Super Bowl Sunday stops the clock on a very rough season

January 27, 1994|By SUSAN REIMER

This Sunday is Super Bowl Sunday, a kind of unofficial national holiday. Americans gather around the television set, eat too much, drink too much and cheer for football teams they never cared about before.

It has long been a cause for celebration in my house, too, but for a different reason. For 11 years, Super Bowl Sunday meant the end of the pro football season for my husband, the pro football writer.

He would leave home and hearth around July 15, when football training camps open, and travel every weekend and many Monday nights to exotic places such as Cleveland, Buffalo and Pittsburgh. He called it the "Kielbasa Triangle."

Integrating a family life with the pro football season was not easy. We might be the only couple who ever planned the birth of a child to occur between the Super Bowl in January and the start of the now-defunct United States Football League season in late February. I would pray for Washington to make playoffs only because that meant a week or two more of my husband in town.

Too many Thanksgivings were spent in Dallas or Detroit, where Thanksgiving Day football games have long been a tradition. Christmas was something we did very quickly between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs. My husband spent most New Year's Eves in a Hyatt Regency in some playoff town or another.

Covering the NFL might be the most prestigious job in sports, and so my husband was a hero to all his male friends, who asked wistfully what it was like. "It is like sex," my husband would say. "When you get paid for doing it, it changes the nature of the whole experience."

To my friends, I was an object of pity. The ultimate football widow. They would all look out for me, especially during the month of January, when I seemed particularly vulnerable. The Super Bowl is so close, I would tell myself. Just hang on.

One year, I very nearly did not.

It was January 1987, and the New York Giants were playing the Denver Broncos in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. And it was snowing like crazy in Maryland.

Joe was not yet 3 years old, and Jessie was not yet a year old. My husband packed his shorts and left for California, and bad things started to happen to me almost immediately.

A blizzard arrived with a driving wind that actually pushed snow through the vents in our roof. I had snow drifts in my attic, and as they melted, they turned my bedroom ceiling into mashed potatoes. Plaster dropped in great dollops on the quilt on my bed.

On the way to the grocery store, I slid on the ice and wrecked the car. Inside the grocery store, my wallet was stolen. On the way home, I learned from the bank that I could get no more money. The Internal Revenue Service, impatient for me to pay a bill it had sent to an address I had vacated five years before, had attached my wages.

I had no food, no money, no car, two babies and a hole in my bedroom ceiling.

And my husband called. It was the Saturday before the big game, and all his work was done. For the first time that week, he checked on his little family in Annapolis.

The dam broke and I wailed. The car. My wallet. The roof. The IRS.

"Calm down," Gary said, "or something bad might happen."

LIKE WHAT? I asked, shrieking now.

Wait a minute, I said. Your voice sounds funny. Where are you calling from?

A pay phone, he answered and his voice now sounded nervous, too.

"Why a pay phone? Where are you anyway?" I demanded.

There was an awkward silence on the phone line from California. "Disneyland," he mumbled.

"OH, YEAH? In more ways than one," I said before slamming down the phone.

On the flight home, the other sportswriters gathered around my husband with their notebooks open as he carefully recounted my Super Bowl week. When their own snowbound wives tried to punish them for a week in the sun, they simply offered up my miserable experiences.

"You think you had it bad? Listen to what happened to Gary's wife . . ."

After a dozen years, my husband has left pro football and now covers the Olympics. He's been around during this NFL season, but he will spend three weeks in February in Lillehammer. I'm trying to stay cheerful.

At least, I tell myself, it is cold in Norway and there is no Disneyland.

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