Here is a brief accounting of the good natured ribbing which occurred during the pre-season game between the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers:
…one bystander: punched after trying to break up a fight between two alleged gang members.
…one drunk ass: thrown in jail after being stopped by two bike cops, grabbing one of their handle bars, and yelling “take their bikes!” No word on whether other fans took his exhortation to heart.
…one man: waiting for the bathroom, ends up hospitalized after someone slams his head into the wall.
…one man: shot in the leg and grazed in the face by bullets.
…one man: sent to jail after biting a cop. (a friend, perhaps, of the handle bar grabber).
…one man: shows up at Gate A and tells cops he is worried about the gunshot wounds to his torso.
…one man: tooth chipped after getting punched in the face.
And these aren’t all the violent incidents during the game, just the highlights.
Now I wasn’t at that game, but I did take my 15 year old son Rafael (left tackle, defensive end, junior varsity), his friend Skyler (left guard, defensive tackle, junior varsity) and my 11 year old son Gabriel (baseball, tennis and soccer, but not football; not yet, anyway) to the Raiders – Cardinals game in Oakland the week before.
After the game, I asked Rafael, “What was the best part?”
Of course. About six rows ahead of us, two opposing fans got into it. Rafael jumped into his impersonation of the combatants.
“See me now bitch?”
“Come see me bitch!”
“See me now bitch?!”
“Come see me bitch!!”
“See me now BITCH?!!”
“Come see me BITCH!!”
This, I’m happy to report, was the extent of it. This was the kind of would-be fight where both sides had to be “restrained” by their friends.
Personally, I’ve never been able to restrain someone hell bent on fighting with just my pinky, but amazingly, here it seemed to work.
My 11 year old Gabriel gawked at the posturing and said, “It’s so stupid.”
Rafael: “I know, it’s only pre-season!”
Both guys eventually got the cred they wanted when a couple officers from the sheriff’s department ejected them from the stadium.
I’m proud of my son. Not because he laughed at the near-fight, which amused me, too, but because he’s been working his ass off to start JV this year.
The only practices he missed this summer were when we forced him to go on a family trip. Otherwise, he made every practice, even a few with two sprained fingers in a splint. He ran sprint after sprint, and like his father, running comes about as naturally to him as speaking Sanskrit. But he pushed himself. And then he pushed himself some more.
He loves the game. Loves it. When he’s not playing football for real, he’s playing Madden, and when he’s not playing Madden, he’s watching cable shows like Top Ten Football Divas and Total Access.
And I’m all the more proud because football is the one sport we didn’t throw at him. There were ill fated forays into baseball, swimming, tennis and soccer, but none of them stuck. The one thing my wife and I never mentioned was football.
If this is his version of adolescent rebellion, I am sooo okay with that.
Where did the time go?
I didn’t have a camera in the hospital room when he was born, but a thoughtful nurse took a polaroid and gave it to me. The shot’s a bit blurry, its colors are starting to fade, but I have the first photo ever taken of Rafael, all nine pounds seven ounces of him, swaddled tightly in a hospital issue blanket, his head propped up over my shoulder, my back to the camera, his dazed and surprised eyes open.
In the white margin of the photo I wrote,
“9:26 p.m., June 28, 1996.”
Today he is six feet one, weighs 175 pounds, and has to shave once a week. I’m six foot three and 200, but I don’t practice running and hitting drills twice a day, five times a week. If he wanted to, he could take me.
Note to self: sharpen all psychological weapons now: frosty, guilt-inducing stares; threats to take away his cell phone; pinched eyebrows indicating disappointment; using sushi as positive reinforcement.
At the Oakland Coliseum we got to see a glimpse of Raider Nation.
Oakland lost the game 24-18, but that’s okay. Rafael viewed it with a certain detached wisdom:
“It doesn’t matter. No one’s even really trying in the pre-season, except for the third stringers who are fighting with the fourth stringers for their job.”
Just the same he got to see two starters, two of his favorite players, receiver Larry Fitzgerald for the Cardinals, and lineman Richard Seymour for Oakland, play for about ten minutes each.
“I bet (new Cardinal QB) Kolb thought, ‘If I just throw it in Larry’s general direction, he’ll catch it.’” And sure enough, Fitzgerald did not disappoint, making two spectacular catches.
And Richard Seymour , “like 6’6”, 300-something pounds,” according to Rafael, made some concrete block tackles.
Seymour, a fellow lineman, is near and dear to Rafael’s heart. “He does this crazy stance that our coach won’t let us do, but he’s just so good, it doesn’t matter.” Okay, so Rafael’s hero at this point isn’t MLK or Thomas Jefferson or Tina Fey or Einstein. I accept that.
From what Rafael’s told me, Seymour is a man-beast, but he’s a principled man-beast: he once punched Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger in the face and got ejected from the game for it.
When I asked Rafael what his dream game would be, he answered without hesitation: Raiders – Steelers.
“I don’t care how much the Raiders win by, just as long as they win and Ben Rapistburger gets hurt. And also Hines Ward and Rashard Mendenhall.” I’d heard about the sexual assault charges against Roethlisberger, but I didn’t know much about Ward or Mendenhall.
“Mendenhall is an idiot,” explained Rafael. “He says there’s no proof bin Laden did 9/11.”
And Ward? “He’s just the creepiest person ever. He’s been arrested, he plays dirty, he hangs out with porn stars, and he was on ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ He won.”
The way he spat out those last few words – the DUI arrest and porn star pal were bad enough – but choosing to go on Dancing? And then doing well at it?
It was more than my sensitive scholar-athlete could bear.
And you know the cliché about how much teenagers can eat? Well, it’s an underexaggeration – before the game, we stopped for double doubles at In N Out. An hour later the boys were scarfing down Round Table mini-pizzas in the stadium.
Papa was proud. A little disgusted, but proud.
Rafael’s final comment on the whole experience?
“The field looks a lot bigger on TV than in real life. And everyone runs a lot faster than in Madden.”
Rafael’s opener is this Friday. Can’t wait. Can not wait.