COLUMN: The 57-year-old grudge

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Well, the Super Bowl is history, which means football season is finally over, and husbands are talking to their wives for the first time in months. It also means we’ve seen the last of the office betting pools until September. Everyone knows that football and office pools go together like peanut butter and Ritz Crackers. Even Baptists know how they work: you buy a square with a random number for each team. If your numbers match the last two digits of both teams’ final score, you win the cash.  

I can’t think about office pools without thinking about my dad and laughing.  

My father hated the University of Nebraska. Everything about that school revulsed him, even the “N” on their helmet, which became a joke he told all the time. “Do you know what the N on Nebraska’s helmet stands for? Knowledge!” His favorite two teams were Alabama, and whoever was playing Nebraska. It was unnatural for an Alabama fan to have such loathing for any team not named Auburn, but he did.  

It all began on Jan. 1, 1966. Alabama was playing Nebraska in the Orange Bowl for the National Championship. But that wasn’t the only reason the game was so important. My dad was participating in a huge office betting pool. Since this was such a big game, the price of the office squares was $25 each – an unheard of number back then. This made the total winnings worth $2,500. Adjusted for inflation, that is almost $23,000 today. My dad didn’t draw very good numbers: Alabama 9, and Nebraska 7. Since the money pot looked to be a long shot, it wasn’t on his mind as kickoff approached.  

The game was a thing of beauty if you wore crimson and white. Bear Bryant’s game plan kept Nebraska dizzy. Alabama kicked on-sides kicks. They tossed long passes out of the end zone. They were even throwing the ball to their linemen! Nebraska was ill prepared for such an aerial onslaught. Consequently, the Tide took a comfy 24-7 halftime lead.  

As the bands played, my dad was doing some math. If Nebraska went scoreless in the second half, or if they finished with a total of 17, 27 or 37 points, he was halfway there.  

Alabama was more difficult. They would need to score 5, 15 or 25 points to come up with a total ending in 9 – Dad’s winning number. Highly unlikely.  

The third quarter began with Nebraska scoring a touchdown and missing on a 2-point conversion, making the score 24-13. Alabama answered with a steady drive – scoring 6 points and making their 2-point conversion. Now the lead was 32-13, and my dad began moving to the edge of his seat. One of his legs started shaking nervously because the planets had begun to align. All he needed was another touchdown by Alabama, and two more by Nebraska, to hit the jackpot.  

The fourth quarter started, and Nebraska moved down the field. Within a few minutes, they scored another touchdown and PAT, making it 32-20. Dad began pacing. Once again, Bama shredded Nebraska’s defense through the air. Another easy TD and the score was 39-20. Time was running out. The game was essentially over for everyone but my dad.  

The tension in our den rose when Alabama kicked off. My father began cheering for Nebraska like an alumnus from Omaha. It seemed to work. The Cornhuskers drove into Alabama territory, and with time winding down, scored a touchdown!   

Dad leaped, did a pirouette, landed on his feet and began doing a little jig. Our den was a happy, joyous place. It’s 39-26!  Dad began singing, “Kick the PAT and it’s cash for me! A PAT and cash for me!” 

Then my father glanced at the TV and saw Nebraska Coach Bob Devaney holding up two fingers. They weren’t going to kick. They were going for two points!  

The dancing and singing stopped. Darkness fell over the room. Instantly, my father became the Spawn of Satan. His face turned red. His eyes bulged. Veins popped out. He began stomping and cursing loudly. My dog ran out of the room.  

This was not stuck-in-traffic, gonna-be-late-for-the-movie, kind of cursing. What came out of my dad’s mouth was something I had never heard before. He was using words that I still don’t know today. A few years later I went to see “The Exorcist,” and was struck by the similarity between the possessed girl and my father. Except he wasn’t acting. I was terrified – but strangely, found myself admiring this tantrum. If anger and rage were art, then my dad was Michelangelo.  

Nonetheless, I was torn between staying in the den with Beelzebub, or hiding under my bed with my dog. I kept my seat.  

Mother walked in from the kitchen with her arms folded and watched in silence. She rarely swore, so she did not approve of this insanity – but allowed it to go on for a few minutes. Wisely, mom knew this was like letting the steam out of a pressure cooker.  

Finally, she spoke calmly.  

“James, that’s enough.”  

He wasn’t ready to give it up. “That stupid, ignorant Devaney! He didn’t even have to go for two! That’s $2,500! I was going to use some of that money to buy Joe a car in a couple of years!” 

Whaaat? It just got personal. My head snapped around, and I joined in. “That low-life piece of crap, fat excuse of a football coach, Bob Devaney!”  

For the record, the game ended 39-28. Alabama won the title, Dad didn’t get the money, and I didn’t get the car – but I got a story to tell for the rest of my life.  

And also for the record, I still don’t like Nebraska either.  

Joe Hobby is a comedian from Alabama who wrote for Jay Leno for many years. Find more of Joe’s stories on his blog: https://mylifeasahobby.blogspot.com. Follow him on Facebook at Joe Hobby Comedian- Writer.