There was one point, late in UAB’s 29-21 victory over North Texas on Saturday, when I could almost see him.
Pop was sitting in his recliner in the corner of the den, legs propped up, with the index finger of his right hand tapping the transistor radio on the arm rest.
I can’t remember the brand of the radio, I just know I never saw it removed from its worn, black leather casing.
To his left would be that cheesy standing ashtray, where he’d keep his lukewarm cup of coffee, pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes, and a book of matches.
My chair was the “old” recliner – the one that barely reclined at all, and then only after some major butt bouncing and contorting.
In the old days before there were 20 televised games all at once and college football could be eyeballed from noon Saturday until 1 a.m. Sunday, radio was the way to go.
And because the North Texas game was televised on beIN Sports – a network that is not part of my cable package – it was the way I went last weekend, following the audio online.
It brought back some bittersweet memories.
Long ago, Pop and I spent a whole lot of time listening to the crackling, AM-filtered sounds of John Forney calling Alabama games and Gary Sanders providing play by play for Auburn.
Now radio tends to augment events; you might have your ear buds in while at the stadium, or follow the action on your car radio while driving.
Just sitting down and making the radio the centerpiece of your three hour sports block, however, is a lost art.
But I broke out the canvas for the Blazers’ biggest game of the year and let David Crane paint the picture.
Pop would’ve loved it.
I’ve always been a “mobile” game listener, meaning I tend to pace and fidget.
It happens more during a tight game, of course, so I spent most of the second half on my feet, racking up steps on my FitBit.
Pop, on the other hand, always rode the chair from whistle to whistle, regardless of the situation.
Good play, bad play – he never got up and never allowed himself to become animated.
But what really brought his memory back to me the most was in the early going, when it looked like the Mean Green might end up running the Blazers out of Legion Field.
Pop was an enigma; in life he tended to see the best in everyone.
In sports, he expected the worst in everything.
“Well, son, this just ain’t their day,” he might say after the team we were rooting for fell behind, or made an early blunder. “They’ll never beat anybody playing like that.”
And then when things turned around and the good guys won by 20, he’d smile and say, “I’m glad they figured out what was wrong before the game got away from them.”
After North Texas moved the ball with ease in the first half and raced out to a 21-10 lead after two quarters, I could practically hear his pessimism.
And I was feeling it, too.
But this UAB team is the kind he would’ve given credit to in the end, because they figure out how to win. And I guarantee he would’ve hung on Crane’s every word Saturday, appreciating the way the voice of the Blazers was able to let him “see” the game.
And after a furious rally that saw the Blazers score 19 unanswered points to take the “W” and seize control of the Conference USA West Division, he would’ve enjoyed my histrionics.
His biggest chuckle would’ve come when UAB made a stop on fourth down that sealed the game; I leapt into the air with a clenched fist and landed a fairly solid punch to a ceiling fan blade.
Nothing broke – on the hand or the fan – but it did send two cats scurrying out of the room.
Pop died in 1994, two years before UAB began play in college football’s top division. It has now been nearly a quarter of a century since he and I were able to sit down and “watch” a game on the radio.
Last weekend, though, it felt kinda like we were able to do it again.
Oh, and as for that comment I made earlier about “bittersweet” memories, you can go ahead and strike that.
An important win by my favorite team – experienced through radio – allowed me to revisit the greatest father a kid could ever have.
That’s pretty sweet.