My life with the NFL

The recent death of Johnny Unitas, the great Baltimore Colt quarterback, inspired me to wax nostalgic about those days in the early ‘60s when I was a innocent twerp of a lad getting my first exposure to the insidious virus known as football (and since it turned out to be a lifelong infection, one could make the case for football being somehow similar to diabetes and herpes).

When I was seven years old, though, I didn’t know football was an insidious virus, one that would rob me of thousands of hours I could have perhaps better used in pursuit of being a concert flautist or a scholar of Egyptian antiquities. I just thought it was exciting stuff and an excellent reason to stay home from church on Sunday morning. My mom didn’t agree, being determined to turn me into an Episcopalian, whatever that was. I saw mostly afternoon games.

The NFL was much different back in 1960. Imagine, if you can, games with no instant replay, and I don’t mean instant replay for the refs, where they might overturn a call. I mean instant replay for the TV viewer, where the network would tape the play, and then play it back so we could see it a second time. That innovation simply hadn’t been dreamed up back in ‘60. Since the only satellites in space were Sputniks, you were stuck watching the team closest to your town.

You got one game a week and only on Sunday (Monday night games? Not for a while). The games were shown in black and white, which now seems stylishly cool, like Football Noir. The announcers never gave the scores of the other games. All the players made lousy dough, so they had to work in the off-season as insurance salesmen and beer wholesalers.

We lived in Fresno, which put us in the 49er zone. Therefore, our football viewing choices were about the same as the color choices Ford customers had in the ‘20s; we could see whatever teams we wanted, as long as one of them was the dad-blamed 49ers. You know how you still have some extremely clear memories of certain experiences when you were seven years old? I remember searching the Sunday listings in TV Guide, eager to know who the Niners were gonna play that week. Packers? Bears? Lions?

The recent tributes to Unitas (who truly was a terrific player) brought back vivid memories of seeing the listing “Colts vs. 49ers.” That was a good thing; it meant a good afternoon when CBS showed the Niners and Colts from Kezar Stadium in black and white. It made me and my brother and my dad happy. Ma didn’t care, but that was OK, because she was busy making the pot roast.

In a way, though, the football virus has served me well. The old man and I have a still have a great time slagging each other about football. I’m not so sure we’d have as much fun conversing about Egyptian antiquities.