Fall activities are in full swing. Carter (my 11 year old grandson) is in a soccer league, Kirstie is swimming college swim meets and NFL football is a weekly reason to have chili. When we were kids, pro football was only on Sundays, and growing up in Cleveland meant the Browns were a weekly show. They weren’t always a losing team, but there were no Browns fans in our family.
My Granny was a lifelong fan of the Baltimore Colts. I have her scrap book with dozens of articles about the Colts and more specifically about their star quarterback, Johnny Unitas. When the Colts were televised, we would make the trek Granny’s in the city to watch the game. Her TV was a bit bigger than ours and it seemed like the sound was louder. There were no interstates in those days, so the trip there and back was an all day excursion.
My grandparents lived above a pet store. Every time we went, I was on the lookout for the snakes that lived below, certain they had escaped from their cages and because they were fans of the Colts as well, had found their way up three flights of stairs to Gran’s apartment. Between complaints about how hot the apartment was, and that Gran’s coffee was like sludge, my father would ultimately root against whoever the Colts were playing that day. He really was not a professional sports fan, but he was most certainly a fan of trying to rile Granny up. She would then spit Colts statistics at him, and make vile comments about whoever he was rooting for.
After a large meal of pot roast, mashed potatoes and the inevitable green beans, (one of the few vegetables my father would eat) we would settle down in front of the TV for the big game. My brother hated football (and still does) but could entertain himself by drawing and staring off into space. At 14, with no iPad, cell phone or other inanimate object to hold my attention, I was pretty much forced to watch the game.
But the game wasn’t the real entertainment. There were no color televisions until about 1966. On a good day, you were entertained by watching the teams slog through snow or mud. Eventually the gray black uniforms and the dingy white uniforms of the opposing team began to look similar. Gran had the best seat in the house…actually one of the few seats in the house. She was a collector of odd furniture, so she had one armchair, a small loveseat and a footstool. Plenty of furniture for the two grandparents, but not so much when you add my family of four. Kitchen chairs were hauled in and gave my father another reason to gripe, about the uncomfortable seating. From her “best seat in the house,” Gran was prepared with her hot sludge, a fresh pack of Camels and a clean ashtray. Thus was the preparation for the onslaught of chain smoking, inventive cussing when things went wrong or insane cheering when the Colts performed as she expected.
In 1964, Johnny Unitas was named the most Valuable Player of the NFL. For his efforts, he earned $14,000 a year. Sounds pitiful compared to what quarterbacks earn today, but most folks earned less than $5500 a year back then. Gas was thirty cents a gallon, a postage stamp was five cents and payphones were still in existence, where a call home cost ten cents.
In 1964, the Colts were Conference champs. They won all but two of their games and made their way to the Eastern Conference playoffs. They faced the hapless Browns who with the great running back, Jim Brown, on their team also had a winning season. The Colts were heavily favored and my Granny was over the top!!! The day of the game she made posters for the house, served triple sludge coffee and had brought a used comfy chair in she bought at a second hand store for my father. It was THE event! She made damn sure the meal was finished, dishes washed and dried and the coffee was brewing before the game started. It was the highlight of the football season. The Browns were the underdogs back then too, but to everyone’s amazement, they beat the Colts 27-zip. Total silence ensued as we packed up and headed back to the country. My father was too scared to say anything and I can’t repeat what Gran said about Unitas.
Did your family share some excitement about the weekly show each fall? Share some of your own school reflections right here on the blog.