn in India helped put things in perspective as I watched a country go nuts over the Cricket World Championships. If that doesn’t show you the ability of sport to transcend everything from culture to sanity, nothing will. 

Too many cold Sundays in November and December mean a lot of sitting around and watching television. And you can only watch so many reruns. 

I started watching the San Francisco 49ers play again shortly after Jim Harbaugh became the coach. It was like watching a phoenix rise from the ashes, abeit a very different phoenix than the last one. This phoenix was a bit of a defensive juggernaut that sort of suffocated other teams to death.

Soon my boys took a much more active interest in football. They memorized the players and understood the plays from having spent so much time playing Madden NFL. 

They were walking statisticians, faster than my computer at pulling up random stats from their favorite Duck and 49er players. 

This year we moved to Chicago, and one of my fears was that we were moving to a true-blue sports town. A renowned football team, a trophied basketball team, a venerated hockey club and not one but two baseball teams. Nevermind that one of those teams is the Cubs. 

Some of it came to a head this last week. I found myself, on too many occasions, looking forward to watching the 49ers play on Sundays. We’ll stay up until 1 a.m. watching the Ducks play their west coast rivals. 

I find myself standing during game rather than sitting, because I have an inability to relax. 

I realize these are many of the exact things that make sports so enjoyable to so many. 

But the more I think about how low-value the experience really is, it causes me to question my sanity. 

And then there is that one episode so many years ago now. 

The time I dropped the bomb on my wife during a football game. 

She’s since forgiven me, but I don’t know that I’ve forgiven myself. 

And every time I get caught up in sport, so wrapped up again that I’m a different person, I remember that day.

I’m not into resolutions, but I’m going to make football a very low priority in my life. I’m going to read more, ride my bike, go for walks with my wife, play games with my daughter and maybe throw the football around the yard with my boys. 

I can’t imagine a life of Sundays wasted on something so trivial and ultimately meaningless.

But then everyone says this when their team misses out on the national championship, right?

Tim