Friday, February 02, 2007

Da Bears Song in Prose II

Being a Ghost Story of the Superbowl.
Stave 2
[Continued from Previous Post]

3:23 AM. No time had passed. That was impossible. The digital clock on the microwave must be broken. I checked my watch. 3:23. I checked the time in the lower corner of the laptop screen. 3:23. I poured another scotch, my hand was shaking again. The top of the bottle tapped out a staccato click on the rim of the glass. I needed to sit down. I needed to think. Everything seemed normal now, but the frightening reality of the waking nightmare I had just experienced still frissioned in my brain. Of course I knew Abe Gibron was not really in the kitchen with me moments ago. Of course it was a dream. But there would be no sleeping for me now. My heart was pounding in my throat. With glass in hand I wandered into the living room and fell into an easy chair by the fireplace.

My brother must have a built a fire for his kids earlier in the evening. A few embers still glowed in the hearth and an occasional brief flame threw an orange cast into the room. Smoke curled up from the charred remnants and was swept out the flue and up the chimney. I could hear my brother snoring in the bedroom. I don’t know how his wife gets any sleep at all.

One curl of smoke escaped the fireplace and floated into the room. It calmed me to watch it rise toward the ceiling where it seemed to stop and thicken into a translucent cloud. Odd. It was not behaving like any smoke I had ever seen before. The smoke cloud grew in size fed by the trail still leaking out of the fireplace, but it never seemed to hit the ceiling. It just seemed to collect into an oblong cloud above the mantle.

Something was not right. I could not hear my brother snoring anymore. Now I was hearing something else. It almost sounded like a orchestra. It was an orchestra - quite distinct now - In fact, it was the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. There was no mistaking the ambience of the crashing tympanis under the inspired conducting of Sir George Solti. The music swelled and filled the room. I could hear a ghostly audience clapping and singing. They were playing the Bears Fight Song. The smoke cloud stop swirling and began to coalesce into a familiar shape. A figure, a human figure began to form … was that the shape of a porkpie hat? Wait… wait… I know this man.

It was George Halas. Hands on his hips, a grimace of a smile, white shirt, stripe tie, he peered down at me through Rayban Wayfarer sunglasses.

I cleared my throat. "Are you the Spirit, whose coming was foretold to me?".

"I am." His voice was firm and sharp.

"Who, and what are you?" I asked

"I am the Ghost of the Chicago Bears Past."

He kneeled before the mantle as if he was on the sideline at Soldier Field and pointed. Smoke swirled around him like the snow swirling outside. In front of his outstretched hand words and images began to form. Scrolling like the credits of a movie they rolled before my eyes as “Bear Down Chicago Bears” rang in my ears:

63 years as an owner
40 years as coach,
324 wins
8 NFL titles as a coach or owner
1921 NFL Championships
1933 NFL Championships
1940 NFL Championships
1941 NFL Championships
1946 NFL Championships
1963 NFL Championships
73-0 Victory over the Redskins in the 1940 title game

The numbers flashed faster than I could read them. I saw flickering images of Red Grange, Sid Luckman, and even George Halas himself stripping Jim Thorpe of the ball and running the fumble back 98 yards for a touchdown. All playing out under Poppa Bear’s outstretched hand before the fireplace. Still there was more – T-formations formed and flowed, I saw Bobby Layne, and George Blanda, now Dick Butkus and then – I suddenly saw myself as a child - sitting on the floor in front of a black and white Zenith television, mesmerized by Gale Sayers running down the field evading one tackler after another.

I stood up, the glass of whiskey dropped out of my hand and crashed to the floor. The ghost and the music disappeared in an instant. I was standing in a quiet living room again, in front of a dying fire, my brother’s snores echoing from a distant room.


I was still standing up, or more accurately, I appeared to be floating upwards toward the ceiling. My feet no longer touched the floor, as I drifted toward the ceiling, just as the smoke had done before. The fireplace receded from my vision as I passed right through ceiling, through the rafters, until I floated above the roof of the house, outside in the night wind and blowing snow.

Number 34 was waiting for me there. Walter Payton, helmet on, game ready, in the Bears home uniform, dark jersey, white pants, a polished silver football cradled under his arm, bouncing on his toes as if was waiting for a game to start.

“You would be the Ghost of Chicago Bears Present I presume.”

Walter smiled and nodded. "Rise. And run with me." He said.

He turned, beckoned with his arm and ran straight up into the night sky as if he was running up the training hill in his back yard. I stopped wondering if I was going insane. I stopped thinking altogether, and just started to run. The billowing clouds of blowing snow seemed to give way as my feet tried to push against it. My legs would churn but I was running in place. Payton disappeared in the distance, then came running back down through the snow and clouds, touched my shoulder, turned and ran back up into the sky again. I was moving now. One foot in front of other, climbing higher into the night sky, the neighborhood grid of argon streetlights spreading out beneath my feet as I climbed higher and higher. We ran for what seemed like hours. Walter Payton running ahead of me, then running back, like a yo-yo, back and forth while I struggled to keep up far running far behind. I could see we were heading south. Through breaks in the clouds I watched the skyscrapers and trains of the Loop far below and drifting behind, with the foreboding darkness of an icy Lake Michigan off to my left.

Then Walter stopped, turned and waited for me. As I approached, he grabbed my arm and we began to descend through the clouds. We were falling toward a bright green spot of light. The light became an oval, and I soon saw we were drifting toward the open yaw of the remodeled Soldier Field.

There was a game in progress on the field. The stands were filled. The crowd was roaring. As we crossed the level of the highest seats, night turned into day. I looked at the scoreboard. It said Chicago Bears - 9, New Orleans Saints - 0. Less than six minutes were left in the second quarter. We descended toward the field and landed softly in the middle of the 10 yard-line. On the other end of the field, I could see Rex Grossman leading the Bears offense on to the field with the ball on their own 31 yard line. Walter must have seen the panic on my face.

"We are but shadows” said the Ghost. "They have no consciousness of us."

He pointed up the field. “Look. Learn.”

It was the first play of the series. Grossman handed the ball to Thomas Jones. He ripped up the middle for 14 yards and a first down. They were only 45 yards away from where we stood. On the second play of the series Grossman handed the ball to Thomas Jones for two yards up the middle. On the third play of the series Grossman handed the ball to Thomas Jones for a run up the middle, but he cut it outside for another 33 yard gain. It was first down on the New Orleans twenty-yard line, only ten yards away from us now. Under our feet a bright yellow line lit up for the width of the field. "Cool." I thought "I always wondered how they did that."

The fourth play of the series Grossman handed the ball to Thomas Jones who ran it up the middle for seven yards, finally pulled to the ground right in front of me on the 13-yard line. The fifth play of the series Grossman handed the ball to Thomas Jones who ran it up the middle for two yards falling at my feet. Payton laughed as I jumped in the air leaping right through the gang tackling New Orleans defenders. It was 3rd and 1 on the 11-yard line. The sixth play of the series Grossman handed the ball to Thomas Jones who ran it up the middle right through me for 2 yards and a first down on the nine-yard line. As the Bears broke from the huddle I was standing right next to one of the Chicago Bear offensive lineman as he walked up to the line of scrimmage. He had a glint in his eye and a twisted smile on his face as looked across at his defensive counterpart. I was stunned by what he said. The Bear pointed at Jones in the backfield “You see that guy? He is getting the ball. He is going to run it right through here. He then pointed at the New Orleans defensive lineman in front of him. The snap count is two. See if you can stop it.” He then dropped into his stance. Sure enough, on the seventh play of the series Grossman handed the ball off to Thomas Jones who ripped off another seven yards to the two-yard line. The ghost formerly known as Walter Payton, eyes sparkling, could not stop laughing. On the eighth play of the drive, Grossman handed the ball off to Thomas Jones who pounded it up the middle through the defenders into the end zone for a touchdown.

The waves of sound from the stands pounded through my insubstantial form like Niagara Falls, and I felt myself starting to discorporate. As the scene faded to white, I could see the smiling Ghost of the Chicago Bears Present mouth the words – “Do you understand now?”. I understood. This was the New Orleans defense. New Orleans has a better defense than Indianapolis. New Orleans could not stop the Bears, even when they knew the play.

I was back in the living room. The fire was out. I cleaned up the broken glass and walked back into the kitchen to throw the broken shards in the trash. There was no longer any doubt in my mind about what was happening. I wondered when I would get the third and final visit from the spirit world. I looked at the clock – 3:23 AM still. No surprise. While I was staring, it flipped to 3:24. Time was passing normally again.

By 4:00 I began to suspect I would receive no more ghostly visitors this morning. That was a relief, but sleep was out of the question. My mind was still abuzz. Perhaps a little television would relax me. I walked down the stairs into the basement my brother had recently remodeled into a den and media room. He had had just installed a 42” Panasonic Plasma Hi-Def screen with satellite Direct TV and Tivo. The remote control made about as much sense to me as the control panel for a nuclear power plant, but by pushing enough random buttons I eventually hit a combination that turned the television on. I left it muted so I would not be accosted by some random infomercial for feminine shaving products while I tried to figure out how to flip through the channels. Mike Ditka was on the screen sitting behind a studio desk on one of the network football pre-game shows. I flipped ahead a few channels. It was again Mike Ditka sitting in the same studio. I flipped over to the Tivo to see if there was anything interesting recorded. Maybe I would find a recorded Daily Show, or the latest BattleStar Galactica. Now this was odd. My brother was a Bear fan but this seemed a little ridiculous. All the recorded shows said the same thing. Mike Ditka. Every single one. I didn’t even know that Ditka still had a show in Chicago. Must be some local station. I flipped over to satellite channel selection menu and started to scroll through the 500 channel matrix. My thumb stopped pounding the scroll bar, a chill went up my spine, and a sense of dread fell over me. Every channel on every station, in every time slot forward and back said “Mike Ditka”.

I took a deep breath, made sure the mute was still on, and flipped back to live TV. Mike Ditka was still sitting at the studio desk. I began to notice some odd things that I should have noticed before. Ditka was the only one sitting at the desk. Ditka was not saying anything. It was 4:00 Saturday morning. There was no game today. The Superbowl was a week away. There was no reason for Mike Ditka to be sitting at that desk. This was a younger Mike Ditka. This was the 1985 Bears Coach Ditka wearing his trademark 1985 Bears banner sweater. He was chewing furiously on a wad of gum. He was staring right at the camera. He was staring right at me. The camera began to zoom in until his face filled the entire Hi-Def screen. He looked really, really mad. I hit the un-mute button.

“It’s about time! Do you think I’ve got nothing better to do than sit around here waiting for you to pay attention!” Ditka’s voice boomed out of the surround sound system in THX three dimensional fidelity.

“Are you talking to me?”

“Who do you think I am talking to?! Do you see anybody else there? Because I don’t see anybody else there. So I guess I must be talking to you DUMBASS!”

“Ah. Ummm…. I just want to be sure now … you are the third spirit I was told to expect?”

Ditka rolled his eyes and slapped his head in disbelief. “Yes I am the Ghost of the Chicago Bears Future! DO YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THAT???”

As I sat in front of Mike Ditka’s hi-def 42” screen filling face yelling at me, a fine mist of spittle seemed to settle on and all around me.

“No. No problem. But um … Coach, Its just that are not dead.”

"You think that just because I am not dead I can't walk in the spirit world ? They don't tell me what to do. My time here is almost done. Lets just get to the point. EXACTLY WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM??”

“Ok, Coach, you know I have always a loyal Bears fan … its just … its just…” I swallowed hard. “It’s Rex.- I mean he’s great, he won a lot of games for us but…” I shook my head and spilled it out. “He is too young. He does not have the experience of playing in a pressure cooker like the Superbowl. He is up against a grizzled veteran in Peyton Manning. How can he possibly handle that kind of pressure?”

It is amazing the detail you can see in Hi-Def. The veins in Ditka’s forehead pulsed like a boa constrictor. His faced turned a very interesting shade of vermilion. He spit the wad of gum into his hand, and in a single gesture threw it out of screen where it smacked me in the forehead. It hurt. A lot.

“He laughed and pointed. That’s going to leave a mark. Now, listen to me! I am only going to say this once and I am going to say it very slow so you can understand. Rex is a young kid. He thinks he is going to live forever. He thinks he is going to be in many Superbowls. Nobody expected him to get there and nobody expects him to win. Peyton has been in this league for a long time. He also has never been in a Superbowl. He does not know if he will ever be in another. He thinks this is his only chance. Everybody thinks he should have been there before, and everybody thinks he will win now. Now, who do you really think is under more pressure??”

The screen started breaking up with digital static. I suddenly realized what was happening and lunged at the screen.

“Coach! Wait! You are in Miami aren't you? You are in the future. Coach, are you are at the Superbowl?”

“Of course you dumbass.” I heard him say through the static.

Coach!” I yelled. “The score, the score! Can you show me the final score? Coach! Coach!" I was yelling into an empty screen.

I just stared at the static in the screen for a long time. Finally I walked back upstairs.

The sun had just come up over the horizon and beams of light were pouring on to the kitchen table. I needed air. I opened the door and walked outside.

My breath was a frosty cloud in front of my face. The air was cold, crisp, clear and still. I took a deep breath and felt the snot freezing in my nose. I was filled with a peace that I have never known. As I had stared into the fading static of the screen, I saw one last glimpse from the future before it was all gone. I only saw it for a second, but it was seared into my memory.

I saw the scoreboard in Miami at the end of the game.

Chicago Bears 17
Indianapolis Colts 29

No comments: