The Walsh family Labor Day weekend football game that pits the over-40-somethings (my brothers, cousins and brothers-in-law) against the teens and 20-somethings (my son, nieces and nephews) is getting intense. Chippy, even. The Old People have thrashed the Young Guns three years running, and this year’s drubbing concluded with a perfectly thrown 30-yard touchdown dart from my brother Terry to yours truly.
“Don’t drop it, don’t drop it,” was all I could think as it spiraled hard into the crook of my arm, because it was so perfect, so surprising, so sweet. It had real heat on it. He threw it after a pump-fake and pivot. It spanked my chest on impact and nestled in my armpit, just out of reach of my leaping son Henry, who made a late grab and nearly knocked it out.
But I held on tight, yes I did, then I held up my arms — touchdown! — and in a silly daze pointed the ball across the field at Uncle Bird, who sprinted full tilt at me, laughing maniacally. A couple days later he told me he’s retiring from touch football; he wants that to be his last play. I told him whichever one of us dies first has to tell that story at the funeral. I should have kept the ball.
It was such a simple magical moment, like the sight of the lights blazing over the Washburn football field against the sunset-starlit sky this time of year. And at the moment it occurs to me that for that, or any other, mini-miracle to have a chance of happening, all you have to do is show up and play. Sometimes you get lucky:
I took my 13-year-old daughter Helen to Game Two of the WNBA Finals last week. She wasn’t sure she could accommodate me, due to homework and social obligations, but on the day of the game she confirmed. I scored tickets from the press folks, and told her she was about to witness history, the kind I did when I covered Lindsay Whalen for City Pages the year The Hutchinson Comet led the Gophers to the Final Four with a broken hand.
In Game Two of the finals, Seimone Augustus scored 35 points and Whalen performed with her usual bad-ass aplomb, tossing a couple of Pete Maravich-y passes and getting hammered in the lane for three-point plays. “This is so entertaining!,” screamed my daughter, early and often. We hugged and high-fived throughout, bought a 2011 Finals T-shirt, and in the end The Lynx stepped on the Dream’s jugular vein, then did so again three nights later in Atlanta to clinch the first professional sports championship in Minnesota since the Twins beat the Atlanta Braves in the 1991 World Series.
Tuesday afternoon, middle school hooky-playing Helen and her friend Sally Yates jogged along behind the convertible holding Augustus, Whalen and the silver championship trophy that shot disco ball boomerangs off the ridiculous October afternoon sun. The parade spilled with small-town manners down Nicollet Mall and onto Target Center for the after-parade party. A sea of cameras captured the unforgettable moment when the motorcade paused at the storied intersection of 1st Avenue and N. 7th Street, and the rock starred backdrop of First Avenue nightclub.
The whole scene and the purity with which sports can shut out the noise of the rest of the world made me doubly glad I asked my mom to go on a date with me to Washburn High School’s homecoming game this weekend. I’m looking forward to the orange and blue, the game, band, cheerleaders, sense of community and the “Miller Pride” swag. I’m looking forward to sitting in the stands with Ann Walsh, member of the Washburn class of 1948, and talking about her grandson Henry, class of ’13, and all the other Washburn grads we’ve known and loved.
Like I said, sometimes you get lucky.
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.