Back to US Life Histories

Football & TV

"For Sports Extra, I'm Oren Stevens," this was always the last line I would hear, before my father rushed off to a game, after rehearsing his opens and closes for a story. I would anxiously wait in my room for the inevitable invitation, debating if I should sacrifice a weekend afternoon. The biggest consideration and determining factor of my attendance was not about who I would meet or what game we would see, but whether or not there was time at the end for me to be on TV.

Sports, especially football, have always been a big part of our family. Sporting events on television have molded my family's traditions and pastimes. My earliest memory of the media and athletics was from the side the public cannot see. I can still see my father leaving the house in his trademarked gold, wire-rimmed glasses, various Izod, collared t-shirts, faded Levi's and cowboy boots. Usually, I refrained from the invitation, more willing to attend to my normal, everyday, little girl behavior. My brothers, however, jumped at the chance each week to be on television. Generally, the interviews they did with each other and athletes were kept as a special form of home videos. However, the chance to be on the other side of the big black box that dominated Sunday afternoons was incentive enough. Once in a while, I would attend the events. I can still remember the feelings that I had walking out onto the Astroturf field of Giants stadium, football in hand, and my brother and Phil Simms at my side. I can still feel the coldness on my skin from the winter game. I appreciated being there because I liked the fact that for some reason it made me different, special, to see the grandeur of the field in person. To me, it was not as momentous of an occasion as the reactions demanded. Even still, deep down, I knew what the reactions would be, and tried to rub my shoe in the red, white and blue paint to evoke curiosity. I wanted to tell my classmates the events of the weekend, without bragging. I knew that I was the only girl in school who would know the score of the game, and who Phil Simms was, for that matter. This is what separated me from the rest of the students. I was different in that my upbringing stressed the fact that Phil Simms and other athletes were people, like any one else. This caused our modesty in conveying our experiences. Sports, however, were not just games, they were a way of life.

In my family, Sundays were sacred, not because of traditional reasons, but because of the football games. My brothers and my father dominated the interest in sports, yet their intent was never challenged. Sports were an understood part of my life that was unquestioned. I like to think it was because we all knew how much it meant to my Dad and to my brothers, who all played sports. There was no reason to challenge their interest and, therefore, provide an unnecessary obstacle to their enjoyment of Sundays. Sundays for me, however had a different meaning. I would sit in my favorite chair by the fireplace and watch the seconds count down on the score board clock. I do not even know what I anticipated so greatly at the end of the game, because I knew that it would only bring another game. During the games, I would go into a relaxed daze of deep thoughts. It was a time when I could be alone, mentally, in the comfort and company of my entire family. Often, I would get interrupted by the abrupt onslaught of cheers or sounds of disappointment by my family. It was always easy to slip back into my dream world. It was not uncommon for a game to end, with the winner being left unknown. This is a fact that I kept to myself.

My memories are general, because this was my way of life. Sports and television are a part of my family history. According to my family, I was born dangerously close to Monday night football, and it was better for the hospital that they did not have to worry about bringing a television into the delivery room. Family stories that have become legends revolve around football and television. We had an inside knowledge of the game and the people behind the scenes from my Dad's career as a sportscaster. My brothers used the television to analyze the plays and talk about the games until the following weekend, when there would be new games to talk about and new plays to analyze. Every weekend during football season followed a routine. It started Saturday night, with my Dad's excitement and request for family day, to have everyone home. As I entered different stages of adolescence, I would complain about the male dominated household, that to me, in my politically correct obsession, bordered on chauvinism. I would be asked to stay home, while we did something that only the men truly enjoyed. In retrospect, I am now able to understand my mother's tolerance and even contentment. I now see that we all wanted to be home, and even welcomed the family time, even if it was in front of a television.

During commercials of the games, my brother would get hold of the clicker, and check out all of the "good" stations, as I liked to think of them. As soon as my interest would be peaked long enough in a program or movie, it would be rudely disturbed by the blaring stadium and monotonous voices of the commentators. I knew then and I know now that I was free to leave and continue to watch my show in another room, but I never did. It was more than the actual football game that kept me situated -- a lot more. It was the feeling that I miss now, being away. It was the smell of grapefruits and oranges that my Dad would rush to cut up during breaks, it was the conversation coupled with my time to think and be content.

Growing up, I was always too young to stay up and watch my Dad's show, but it did not matter. Often, my friends would be in disbelief that we did not know exactly what he said or other details of the show. However, the content was not the important thing to any of us. What was important was the togetherness that football brought to my family and continues to bring. It was going with my Dad to the games and meeting the players and listening to my brothers interview them in their best Howard Cosel impersonations. Football began and has evolved in an unusual manner in my family history. As my brothers grew and continued to analyze the game, the possibility of my brother being on television as a college player became more and more real.

It was January of 1994, and my late note to my high school teacher said, "Please excuse Rosie from being late, as the channel 4 (NBC) news crew was at our house." The door bell rang promptly at 7:30 AM. Jon Frankel and his crew situated my family around my brother. Our role was to congratulate him after he publicly signed his letter of intent to become the first Jewish quarterback at Notre Dame. Drastically, with the lights, camera and action, the tides and meaning of the media, as well as the spotlight changed directions. No longer was my brother the little boy following my Dad and the athletes, gleefully playing with his football. He was now going to be a star quarterback, on TV. For all of us, the moment was real and filled with pride. We got our chance on "real television," and again, it was with the modest, humble approach that my life with the athletes had taught us.

Throughout my life, my parents taught us about the deception and manipulation of television and interviews done for various media. When football became more personalized in my life, I realized the truth in my parents lectures. My brother was publicized as a Jewish quarterback as a human interest story for competition amongst the news ratings. He tried to let the public know his thoughts about how he was not attempting to make any major breakthroughs, about how he was a football player, who happened to be Jewish. The publicity was exciting and real, but the underlying context of controversy was at times infuriating. He appeared on Regis and Cathy Lee to talk about going to Notre Dame. The interview was smooth and the warmth my brother gave off was undeniable. Halfway through the interview, however, Regis stopped and stuttered, without an inadequate lead, "you are . . . of course . . . um . . . Jewish. . . not that that matters." He seemed to be hoping for a half-hearted comment, that would stir controversy or opinions. My brother, being well versed, and honest, gave what became his typical response. Although, I cherish the tape of this interview, I cannot help but scoff at the presentation of that question and the apparent need to mention that topic.

Sports have gone though many stages in my life and are now at their most personal. It is different and hard being away from my family, watching my brother play football on television alone. When his games are on, I watch without the daze. I secretly want to redirect to camera angles to show him, even while he is standing on the sidelines. I feel pride at seeing our last name printed above the number "11". Televised football gives me the chance to see my brother every Saturday. Saturdays have transformed into the sacred football day for me, although it is not the same. I will never forget the nervous excitement that I felt watching my brother run off the bench the first time he played. Football has almost made a complete circle in my life, beginning with my childhood days sitting in front of the television, or walking on the red, white and blue field of Giants stadium. Saturday nights are lonely without the excitement of Sunday, family day, looming over my head. Without my family being there to share the day in front of the television with, I am no longer the girl in school who knows all the scores.

Back to US Life Histories