The Saddest Day of My Life
Super Bowl Sundays are tough for me because they remind me of that fateful day in January 1969 when the world ended. Indeed, immediately before the opening kickoff, Western civilization had reached its zenith; ever since it has been on a downward spiral. My beloved Baltimore Colts, were playing Joe Namath and the New York Jets in Super Bowl III. Colts’ quarterback Johnny Unitas was my boyhood hero, indeed he is still my hero today. Even as a 9 year old, I recognized that 1968 was a tumultuous year. My brother Ken was a Marine fighting in Vietnam. He wasn’t drafted, he volunteered.The social fabric of our country was coming unglued. Draft dodgers were the lowest form of humanity, yet they were celebrated by the throngs of smelly hippies appearing on the nightly news. On Thursday nights, Walter Cronkite would report the Viet Cong, South Vietnamese and American wounded and killed as though these statistics were a box score in a baseball game. Johnny Unitas represented everything good about America, He was a man’s man. Hard for young people to believe today, but Unitas’ flat top crew cut and black high top cleats were symbols of “the anti-counter culture” and Dick Nixon’s Silent Majority. Then there was Baltimore, a city that didn’t have a Haight-Ashbury bone in its body. “Broadway” Joe Namath wore white shoes which as funny as it sounds today was truly heretical. He was a pretty boy partying by the pool, while Unitas and Raymond Berry were running routes after dark preparing for the big game.
The # 1 reason we loved the Colts and hated the Jets was the metaphorical differences between the two teams’ personalities. The Colts represented God, country, duty and loyalty to the team, i.e., the greater good, the values that led Ken to leave college and join the Marines because his country called. Namath and the Jets represented selfish aggrandizement. My Dad and his brothers fought in WWII, and there was a pervasive societal ethos that loyalty to the “team” far outweighed loyalty to “self.” Before the game, Joe Willie told Sports Illustrated that the money was more important to him than his team winning. Well as Bob Dylan noted, “times were a’changing.”
It was simply unthinkable that pretty boy Namath and the Jets could beat the virtuous Colts who were heavily favored. Unitas had been injured and Earl Morrell who had had a spectacular season started for the Colts. As Morrell struggled to put points on the board, late in the game, Unitas appeared and immediately the Colts scored. However, it was too little, too late. The Colts lost 16-7, the unthinkable had happened.
Back in those days boys didn’t cry. I can’t remember past 5 years old where I have ever cried, except for that day. I am still embarrassed about it, I went in my room, laid on my bed and sobbed. Then Dad came in, put his hand on my forehead and told me that everything would be alright. To this day, I can feel the warmth and love of that moment as if it happened 5 minutes ago.
The one lesson I learned that day, is the good guys don’t always win, bad things happen and although you might lose one battle, you can always dust yourself off and fight again the next day.
So what else have I learned since January 12,1969?
My Dad was a great father.
Times did change, but times are always changing. A lot of things changed for the better, but this country could use a dose of pre-Super Bowl III values,
The United States involvement in Vietnam was a noble enterprise. There were mistakes, but there were also very positive geopolitical benefits that saved the lives of tens of millions of people. However, as a student of history, I also know that overzealous patriotism and national pride can lead to bad outcomes.
Time heals wounds. Joe Namath is a good guy. I hated him as a 9 year old, but really like him today.I forgive him for wearing a fur coat and appearing in stocking commercials.
Passions run deep while we are in the moment of historic events and we have a more balanced view of events after they have happened when these events can be analysed without the passion.
There is nothing like the innocence of youth and having a favorite team. I have never loved a team like I loved the Baltimore Colts. To this day, I can still name all 22 starters.
Sports teach great life lessons!