Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thangs just up an' got turnt, Torn Slatterns and Nugget Ranchers

Chicago Bear receiver, Brandon Marshall, upset by a remark made about his mother, challenged one of his twitter followers $25,000 to fight him. Bear QB Jay Cutler threw out the same challenge, but it was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

This is where I heard Gale Sayers hurt his knee

Since you asked:

It was about this time of year, in 1968, in autumnally resplendent Winnetka, Illinois. Right out of a Norman Rockwell painting, or a “Lands End” catalog, my dad and I are raking leaves in matching red sweaters and blue jeans. The tiny deck-of-cards-sized radio on the front step is tuned to the Forty Niner-Bears game.

As in indication of how long ago this was, we were burning the leaves as well. The smell of fresh, crisp fall air and burning leaves is intoxicating.

At the time, I loved Gale Sayers and the Chicago Bears – in that order - in a way only a ten-year-old pre-pubescent suburban Chicago boy could. And that is unabashedly.
Right in front of the giant elm tree on our front lawn on Elm Street, my dad picks up the radio and puts it to his ear. Then he gives me a concerned look. He then said five words that broke my heart:
“Gale Sayers hurt his knee.”
Instinctively I knew this was bad and ran up to my room. (This was the start of the age when I didn’t want my dad to see me cry) 

I was so inconsolable, my parents suggested I might feel better if I wrote Gale Sayers a “Get well” letter.
The next day in the late afternoon, I called the sports department at the “Chicago Tribune.” In my mind I got ahold of a Fedora hat-wearing, cigar-chomping, flask- swigging hard-boiled writer who said; 

“Whaddya want, kid? I’m busy.” 

When I told him I wanted Gale Sayer’s home address, he asked; 

"What for?"

 When I told him I wanted to write Gale a get-well letter, there was silence on the line for a long time and then he said;
“OK, kid, hang on.”
In what could not happen now in a million years, he managed to magically produce Gale Sayer’s home address and then gave it to some kid over the phone.
My letter said something like;
“Dear Mister Gale Sayers,
My name is Alex and I am your biggest fan. When I grow up, I want to be a running back in the NFL just like you.
I am so sorry you hurt your knee. (This was my ten-year-old-self’s attempt at humor) You set the touchdown record against the Forty Niners your rookie year and maybe they were mad at you.
My whole family is thinking about you (which was a lie because my older brother could not care less) and I hope you get better soon.
Your biggest fan,
Alex Kaseberg.”
That was it. Did not ask for an autograph. Did not ask for a picture. It never occurred to me to bother him for either one. All I wanted was for Gale Sayers to know I was sorry he got hurt and that I was hoping he would get better.
Two or three weeks later, a big manila envelope came to my house addressed to me. It was not from the Bears, it was from Gale Sayers written in his own hand. He paid the postage. Inside was a, 8 by 10 glossy black and white picture of Gale Sayers making the Heisman Trophy pose. Attached to the picture with a paper clip was a note: 

“Dear Alex.
Thank you for the nice letter. I’ve always wondered who was my biggest fan. Now I know.
Gale Sayers.”
He had signed his name on the picture:

“To Alex, 

My biggest fan. 

Gale Sayers.”

This framed picture was my most prized possession all my life until my junior year in high school when my mom accidentally broke the glass while dusting and decided it was time to throw it away.
And, some time later, I forgave her.

That incredible amount of forgiveness, combined when I forgave her for throwing out my Mickey Mantle rookie card,  is how I knew how much I loved my mom.