There have been three defining telephone conversations in my life that have helped to shape me into the man (or man-like substance) that I am today. Two of them happened years ago. The third happened last Friday.
Perhaps the most memorable phone call I have ever made happened in 1987 when I was a 7th Grader attending Hunter Jr. High in West Valley City, Utah (since re-named Tupac Shakur Memorial Jr. High.) The weekend before classes started the school held a "Get to Know You" dance in which the boys styled our mullets and the girls poofed up their hair and we danced awkwardly to Peter Cetera and Mr. Mister. That night I met a lovely young woman named Kelsi Osborn and asked her for her phone number, marking the first time I had ever officially picked up a girl. I called Kelsi later that week and we talked for twenty minutes about how we, as mature Junior High students, were going to begin writing with pens instead of pencils, despite the dangers of not being able to erase our mistakes. It was pretty deep, serious stuff. I think puberty officially started when I hung up the phone, combed my mullet, and contemplated the significance of what had just happened. (Kelsi has since gone on to Shedaisy fame. I still play Madden and write a blog that cannot even attract a sponsor for a measly $30. Talk about a power couple!)
The second monumental phone call took place back when the Normal Mormon Wife and I were dating and it was time for me to ask her father's permission to marry her. While I had met the NMW's mom, sister and grandma, I had never met her father when I called him to pop the question about popping the question. All I knew about my future father-in-law was that he liked to run, hunt and fish. He was as mysterious as Grizzly Adams playing the role of The Banker on Deal or No Deal. Anyway, after an extremely awkward conversation about fishing (I know as much about fishing as Miss South Carolina knows about reforming US education policy) I smoothly transitioned the conversation toward marriage with a subtle, ".....So anyway....." I then asked his permission for a complete stranger who made $7.25/hr as an AV Specialist at BYU to marry his daughter. His response was simply, "Sure." That was it. No grilling. No lie detector test. No death treats. Just, "Sure." He made my life easy then and has done so for the past 11 years. That was a life-changing phone call.
Last Friday I received a phone call that is right up there in terms of life importance as the previous two examples. My friend Michael called and said, "I got a couple of free tickets from work to the Panthers-Cardinals NFL Playoff game tomorrow night. Wanna go?"
And then my head exploded.
We made plans for Michael to pick me up at 5:00 the following day (Saturday) to go watch my beloved Panthers destroy the Cardinals at Bank of America Stadium. And, as usually seems to happen to me, ended up with a night full of odd, random, hilarious happenings that I will never forget.
Michael's wife, Shelley, is nine months pregnant and already having some painful early labor contractions. Michael and I had to promise Shelley that we would keep our cellphones turned on in case she went into labor. During the drive to Charlotte we discussed what to do if Shelley called and the game was headed into overtime. I think Michael was leaning toward possibly returning home to witness the birth of his second child, but I'm not completely sure. I had decided to walk or hitchhike back to Greensboro if he did. We encouraged Shelley to avoid running, jumping, swimming, jogging, eating Taco Bell, moving, standing and breathing for the next eight hours so that our NFL Playoff experience would not be hindered by something as inconsequential as giving birth.
The forecast called for rain that evening so before we left I asked the NMW if we had any ponchos. She returned with an old poncho from our Disney World visit last year. The only problem was that it had a big picture of Minnie Mouse on it. Sweet! Nothing says "manly NFL fan" like a Minnie Mouse poncho. After realizing that we had additional ponchos the NMW returned with something much more appropriate for football. This one had a picture of Mickey. Despite my better judgment, I left for an NFL Playoff game with a used Micky Mouse poncho in hand, just in case.
We arrived at the North Gate of the stadium only to find a mosh pit of about a thousand Panthers fans all trying to get in at the same time. Being sucked into the undulating mass of humanity was probably like going to Lollapalooza, except for the people at the game did not have large nose piercings or smell like Snoop Dogg's upholstery. The guy standing directly in front me tried as hard as he could to get the rest of us to chant, "Let's go Panthers!", but nobody paid any attention to him. After several failed attempts he yelled in frustration, "YOU GUYS SUCK!" Uh, yeah, buddy. You're the sane one. It's the 999 of us who have issues.
Once we finally got into the stadium we had to walk up to the 5th concourse. While I have never actually seen the Rameumptom mentioned in the Book of Mormon, I doubt it was higher than we had to climb. But on the plus side, I could both watch the game and also clearly see the rings of Jupiter with my naked eye from the 500 section. It was a good thing Shelley did not come to the game with Michael because she would have delivered the baby somewhere between the 300 and 400 level.
As we continued our pioneer-like trek to our seats, we end up missing the Panther's first possession and are relegated to watching their opening TD on a flat screen hanging on the wall. D'oh!
We take our seats and I have to pinch myself that I am watching my favorite NFL team in a playoff game and all it cost me was $5 for parking and $16 dollars at the Cook Out drive thru.
While there are 74,000 people dressed in Panthers colors, there is one person dressed in head-to-toe hunting camouflage and orange deer hunting accessories. Of course, I end up sitting next to the deer hunter. He has unkempt facial hair and a dark, distant look in his eye. While everybody else cheers when the Panthers do well, he remains seated and shows no emotion. Instead, he mutters profanity at the Panthers under his breath when they mess up and then flips them the bird. I am pretty sure that I see blood on his pants. I am also pretty sure that it is human. And fresh. I am almost certain he will stab me before halftime. Oh well, if I meet my demise tonight at the hands of his 9-inch buck knife, at least I will have died happy.
Oh, no. It just started raining hard enough that everybody is busting out their ponchos. I decide to put on the bright yellow Mickey Mouse poncho, but turn it inside out so nobody can see Mickey. Not only is the poncho now inside out, but it had been torn while we were at Disney World and is utterly impossible to put on. Forget it. I lay it over my lap to keep my jeans dry and feel like a complete tool.
I reach into my coat pockets to retrieve my gloves and end up pulling out a black church sock instead. How in the world did a black church sock end up in my coat pocket? What else is in there? A tie? A copy of Preach My Gospel? Benjamin Button?
As we approach halftime, the Panthers are laying an egg and losing 27-7 in a game in which they were favored to win by 10 points. They look horrible. After missing the opening touchdown drive, Michael and I have watched the following Panthers series: Punt-Fumble-Interception-Punt-Interception-Punt. Come on, Panthers! Somebody paid good money for me to be here tonight!
During halftime the Harding High School marching band is doing their routine and the Panthers' Punter, Jason Baker, takes the field early to practice his kicking. Michael and I decide that Baker was the Panthers' MVP of the first half since nobody on offense or defense decided to play tonight. Baker shanks one of his punts and the ball nails a member of the high school marching band. The Panthers are stinking so badly tonight that their Punter cannot even kick the ball over the heads of a high school marching band. (Either that or he was so upset with the team's play that he decided to take out his frustrations on the only person on the field that a Punter could beat up, if necessary - a 16 year old tuba player.)
There are more Panthers fans texting on their cell phones than actually watching the game right now. Many of them are also consuming a dangerous amount of alcohol while texting. The woman sitting in front of me is simultaneously texting and drinking, which is never a good combination. I look over her shoulder and her text message says, "Stupxd Paltnhers! They stnikl;" Amen, sister. Amen.
On their first two possessions of the second half, the Panthers go Punt, Interception. With the score 30-7 the stadium clears out faster than a Stake Priesthood Meeting that goes 15 minutes long. Michael and I decide to hang in there until the bitter end. Unless Shelley goes into labor. Probably.
There were nearly 74,000 people in attendance tonight. As the fourth quarter kicks off, Michael and I are two of the roughly 2,000 who still remain. Michael brings me back a lemonade and said, "When the Panthers give you lemons, make lemonade." It was a nice gesture on his part. He would have also been justified in bringing back a bag of fertilizer from Lowe's based on what the Panthers gave us.
As the game winds down Michael and I start scavenging the rows around us for souvenirs like game programs or growl towels that were left behind. Or wallets. We end up finding some good stuff to remember the glorious night when Michael risked missing his child's birth in order to watch the Panthers get demolished in the rain. Priceless.
Well, we were apparently not the only scavengers left in the stadium. With about four minutes left in the game a man who appeared to be, um, homeless, started going row by row and picking up everything he could find, Mickey Mouse ponchos included. We watched in disgust as he picked up a half-eaten bag of peanuts, chomped on a few, and then threw the bag back down on the ground. He then finished off every half-empty beer bottle he could find, regardless of how much backwash or germs he may encounter along the way. As he methodically made his way up the stadium, he eventually reached us.
The scavenger walked up to Michael and asked, "Wanna buy a Rob Zombie CD?"
Unfortunately for the scavenger, I had just given Michael a Rob Zombie album for his Christmas present. I think under normal circumstances Michael would have been delighted to buy a Rob Zombie CD from a homeless vendor at an NFL Playoff game, just not tonight. (I am kidding about the Christmas gift. While I have heard of Rob Zombie, I have no idea who, or what, he is.)
We cheer in jest as the Panthers score a meaningless TD with :50 seconds left to make the final a 33-13 loss. We walk back to the car and begin the long drive back to Greensboro. It is now almost midnight and we will not get home until about 2:00 a.m. so we stop at a gas station to get some munchies. It turned out to be one of the most random receipts I have ever seen:
While the Panthers really, really, really, really stunk on Saturday night, just being there was one of the most enjoyable, unique experiences I have had in a long time. Thanks, Michael, for bring me along. Thanks to Shelley for not delivering a baby that evening. And thanks to the NMW for calling me at 11:30 p.m. to ask me if Jake Delhomme was color blind in an attempt to explain the five interceptions he threw. Overall, it was a great night.
Definitely something to call home about.