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Wednesday, 02 December 2015 16:12

This holiday, it’s a family united

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op footballWhen I was 12 years old, there were few things I liked better than the Dallas Cowboys. Definitely my Farrah Fawcett poster. Maybe Fudge Royale ice cream. But not much else.

Every Christmas, I wrote Santa and appealed to him to coordinate with Sears to bring me a new Dallas Cowboys jacket with the same fake wool blue torso and the same fake leather silver sleeves, with the team emblem on the chest. These NFL team jackets were pretty popular in those days. You’d see Dolphins jackets and Vikings jackets and Raiders jackets and Steelers jackets all over the schoolyard, as their proud owners brandished them like shields on a battlefield.

By far the most commonly worn jacket was the hideous burgundy and gold of the Washington Redskins. There were three or four of us who had Cowboys jackets, but there must have been twice as many — maybe three times as many — Redskins jackets tarnishing the landscape. I was not yet a teenager when I surmised that the popularity of the Redskins in our small North Carolina town must be due to proximity, combined with a stunning lack of discernment and good taste on the part of our citizenry. Washington, D.C., was closer than Dallas, and the local CBS affiliate showed Redskins games every week, which made me so furious that I kept my Nerf football close at hand so that I could hurl intermittent perfect spirals at Redskin quarterback Billy Kilmer’s head throughout the game while waiting on updates on the Cowboys game.

Even worse, almost all of my relatives were Redskins fans, and when the two teams played each other on certain Sunday afternoons of my childhood, I felt like George Armstrong Custer and my grandmother’s living room felt like Little Bighorn. I was literally surrounded by Redskin fans, and there I suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune unless Roger Staubach or Tony Dorsett rescued me with a particularly stellar performance, and the Cowboys prevailed, whereupon I would don my Cowboys jacket and prance through the living room like a gangly peacock, thrusting a drumstick bone toward my uncles and cousins as if it were a sabre.

 “Take that!” I would say. “And that! In the name of Tom Landry, I rebuke you!”

I was relishing these memories this Thanksgiving, gathered together once again with these same relatives over those familiar and reassuringly heaping plates of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, cranberry salad, deviled eggs, and whatever else could be squeezed onto a small corner of our huge paper plates, while we watched football, just as we have for several decades. While these rituals have remained, allegiances have shifted. We are no longer a house divided. There are no more Cowboys jackets, no more Redskins toboggans. No arguments over who is better, Billy Kilmer or Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett or Charley Taylor, Tom Landry or George Allen.

Now, we are united in our love of the Carolina Panthers. Ever since October of 1993 — when the NFL granted us a franchise — we have been behind the team all the way, following every game, every season, every draft pick, and every coaching change with incredible focus and intensity. Our old teams are like jilted lovers — we still pull for them, vaguely, when they are playing other teams — but there is no passion left in it, and we are barely aware of the life they’re leading now without us there to care so much about it.

We’re obsessed with the Panthers now, and now is a good time to be obsessed with them. In case you haven’t noticed, the Panthers are entering the month of December with a perfect 11-0 record. Before the season even started, the team lost its best wide receiver with a knee injury and even the beat writer for the team’s own hometown paper predicted the team would go 9-7 — not bad, but not too great either.

Now, fans are beginning to believe that the team just might go undefeated and win the Super Bowl, which has not been done since the Miami Dolphins pulled it off in 1972. And that possibility, however unlikely, has everyone just a little amped up. For example, my nephew and his wife are expecting their son to arrive in January. One wall of his room is painted black with two huge blue stripes and an enormous Panther between them. Not exactly clouds, butterflies, and rainbows.

The NFL team jackets have been ditched for Panther tee shirts and sweatshirts and pullovers. We study the rest of the team’s schedule like we’re cramming for a math test, looking for possible pitfalls in our perfect season. We design game plans for all five of the remaining regular season games, and we experience anxiety worrying about getting a lead and then going to the dreaded prevent defense or going too conservative on offense. We need to run our offense for all four quarters, and we need to keep putting pressure on the other quarterback. We have to let Cam Newton be Cam Newton!

Clearly, we have all missed our calling as NFL coaches or television analysts. We’re still crazy after all these years, but at least now we’re all in it together.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. His most recent book, The Way We Say Goodbye, is available at regional bookstores and at Amazon. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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