Old Scores: The Game is Never Over

Sorting myself out on a Monday morning here in Dalian, China, I was surprised to notice how December loomed. Good Canadian lad that I am, ancestral memories rang a High Holy Day alarm: wait, the 28th? That must mean the Grey Cup was yesterday! I hadn’t a clue, though, that my electronic clicks and misses would send me towards a septuagenarian brawl and some old, old questions.

I didn’t know who was in the Grey Cup, the Canadian Football League’s championship game, though I’d read in the Globe and Mail on-line that my (nearly) hometown Hamilton Tiger-Cats had won a playoff game. Since we’re 13 hours ahead of EST, I was able to follow the blurts and textual mutterings of various G&M Sports Guys in the press box as the B.C. Lions clawed the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. (My favourite was the news that somebody had forgotten the sideline yardage sticks and chain, so that red-faced, police-escorted officials had to race to a local high school for backup.) I don’t recognize many players’ names these days, but that Buono fellow, with his fifth title as bench boss, has turned out to be a better coach than he was as a player for the old Alouettes – and he was a pretty fine linebacker.

I’ll admit – childhood allegiances die hard – that my interest dipped when my hometown Tabbycats weren’t in it. Lower on the web page, though, was a smiling, chubby old man that I still recognized from Hamilton’s decaying Civic Stadium and CHML’s Quarterback Club luncheons in the glory days of the Black ‘n’ Gold: Angelo Mosca! Fierce defensive tackle, number 68, with his usual grin except greyer and softer. I’d have been six when his decommissioning of the Lions’ Willie Fleming in 1963 earned him Grey Cup infamy and, later, a post-quarterback-eating career as a professional wrestling Heel. In my family (except for a renegade brother who cheered for the Ottawa Roughies), we called him Lovable Ang, Notre Dame Fighting Irish-Italian-African-American’s finest contribution to the CFL. (Joe Theismann was a fat-cat Toronto Argonaut, and a temporary one at that, so he doesn’t count.) And there Mosca was, apparently scrapping with Joe Kapp, an old nemesis, at a Grey Cup Legends fundraiser? Oskee Wawa! Holy Mackinaw!

There was no report on the game to be found on my American sports news web source, but there was video, titled Old Dude Throwdown at Grey Cup Lunch or something like that. The accompanying text didn’t even mention teams or a game score, but was giddy and a touch guilty about the doubtful pleasures of watching two 73-year-olds still trying to settle 50-year-old scores. Kapp, of course, was Willie Fleming’s quarterback on those losing ’63 Lions, but he’s known to Americans, along with his coaching and acting stints, as the QB of the first of the four Minnesota Vikings teams to silver-medal at the Super Bowl. (With Kapp and former Blue Bomber headman Bud Grant at the helm, the Vikes were the first NFL team I paid attention to. Wasn’t Alan Page great? And weren’t those AFC teams a collection of bullies, ne’er-do-wells and thugs? Ah, childhood romance.)

I consider myself a civilized, peace-building man, but I was as guilty as the CBS stringer who wrote up the video: I kind of loved it. Of course it’s primitive. Of course it’s ridiculous, maybe more than a little sad, that two old jocks can’t get over old insults and enmity. But if you watched the video, did you also see the pride, the fire, the wild caring of these two? And isn’t this caring a big chunk of our collective love affair, as madly immoderate as it is, with sports? I giggled in recognition of the unwillingness to back down, the refusal to show weakness, the incandescent reaction to disrespect, and that straight right cross, one white-haired warrior to another. I’m still trying to understand it.

Perhaps there was a part of me that enjoyed seeing the loud-mouthed bully – with his lashing cane! – take a solid right hand to the head. Though a fervent Cat fan as a kid, I didn’t love Mosca as my mother did. Even before his eye-rolling carnival of pro wrestling idiocy, and perhaps as residual appreciation of the way eight Canadian cities hated him, I couldn’t holler for Lovable Ang unreservedly. (Garney Henley, Joe Zuger, and later Chuck Ealey and Ben Zambiasi and Grover Covington: those were my guys.) So: a quarterback drilling a defensive tackle? I’ve been a QB; I liked that. An old Viking scoring a season-ending knockdown for a change? Sure, that might be in there somewhere.

But listen: I’m 54, and maybe I ought to know better, but despite all the ways in which male conviction and competitiveness have been devalued and mocked – and this video certainly provides justifiable fuel for derision from the sidelines – I still love it when men care. My own flashes of inexplicable fire, be they antique explosions of holy anger or just an old jones for pointless competition, sometimes seem like a drunken uncle I wish would stay the hell downstairs. But whether it’s hard-wired into us or some form of culturally installed software, I’d like to think there is value in a man’s furious appetite for, what? Can we still call it honour? Dare we speak of justice? I think we can, and maybe we should.

Not that Grudgeholder Joe or Lovable Mr. Mosca thought much about it, but even in an enlightening world seeking peace and reconciliation and plain old good sense, there has to be room for some old-fashioned feeling. Even if it is the flailing of old men raging against the dying of a smoky old light and heat like theirs, well, I love that the fire still burns.

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