― Dave Barry
(b. July 3, 1947)
In late January, some 41 years ago, three high school classmates and I made a dumb decision.
It was a Snow Day.
So we did what high school seniors — especially boys — were supposed to do. We played football ... in the snow.
Neighbors understood our cause. All were accustomed to our dumb decisions. We were wannabe men and such decisions were our lot in life.
Abandoning the comfort of a warm living room and the boredom of those afternoon soap operas — this was the pre-cable era — we tested the frigid temperatures of the blustery outdoors.
Four decades later, I can’t remember the depth of the snow. I figure it was no less than 6 inches, no more than ... say, a foot ... maybe two. The temperature may have hovered slightly above 10, but the stout wind chill kept our minds off the numbers and on other more pressing incidentals ... like frostbite.
But we were young, and therefore indestructible. And we all owned gloves, each pair of which was tucked safely in the back pockets of our faded blue jeans. One good fellow — Michael Gossett, I believe was his name — may have even had a hole in one knee of his jeans. Or, it might have been his brother, William. I cannot be certain. It was 1973.
Both Gossett boys were part of our Arctic club, so labeled the Four Horsemen of the Frozen Apocalypse. The other was Mike Sanderlin.
Stepping onto the frozen tundra of a long-forgotten cornfield which shared a property line with Mike’s parents, its bumpy rows of rolling white welcomed our approach. Years earlier this land had grown giant green stalks of corn which produced a wholesome vegetable the old folks called “ros’neers,” or something similar. As a young adult, I was later to translate this quaint Southern colloquialism as “roasting ears,” as in “roasting ears of corn.”
It was a telling point in my life.
I remember the day — and the feeling of great personal accomplishment — when I alerted Pappaw Denson of my discovery. He beamed with a loving grandfatherly kind of grin and offered, “... Sonny boy, you just now learnin’ that?” Yet, his wrinkled, withered hand hugged my shoulder with pride knowing that I had advanced beyond yet another rite of agrarian passage.
As our foursome trudged across the undulating drifts of snow, someone tossed the football to another’s awaiting hands ... which had remained bare from the owner’s decision to keep his gloves tucked away. The football was dropped by aching, red fingers. The cold pigskin became even colder upon contact with the ice cream turf of white.
“What kind of catch was that?” the passer challenged.
“Bad throw,” came the response.
“It was a perfect spiral, right in your chest,” the January quarterback countered.
“The sun must’a got in my eye,” the chastised receiver answered.
This was the long-accepted dialogue of teenage boys lost in debate over dumb decisions.
Not directly involved with the throw or the drop, I accepted the sun theory.
Gazing across the albino field that sparkled like first-grade glitter, I shrieked in surprise as the next spiral found its way to my forehead.
“Ouch!” I roared, rubbing the sting.
“Oops!” came a reply. “I thought you were ready.”
More teen verbiage from this day of shock and awe.
And so began our afternoon of pigskin theatrics in an open field of the West Tennessee annex of the North Pole.
In style typical of teenage toughies, we played tackle. No touch football on this gridiron. We slipped. We slid. We fell. And we fretted. One even bled, but the flow coagulated quickly compliments of the mid-winter freeze.
Most passes were dropped. Most tackles hurt. No matter the depth of snow, being pile-driven into a concealed row of cornstalk stobs came with decided pain. Fortunate it was that we were Incredible Hulks in cotton toboggans, padded jackets and knee-high tube socks.
Once we laughed at our frozen breath as it escaped like car exhaust from our huffs and puffs.
Once we tackled a little too aggressively, leading to words of anger that years earlier would have landed mom-inspired bars of soap in our mouths.
Once we waved at an automobile from the distant road whose horn howled satisfaction at our January heroics. Or it might have been our Latin teacher.
Once we managed a successful string of caught passes; most were dropped, but certainly not from lack of talent. Rather, from the numb of frozen fingers.
Once we considered the warmth of the house, but favored the fun in the snow instead.
Once we even scored a touchdown because the runner spied the submerged stump; the tackler did not.
Once we checked our watches to discover only one was waterproof.
Once we acknowledged our fingers were icicles in skin, our ears were red as the western sky and our noses shined like apples and ran like spigots.
These were the days of dumb decisions.
But they were our decisions and we made them well.
Today is Super Bowl Sunday.
Behind Christmas and Easter, some would argue it to be the third most sacred day of the year.
Super Bowl XLVIII is being played in an open-air stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., a town just south of the Arctic Circle.
It is Feb. 2.
The good news is meteorologists are calling for unseasonably warm temperatures. The bad news is the commitment to New Jersey was made years ago. The NFL rolled the dice ... and this time won.
What about the next time?
Talk about dumb decisions.