Saturday, January 22, 2011

An Anniversary at the Airport

Five years ago, I was on a flight back from Oakland via Las Vegas. Without going into it, it was a pretty rough day… or month. So rough that wrestling anxiety and anger was best served on my own at Terminal 2 for approximately seven hours before flying home.

The day was essentially spent at Oakland International Airport after leaving San Jose earlier than necessary. Yours truly hadn’t watched a televised sporting event in its entirety since having left home for an undiscovered life in the Bay Area. In fact, outside of a couple of quarters of the Golden State Warriors games, I didn’t watch many sports as hoped – a story worth telling when the memoirs are published.

[Sure, there was the second-greatest Christmas present ever; a long-time New York-reared San Francisco 49ers fan finally took the walk into Candlestick Park for the so-called “Bush Bowl” against the Houston Texans. Yet, that was New Year’s Day; long before this botched relocation fell apart. Life was still so… promising and new.]

The day of infamy began long before hopping on the BART to OAK. After taking a seat and ample aisle room at Fremont, it dawned upon me that if I play my cards right, I could grab some food, perch near a television and watch the AFC and NFC Conference Championship games before leaving California. See, as bad as this day… week… month was, I knew that I could always take solace in watching twenty-two men beat the crap out of each other for an oblong brown ball.

Courtesy of The Guardian (UK)

Pittsburgh Steelers – the sixth seed - traveled to Denver for a date with the Broncos. The game, rather uneventful for anyone that wasn’t part of Steeler Nation, was defined by four turnovers by the Pittsburgh defense and Ben Roethlisberger’s name thrown alongside Dan Marino’s as both were second-year quarterbacks who made the Super Bowl.

Seattle made their first Super Bowl in franchise history when they also capitalized off of four turnovers against the Carolina Panthers. This game stuck out for two reasons: one, this was how Jake Delhomme cemented his reputation as Jake Delhomme and this was how I discovered the Seahawks fan base.

In the town of the Raiders and across the way from the 49ers, seeing ‘Hawks fans walking around the airport and chugging beers at several bars & eateries was a bit startling. Of course, Seattle is about a one-hour flight from the Bay, so there couldn’t be too much of a surprise. However, when you consider that save for Steve Largent and the 2002 realignment which forced the franchise to change conferences, the NFL fans back east couldn’t tell you squat about anyone who ever played for the Seahawks except at-the-time fantasy football king Shaun Alexander.

Seahawks fans were doused in elation and drenched in a ton of “what about us?”-ness throughout that January. It was admirable and certainly enviable. I had yet to start a specific beat for the Beacon, so there wasn’t the struggle of covering a team I grew up despising and eventually respecting in the New York Giants. That I witnessed rookie Alex Smith throw his first career touchdown – countering eleven interceptions thrown in the 2005 season – three weeks before Seattle punched their ticket to the Super Bowl spoke of how mighty the 49ers had fallen.

Watching Seahawks fans huddled around TVs throughout the terminal was a surprisingly pleasant sight. The high-fives and fist bumps, the jubilant drunken cheers, the early and humorously biased prognostications for the ‘Hawks; all were different, all were entertaining, all were just cool to see.

Moments after their win, boarding began for a quick flight to Las Vegas. A one-hour layover in Sin City meant little time to watch any west coast NBA games. Had I not been coming back to New York, I would have enjoyed from the cozy confines of carpeted studio apartment in San Jose. Instead…

By the time the second flight took off for JFK back home, I believe Kobe Bryant had tallied 26 points in the first half. It was going to be a spectacular night – or semi-ordinary for the future Hall of Famer – and the fans, players and coaches who watched were probably thinking 50 was inevitable.

Meanwhile, in the back of the Boeing and adjacent to the men’s room, yours truly is thinking of how he was going to try to get his old gig at the Beacon back (which happened within two weeks).

At some point while hovering into the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, Bryant had his press conference. This post-game presser had to have been like any in NBA history; a conquering king retelling the story of how he dared a weaker, but brave red and black-attired army to take his castle.

Struggling to relax in the upright position, the prodigal son was coming back east. No longer could I brag about being able to watch the Pacific Division teams live without worrying about not getting enough sleep for the next day.

So why tell you this?

There are far worse things in life, but when it comes to the sports world, to be last to have seen something incredible, remarkable… sublime, even, is akin to being the person that played out the latest styles in the streets.

You can’t join in on the barbershop conversations that week because except for pay-per-view fights being rebroadcasted on premium cable the next week, replays of games are so rare that you might as well read wait for a player to write about it in his or her memoirs in thirty years.

You find yourself saying “you mean I missed that game because SOMEBODY (points to significant other) wanted to see Honey?!?!”.

You hate everyone that’s talking about the game, especially the casual New York fan who roots for whichever team is in the playoffs “because it’s all New York”.

When my brother picked me up from JFK, the very first thing he asked me was “did you hear about Kobe?” The temper tantrum thrown in the passenger seat would have made Cuba Gooding, Jr. proud.

When the entire ordeal began at the Fremont BART station, I took solace in knowing that the circumstances gave me a chance to watch all the biggest sporting events of the weekend; to come back to something familiar and slowly ease my way out of a difficult time in my life. Yet, to this day, five years later, there’s nothing that angers me more than knowing that I could have watched a legendary performance while most of the country was in its post-football slumber.

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