Five-foot-ten-inch Doug Flutie is one of the shortest quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL. The man in the white jersey, with yellow lightning bolts striking across his sleeves, his navy number 7 boldly guiding and leading, towered above as I watched him trot out onto the field from the Jumbotron. To me, from that giant super screen, he was the tallest shortest human being I’d ever seen. More after the jump…
But I wasn’t here just to watch the former Heisman Trophy winner; I was there to watch my first professional football game. Please don’t assume that I hadn’t ever been exposed to America’s new national pastime – if football were cocaine, I would have overdosed around the age of three. No, I was there to watch my first NFL game – live and in-person.
I was fairly certain that there were the four national channels, i.e. CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox, and then one other channel in the existence of cable, ESPN. My parents had bought me a Playstation, (No, not a PS2… not a PS3…but those gray cement blocks that sounded like they would take off down an airplane runway when you inserted a disc. Remember?) and really the game I’d ever care to play was Madden ’97. The players in that game were more like blocky robots mowing each other over than anything resembling football, but even still, the game was football.
And football cards? Please… I had binders full of football cards. Not your little black address book, but we’re talking about good ol’ hearty binders: the kind of binders that would get recruited to play offensive line at the University of Wisconsin– farm kid binders. I’d read the backs of each card, memorizing, understanding, nodding, and remembering.
Seeing Doug Flutie in person is not how I remembered him from his player card. He didn’t move like a pixilated push-cart. He didn’t move like he was playing on television either. He was almost majestic. But I could have cared less about Douglas Richard Flutie. I was there to see the St. Louis Rams.
I was there to see the tight spiral and laser light accuracy from Kurt Warner, former NFL MVP and Hy-Vee stocker.
I was there to see the precision route-running of Isaac Bruce, hoping and praying he’d make a big time catch, urging the crowd to chant Brruuuuuuuce, which if you weren’t a Rams fan you’d think the fans were booing their own player.
I was there to see the primitive speed of Marshall Faulk, who could run circles, squares, and parallelograms around defenders. He could run one way for five yards, stop on a dime, and cut back the other way and go over one hundred miles per hour. Or at least in my twelve year old mind he could.
I was there to see Grant Wistrom: the man who could do it all – I once heard he was the reason for yellow stains in the sheets of opposing quarterbacks. He could overpower offensive lines; by speed or strength, it made no difference. If Grant Wistrom wanted to sack the quarterback, he’d pummel a quarterback. If he wanted to tackle a running back, he’d pop off some poor tail back’s helmet.
Warner, Bruce, Faulk, and Wistrom all combined to form what would be forever known as the greatest show on turf. And on August 25, 2001, I got my glimpse of that show.
Navy masses sprinkled with gold and white moved toward the massive building off in the horizon. My father extended a high five toward my direction and I returned it with a smile as were the next wave of eager fans tracing the city walkways to the Edwards Jones Dome, the home of the St. Louis Rams.
The metaphorical peripheral vision you have in your childhood is a funny thing. I would have never guessed females going to football games. Not in any sexist manner (though I was mostly sexist at that age) but I just didn’t think females gave a darn. I thought the seats were full of men and boys, boys and their dads, and brothers with their brothers. Yet, I saw all these females of all ages around me, dressed in blue and gold, walking with us. It was an odd realization, but I tried not to let it hinder my anticipation.
The tangy, sweet smell of hickory barbecue lead us to the Mecca of St. Louis football awe – we were just a couple blocks from the greatest show on turf. The four corners of the building were encased with glass, and anyone could watch the patrons interact on the multiple levels of the stadium.
My immediate twelve year old knee jerk reaction was this was the nicest, biggest parking garage I’d ever seen – a parking garage or a squared-spaceship, one of the two. The tickets were scanned by bar code, similar to what I had seen going to the grocery store, except this was way more exciting than artichokes and uncooked pasta shells.
The similarities to a grocery store wouldn’t stop there, however, the first thing I noticed when I entered the dome was food. I mean it was everywhere. You want some nachos? You got some nachos. You want some cheeseburgers? Yeah, they got your cheeseburgers. And if you want some chicken fingers, well you’re in luck, because they had some chicken fingers there too. My dad and I had already eaten dinner, but we were pretty thirsty from walking. We walked up to the counter for a water bottle, priced at $4.50. Not only did this place have the best smelling food in the word, but they have holy water for sell too.
We found our seats up in the nose-bleeds (the seats located on the upper deck, right before you reach the Heavens). The players on the field looked as if we were hovering over top of them. I looked up to the Jumbotron connected to the roof in the middle of the dome. It’s Doug Flutie; five-foot-ten-inch Doug Flutie. I look back down to the field as he trots toward his teammates. He was the tallest shortest person I’d ever seen. I took a moment – a few seconds at the most – but it seemed like a good while. I was mesmerized by these gridiron greats of whom I knew every statistic, but of which my eyes had never met.
It was 6:00 p.m. and the game was a little over an hour away from kicking off. My father and I stood in the gate opening to the upper deck soaking everything in – the dome, the giant speakers blasting its pre-game music, the San Diego Chargers and the St. Louis Rams, and each other’s company. The stadium attendent found our frozen excitement amusing, and laughingly he said if we wanted to see if there any unclaimed seats closer the field he would look the other way.
Like two national spies, we scouted out some seats about fifteen rows up behind the Rams designated sideline, and trekked over toward our rendezvous point as stealthily as possible, trying not to attract attention to our deviant mission. We stood as the Rams executed their pre-game rituals as highly trained athletes will do – calisthenics, wind sprints, stretching, and joking around. We stood there – father and son – lifelong football fans, on a hot August night in the refuge of the Edwards Jones Dome, saying nothing but leaving nothing unsaid.