I grew up in Chicago thus, I am a Bears fan. Walter Payton, The Fridge, the Superbowl Shuffle, Mike Ditka. In my late twenties, I found myself in graduate school in New Orleans and Mike Ditka emerged from retirement to coach the city’s beloved Saints – “bless you boys.” I immediately jumped on the Saints bandwagon. It didn’t hurt that the person I was dating at the time was the Saints Mascot, Gumbo, and I could attend football games in the Superdome regularly.
Every Sunday, the Joe’s gang meets at the bar to watch the New York Giants. It’s exhilarating, exhausting, and stressful. Interestingly, as a Bears/Saints gal I wouldn’t want to watch football, and not a team that I generally find myself a fan of, anywhere else. I’ve written about Joe’s in the past. It’s the place where “everybody knows my name” and they are “always glad I came.” But, watching the New York Giants play there, on four large screen televisions, is quite the experience. It’s loud. It’s raucous. It’s beyond fun. And, I’m with my Joe’s family.
I love sports. I love the competition and the camaraderie. I love it all. My affinity for the game(s) is so strong that I taught The History of Sport in America when I was a Visiting Professor at West Virginia University. Sports bind us, bridges the divide, and makes us more alike than different. It makes friends where they might not necessarily exist and creates family where one might not necessarily exist. In the early twentieth century, when black Americans were subjected daily to Jim Crow, sport allowed them to be American, when they couldn’t be mostly anywhere else. At baseball stadiums, where black Americans were segregated, they still joined with whites in cheering on the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox. And for those few hours, while athletic young white men hit balls around Fenway, black and white folks cheered for the same outcome. Sports make light of difference, if only for a moment. That moment, however, is integral to us all finding community.
Joe’s is a New York bar. We root for the Yankees in the summer and the Giants in the fall, even if some of us are from Chicago or New Orleans or New England or, because it’s Bethlehem, Philadelphia. We drink beers with Russ, the owner (his father, Joe, is the namesake of the bar). We cheer loudly when they score and we are silent when they lose in the last few seconds of the game, by nothing more than a field goal and perhaps some bad ref calls. And then we depart, to our respective places only to regroup the following week, unless we are on a “buy,” of course.
Giant’s kitsch overwhelms the bar. However, the regulars feel the need to bring tokens of luck. There’s the New York Giants gremlin that Nicole passes around for everyone to touch its long, red hair, in great hopes of a touchdown. Amber brought in a tiny Tom Brady, to be tormented by the patrons. There is plenty of Giants gear around the bar, but the awful Giants sweaters that resemble the bad Christmas sweaters that are on the eve of arrival are present and the myriad Giants jerseys that the patrons wear, are all intended to bring us to a win. A bar of patrons cheering vocally for Eli Manning feels like the prayers that Christians say every night before bed hoping for a better week ahead. (I’m quite familiar with the religious overtones of a football game being a Saints fan.)
Most of us have to be at work on Monday mornings. So when the games are late, we drink beers and eat nachos and Buffalo wings and pizza and try not to fall into our Saturday night modes of operation where we indulge more than we should. But, for those brief three or four hours, when we are all together, our Joe’s family high five’s and screams at the television and sighs then laments and yells at the actors on the screen hoping for a better outcome. I can’t imagine spending a Sunday afternoon any other way. With my family of friends, decked out in Blue and Red, and me, in my Black and Gold, but all of us, together, a community. Go Giants! (And Bears! And Saints!)