I’ve never been much of a football fan. Oh, when I was in the 9th grade, the quarterback of my high school football team was a lean beautiful boy who threw tight spirals down a long green field. (Improbably, his name was Track.) A few times, my father and I climbed high in the bleachers on what felt like chilly Friday nights — I grew up in Southern California, so it was probably 65 degrees — and stomped our feet on the wooden boards beneath us as the team marched down that field. I remember being so swept up in the momentum of the crowd feeling that I jumped up and down, shouting “Go Track, go!” with the couple hundred other people doing the same. It felt good, in that moment, to be part of something.
That’s the last time I attended a football game.
Baseball has always been more my thing. All those clean lines, clear rules, and individual moments of triumph. Oh, how I loved baseball as a kid, sitting on the floor of my living room listening to Vin Scully call out the plays, a Dodger dog in one hand, my glove on the other. In those days, I bled Dodger blue. I was convinced I would be the first woman in the Major Leagues, then crushed when I wasn’t allowed to play Little League because I was a girl. I still think my most triumphant moment in life might have been when the 5th-grade boys didn’t want me to play softball with them at PE, even though I had to go all the way to the principal to advocate for the right to play. I begged them to let me take one at bat. If I struck out, I’d be backstop catcher. (That’s the person who stands behind the catcher, and picks up the balls that skip between his legs.) After arguing back and forth, the boys allowed me to stand at the plate. I hit a home run.
So I have no essential problem with sports.
Football, to me, feels like war. All that marching and whistles and smashing and strategy. I know those men are padded well, but every time I see one enormous man with bulging biceps and thighs the size of canned hams ram his head into the chest of another one, I cringe. It’s just not my thing, all that violence. I’m probably just too sensitive for this world. (People, I tear up when I watch Daniel Tiger with Lu, because I grow grateful that she has Mister Rogers in her life the way I did.) Seriously, I’m probably not meant for football.
But Danny? He’s a football fan. That’s not to say that he’s any less sensitive than I am. Sometimes I look over to see him listening to Lu tell a story about climbing a tree, and see her put her hand on his for a moment, and his eyes tear up. He has no violence in him. But he’s a boy from Colorado still, and he loves his Broncos.
All fall and winter, Lucy and I had a date Sunday afternoons. We spent a few hours at the library, choosing her latest towering stack of books, then went to our local tea shop to share a pot of gingerbread rooibos and a cheese plate with grapes to read every book in that toppling stack together. I cherish that time with her. We began that ritual so Danny could watch the Broncos, alone, unabashed to stand up and shout when something unexpected happened.
On Sunday, we had a house full of people watching with him.
You probably know the ending to this story already. Surrounded by a crowd of people dressed in blue and green, my man in orange watched his team end their season in ignominy. After the game, sweetly, a dozen of our friends texted him, saying, “Sorry, Danny. Better luck next time.” And to his credit, he recovered immediately. He laughed with our friends and went on with our feasting. He’s the most loyal person I know. He’s a fan, no matter what. There’s always next year.
Me? I didn’t care who won, either way. It was great fun to watch the area I live in relax into that crowd momentum for days before the game. On Friday, I walked through our island grocery store confused by the number of people dressed in football jerseys around me. Even the old hippie couple buying seitan in the produce section wore Seahawks winter hats with tassels. (It turns out the grocery store was offering 12% off the purchases of anyone wearing regalia for the team, in honor of the 12th man. I would have painted my fingernails blue and green, if I had known.) As my brother said to me the day before, we could probably use more reasons to paint our faces and chant songs together in this world. There’s not enough communal spirit in this culture.
Right now, there are thousands of people camped out on the streets in downtown Seattle. Some of them huddled into sleeping bags in 19° weather and slept on sidewalks overnight to stake their claim to a piece of concrete. There’s a giant parade in honor of the Seahawks going on. I hear coffee shops and restaurants are running out of coffee. Now this is a Seattle story. This is a polite city. After the game was over, clutches of people took to the streets to celebrate, waiting until the light turned green to throng into the streets, then dispersing when cars needed to drive through. (There was a hashtag on Twitter: #howseattleriots. My favorite? “Buying out all the Skittles in the city but not eating them because of the corn syrup.”) As little as I want to sleep on the streets in the cold to watch cars full of football players drive by, I sort of grin when I think of it. We could use some more wide-open cheering these days.
The friends who gathered at our house for the Super Bowl aren’t the types to go downtown for a parade in the cold. Michelle is a nurse and professional skeptic. She kept asking Tony, “Wait, why did that team stop throwing passes?” And he explained first downs to her, and the frustration of not getting one. Marie is a social worker and advocate for children with different learning abilities. She most enjoyed following Neil deGrasse Tyson on Twitter, talking about the physics of football as the game went on. The kids romped and played, pretending to be interested in the game, far more interested in the commercials at times, since most of them had never seen one. (We all, as one, diverted their attention when the violent video game commercials came on.) There was a lot of conversation about how creepy the computer-generated lines on the field are, because they’re so realistic. We sort of watched the game.
Mostly, we gathered. We were the isle of misfit toys Super Bowl party.
Last week, when I posted a link to a spread of gluten-free treats Saveur magazine featured, someone wrote me an angry email: “Saveur? For the Super Bowl? What, tortilla chips and bean dip are beneath you? You don’t have to be a snob to be gluten-free.” I laughed, actually. But it also made me wonder. I wonder what happened in her day to make her this angry. I wonder where we got the idea that we have to march ourselves into separate, contained corners. “I’m a football fan. I’m the kind of person who disdains football and can’t believe all this ridiculousness. I eat real food. I eat normal food without making a fuss.” Can’t we stop playing war with our likes and habits?
I’m a woman who doesn’t much like football who enjoyed the heck out of the Superbowl, surrounded by friends who don’t much understand the game, and ate roasted kabocha squash wrapped in crisp prosciutto and smoked salmon potato cakes with parsley dressing for the big game. And a handful of Skittles to celebrate the Seattle victory, after Lucy pressed them into my palm.
Life’s too short to not enjoy it, any way it arrives.
Smoked Salmon Potato Cakes
We’re pretty crazy about potatoes around here. Ahern is an Irish name, of course. Honestly, if we have a day without potatoes, Danny starts to feel a little squirmy. Luckily, I have learned something great lately. If you cook potatoes, and let them cool, you reduce the glycemic index of the potato by half. Plus, cooked potatoes that have been cooled to room temperature form resistant starch, which is the kind of food the good bacteria in our guts love. Add smoked salmon and it’s a party.
Let’s eat potatoes!
- Set a large pot filled with cold, salted water on medium-high heat. Put all the potatoes inside. Bring the potatoes to a boil and let them cook until a sharp knife slides easily into the potato, 20 to 30 minutes.
- Drain the potatoes. Cool them completely, preferably overnight.
- The next morning, grate the potatoes on a box grater, skins and all, into a large bowl. Add the smoked salmon, onion powder, garlic powder, parsley, egg, and potato starch. Season with salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly.
- Heat the oven to 425° Form a small cake in your hands. Dust both sides of the cake with the gluten-free flour. Set a large skillet over medium heat then pour in a bit of olive oil. Brown one side of the cake, then flip it over. Put the skillet in the oven and bake for 5 minutes. Take the potato cake out of the oven. Let it cool enough so you don’t burn your mouth! Taste the cake. Happy? Proceed. Not quite? Season with more salt, pepper, or spices.
- Form the remaining potato mixture into equal-sized cakes and dust them in the flour. Set the skillet back on medium heat, then pour in more olive oil. Fill the skillet, reasonably, with potato cakes. (Think about a train at 10 am, not rush hour.) Brown the bottoms, then lay them on a sheet pan lined with greased parchment paper. When the sheet pan is filled, put it in the oven to continue cooking the cakes until they are firm to the touch and browned, 5 to 8 minutes.
- Continue this until you have cooked all the cakes.
You can eat these hot from the oven. And you might want to, certainly. But I think they’re best cooled to room temperature, dolloped with a good homemade mayonnaise or parsley dressing, as we did here.