24: Best Seats in the House

24: Best Seats in the House

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tales of Golf and Sport

Best Seats in the House

We are inclined that if we watch a football game or baseball game, we have taken part in it.

~John F. Kennedy

The best thing I ever bought was the season ticket. Actually, it was three season tickets.

I was thirteen years old at the time and a rabid fan of the New York football Giants. They were called the football Giants in those days to distinguish them from the baseball Giants, who had just moved to San Francisco.

How does a little thirteen-year-old boy gather enough spare change to spring for three season tickets? With his wits.

My bar mitzvah was looming, and everyone in my rather large family was calling and asking what I wanted for my present. I knew exactly what I wanted, but I also knew that no one was going to give it to me. So I proposed the following deal to my father: I would buy as many season tickets as I could with whatever money I got as bar mitzvah gifts if he would promise to renew the tickets every year until I was old enough to hold down a job. My father agreed. After all, he was a Giants fan, too. Then I told everyone in the family that I wanted cash.

When the big day was over and I totaled up the take, it came to three season tickets and about fifteen dollars left over. I half expected my father to make up the difference and purchase a fourth ticket to sort of round things out, but he didn’t. A deal’s a deal, I guess, and I suppose he thought he was teaching me something. Anyway, when the 1958 season came around, we had three seats in the upper deck on the five-yard line at the closed end of Yankee Stadium.

That was the year the Giants played the famous overtime championship game against the Baltimore Colts, the first sudden death in NFL history. Professional football exploded after that, and suddenly all the big-shot lawyers and account execs wanted tickets. But they couldn’t get them anymore. The Giants were sold out, and season tickets would now become something like heirlooms, to be passed down from father to son. And I had three. Well, we had three.

For the first several years, the threesome was always me and my father and my best friend Richie, and then my best friend Bob, and then my best friend Philly, and then my best friend Richie again. But always, it was my father and I.

We wore Giants-blue sweaters before people sold such things. Grandma knitted them for us. We were boosters, my father and I, yelling ourselves hoarse on days at the stadium. I don’t know if those were cold years or if I was just underdressed, but I remember shivering through those winter games even with the sweater. We tried everything. Hot coffee. Wool blankets. A can of Sterno burning at our feet. I had my first nip of brandy from a flask. I loved those games with my dad.

Then the war came—Vietnam—and I rolled off in a tank with the Third Armored Division. Guess what my dad did? He gave the three tickets to my cousin Bernie! Not to keep, just to hold until I came back. We never talked about this, my father and I, and so I don’t know whether he was being superstitious or whether he just didn’t want to go to a game if I wasn’t there.

Not long after I came back, I got married. And we took the tickets back from Cousin Bernie. The Sunday gang became me and my father and my wife. Actually, my father, my wife and I coming along with a picnic basket and endless questions.

It wasn’t the happiest of times for the three season tickets, because the Giants were in the midst of a long slump. In fact, they stunk. My wife couldn’t understand why my father and I put ourselves through the agony of defeat week after week, especially when it was cold. My father couldn’t understand how my wife couldn’t understand.

Somehow we survived this. My father loved my wife, and although she didn’t care much for the game, she loved us. She knitted a pair of Giants scarves, one hundred percent wool with a snappy team logo that my late grandmother had never even attempted. People would actually stop by our seats and ask us where we got the scarves. We would point at my wife, and they would ask her if they could order one.

Then I had a son. Ivan came to his first football game when he was six years old. He spent half the game sitting on my father’s lap and half the game sitting on mine. Without a doubt, this was the finest period for the season tickets, the three generations sitting in the upper deck—still on the five-yard line, but now we were in the Giants’ new stadium in the Jersey Meadowlands, and the team was beginning its march toward two Super Bowls.

Every Sunday we gathered together, grandfather, father, and son, either at the stadium or in front of one of our TVs (if it were an away game). And we rooted. And we cheered. And we talked about the players.

What is it about men, men of six or thirty-six or sixty-six, that they find it easiest to share their intimacies not directly but through a protective shield of old stories and third-person assessments? By which member of the team we admired (the quarterback, the linebacker, the wide receiver), we told each other who we thought we were or, more likely, who we wished we were. By reacting to referees’ calls that went against us, we spoke to each other about our sense of fairness, our belief that the world was just or unjust. By sticking with the team when they were playing badly, we informed each other, and ourselves, of the importance of loyalty and trust.

Once I remember booing a Giants player who had taken himself out of the game. I did this in order to communicate to Ivan (or maybe to my father) my belief that a real man always plays through the pain.

Another time, the three of us proved our power to stay with the team by remaining in our seats during a driving hailstorm. We were heroes after that one, boy, and when the Giants beat the Eagles that day we felt as much a part of the team as any cornerback.

Then there was my father’s heart attack. Giants-Rams, 1984. It was bitter cold that afternoon, and in the second quarter I noticed that my father’s lips had turned purple.

“Are you all right?” I asked.

Slowly, as if not to break something, he shook his head no. I turned to my nine-year-old son and said quietly, “Grandpa is having a heart attack. I want you to help me.”

And Ivan did just that. As I helped my father to the men’s room where he could get warm, Ivan went to the security staff. He returned with two burly guards and a wheelchair.

We wheeled my father down to the training room, where a doctor was waiting. I was right; it was his heart. We put him in the ambulance that usually runs broken players to the hospital for X-rays. I brought the car around to follow the ambulance. My son climbed in with my father. As they pulled out, Ivan flashed me the thumbs-up sign, and I smiled through my gathering tears.

My father pulled through, but he would never go to a game again. He was afraid of the cold. And he was afraid of the long climb we had to make to get to our seats.

For the next few years, whenever the Giants were on the road, we congregated at my father’s house to watch the game on TV. At the stadium, the third seat was filled by my sister and a rotation of friends. But we all watched Super Bowl XXI together, my father and my son and I. When the Giants beat the Denver Broncos, we whooped and hollered and hopped around the room.

My father died soon after that—another heart attack. My son and I have shared the three tickets ever since, rooting and reminiscing and exchanging those protected intimacies across the past nine seasons.

Now my son is leaving for college, and it suddenly strikes me that for the past thirty-five years these three tickets, these magic tickets, have been a kind of special connection, first for my father and me; then for my father, me, and my son; and then for me and my son together. This year, for the very first time in the history of the three season tickets, there will be only me.

I find myself wondering what it was that made my father give the tickets to Cousin Bernie during the years when I was away at war. And I think I might give the tickets to my cousin Sam.

But then Ivan notices that he’ll be home for one of the Giants home dates. He says, “I can go to that one, Dad!” And I think perhaps I’ll just hold on to the tickets for maybe one more season. Maybe one more game. Maybe.

~Barney Cohen
Chicken Soup for the Sports Fan’s Soul

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