By Amy Roost
When my parents separated in the late summer of 1968, I was a 6-year-old tomboy living in a suburb of Chicago. In those days, sole custody usually went to the mother, so my brothers and I only saw our dad once a week, either Wednesdays for dinner or Sunday afternoons.
If it was a Sunday afternoon and the Bears were in town, Dad would take us all to Wrigley Field for the game. Not surprisingly, I came to associate football with getting to see my dad. And because he loved football, especially the Bears, I did too. I’d curl up on his lap to stay warm and ask him questions about the rules of the game. I quickly learned the names of all the players — Gayle Sayers and Brian Piccolo among them. In fact, one childhood highlight was when Gayle Sayers tossed his chin strap into the stands and my dad caught it and gave it to me.
Not long after the separation, my mom took my brothers and me skiing for the first time. I fell on my first tow rope ride, and not knowing I was supposed to let go, was dragged up the hill breaking my right tibia along the way. As I was taken to the hospital in an ambulance, I remember crying and calling for my mom and dad.
An older friend of the family — one of my many surrogate fathers over the years — came to the hospital in place of my dad and sat with my mom and me while my leg was set in a plaster cast the full length of my leg. He got me to smile when he offered me a new nickname: “Crazy Legs.” He explained to me that “Crazy Legs” Hirsch was one of the greatest football wideouts of all time, which naturally made me very proud. I couldn’t wait to tell my dad my new nickname. When I did he chuckled and continued to call me “Crazy Legs” for years.
In 1971, my mom moved my brothers and me to California. That was also the year the made-for-TV movie “Brian’s Song” was released, chronicling Piccolo’s fight with cancer and friendship with Sayers. It was a sad story for sure, but most of the tears I shed while watching the it were because I missed my dad, who still lived in Chicago. Later that year, I would select the theme from “Brian’s Song” as my piano recital piece — much to my classically trained piano teacher’s chagrin.
One consolation when we moved to San Diego was that we lived on the same street as two Chargers players, Ron Mix and the great Lance “Bambi” Alworth. I literally stalked their modest town homes, waiting for them to back out of their carports so I could catch a glimpse or get yet another autograph. One Halloween when Mix answered the doorbell, I nearly passed out with excitement.
Predictably, I became a Chargers fan, and still am to this day. I’ve lived through more ups and downs than I can count: the exciting Air Coryell years, the unforgettable Epic in Miami, the Freezer Bowl in Cincinnati, the humiliating Super Bowl loss to the 49ers, a 14-2 season, and any number of heart-wrenching playoff losses.
In 2005, shortly after my own marriage separation, I took my shell-shocked boys to Indianapolis to celebrate my youngest son’s birthday and see the Chargers defeat the here-to-fore undefeated Colts. Football had risen to a healing agent in our lives.
This summer, at the age of 51, no longer a tomboy and no longer crazy legged, and no longer healing from a divorce, I phoned my now 85-year-old dad who, after all these years, finally lives in the same town as me again. I asked if he’d like company to watch the game that afternoon — a Chargers-Bears preseason contest. He was delighted. We sat drinking beer in his apartment, shouting expletives at the TV, and calling pass interference on each other’s defenses. It took 45 years but once again I found myself in the sweet spot: with my dad, watching the Bears.
Roost is executive director of Silver Age Yoga Community Outreach and a freelance book publicist. A former Poway resident, she now lives in Solana Beach. Reader comments, through letters to the editor or online, are encouraged.