Saturday, February 18, 2017

51 Super Bowls

It was hard doing so this year, but I was able to see at least part of the Super Bowl, making it the 51st consecutive game I've watched. Sports have always been such an impacting part of my life and I remember where I've been during some of the games and how integral they were with my life at the time.

The fact that I've seen each of the big games since the Super Bowl's inception in 1967, (I realize that the game didn't taken on the name “Super Bowl” until 1969) is a testament to both my tenacity in watching the spectacle and the fact that I am an old fart. I mean, 51 games? That's a lot of years. If I were a chair, I'd be considered an antique. If I were a car of that age, I'd either be a classic or already crushed into a cube on the back acre of some rural junkyard.

This year's Super Bowl is considered the best one since it went into overtime for the first time ever. I almost missed it, though. Holly and I drove back up to northern Illinois on game day because both her aunt and her mother were in hospitals at the same time. We arrived at the Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill., shortly after halftime and caught the fourth quarter in Room 4402 where her mother was, watching as New England clawed back from a 19-point deficit.

Her mother, though, was not that impressed with the game and we decided to leave when she needed to rest. We watched the brief overtime period in the hospital's hallway, peering through some patient's door and seeing James White score from 2 yards out to win the game for the Patriots. The patient quickly turned off the television set in his room before any postgame shows began; apparently he was a Falcons fan. It was a hospital, after all, and he did spare us the trauma and illness of hearing Joe Buck's after-game commentary. I had enough of Buck for a year after listening to him when the Cubs won the World Series last fall.

Despite the difficulties of getting to a television on time, and the sadness of visiting Holly's mom in a hospital bed, at least I got to see part of this year's game . The string of seeing them continues. As we drove back to Arkansas later that week — both Holly's mother and aunt are out of the hospitals now and doing well — I thought of all the games I saw and some of the circumstances and locations I was in during those contests.

My father was a huge sports fan and that's where I was introduced to the Super Bowl. It was a big thing in our house, even if we weren't rooting for either team. We had just moved to Minnesota when the first game was held; it was referred in 1967 and 1968 as the AFL-NFL World Championships back then.

Here are a few of the games and what I was doing at the time of them:

1967: Green Bay 35 Kansas City 10
I vaguely remembered this game as a 6-year-old only because my favorite player at the time, Bart Starr, was quarterbacking the Packers. My dad noted the irony that we had just moved from Wisconsin to Minnesota and now the Packers were in the game.

1970: Kansas City 23 Minnesota 7
My first venture into heartbreak. Minnesota was a heavy favorite to win and it was the first year I, at the age of 9, was really aware of football and its stats. Kansas City dominated and I learned true disappointment. Forget how life turned out as an adult, I was crushed deeply as a kid. My Vikes let me down that year. I had a hatred for Chiefs' coach Hank Stram for some time after that game.

1973: Miami 14 Washington 7
This was the Dolphins' undefeated season, but I also remember that one of my friends who lived on the the block where I lived in Bemidji, Minn, was a huge Dolphins fan. My friend was small for his age but when we played football in his back yard with the neighbor kids, he tried to personify Dolphins' bruising running back Larry Csonka. He was tackled a lot and other kids often made fun for his small stature. But on that January 1973 day, when his team finished 14-0, he stood tall.

1977: Oakland 32 Minnesota 14
For some inane reason, my mother, who was our local church choir director, scheduled a performance on that Super Bowl Sunday. To make matters worse, she made me be an usher for the program. To make them even worse, I had to wear a yellow sweater she bought me for Christmas that had tufts of yarn that stuck out like feathers. I looked like a chicken. See: . I missed the second half of the game, but it didn't matter. The Vikings lost that day, their fourth Super Bowl loss.

1982: San Francisco 26 Cincinnati 21
I had just returned from a four-week college photography class trip to the southern end of Mexico. I had no idea who was in the playoffs. We lived in huts about 60 miles west of Cancun on the Caribbean Ocean and had no television. Visitors from a cruise ship to Cozumel stopped in the small town where we stayed a few days after the league championship games and I asked one person which teams were in the Super Bowl. Apparently, I looked a bit worn. “How long have you been down here?” he asked, incredulously.

1984: Los Angeles Raiders 38 Washington 9
I had applied for a newspaper reporting job in western Arkansas a few weeks prior to the game. Just as the game began, I got the call from the editor. I was hired.

1986: Chicago 46 New England 10
I was caught up in the mania surrounding the Bears. Yes, I even bought the record that the team cut, “The Super Bowl Shuffle.”

1988: Washington 42 Denver 10
I was wrapping up work on my masters degree and had to work on a thesis paper that was due the week after the Super Bowl. I was a decent student, but I was also a sports fan and couldn't miss the game. So, I hid a small television set in a carry-on flight bag and headed to the college library. I was able to watch the game and finish my school work at the same time.

1993: Dallas 52 Buffalo 17
The Jonesboro, Ark., fire department remembers this game. I was working for a weekly paper in the town when I was paged out on a large downtown fire at halftime of the Super Bowl. A short in the wiring of a meat cutter created a spectacular blaze in a restaurant. With camera in hand, I rushed downtown to take pictures; the game was already decided, so I knew I wouldn't miss anything special. I was shooting photos near the engulfed building when I saw a fireman kick open a side door. The air rushing inside created a flash-over effect and I noticed a billowing ball of smoke heading for the large plate glass window at the front of the building near where I stood. I turned to run and dropped my camera bag. As I bent to pick it up, the window exploded, sending shards of glass and a plume of flame into the street. Later, firemen told me they got their hoses ready to douse me because it looked like I was covered in fire. Instead, I was fine. I pulled one piece of glass out of my elbow and continued shooting photographs. I think I fared better than Buffalo did that day.

1998: Denver 31 Green Bay 24
This was a tough one. I received a call that morning from my mother's friend who told me she found my mother dead in her home of an apparent heart attack. I drove the 100 miles to her home and was pretty much in shock. My father passed away 11 years earlier and I realized that day I was truly an orphan. I turned my mother's television set to the game, more for some distraction or sense of normalcy that any intent to follow the game closely. I guess I was in shock. 

2009: Pittsburgh 27 Arizona 23
A devastating ice storm hit the state about a week before the game, knocking out power to thousands. My electricity was restored two days before the game, but I had to cover the storm for the newspaper where I work. I worked that Super Bowl Sunday, writing a story about a nearby town that opened its community center for shelter for those without service. But I made it home just before kickoff and was able to see the game. I usually skip the halftime shows, but on this occasion, Bruce Springsteen was the featured act and, for one of the few times, I stayed glued to the television during halftime. On a side note: I later interviewed a guy who, because he had no power at his home, ran his television set off his car's battery to watch the Super Bowl. He had to get a neighbor to recharge his car at halftime and he, unlike I, missed the Springsteen show.

2016: Denver 24 Carolina 10
I was on one of my many visits to Holly at her northern Illinois town last year before she moved down here when the game was on. We got a pizza, went back to the hotel and watched the game. I was so smitten with her that I really didn't pay attention to the game.

Fifty-one Super Bowls and, I hope, more to come. Maybe I'll be back in Illinois for the next Super Bowl. Maybe we'll be here. Maybe I'll be covering some news story on game day. I have no idea what's in store for the future, but I hope to continue the string of seeing every game so far.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Game No. 500

I've finally reached Game No. 500 in my 1991 APBA baseball replay season.


When Boston outfielder Ellis Burks dribbled a grounder to Detroit first baseman Cecil Fielder to seal the Tigers' 11-0 victory over the Red Sox, I reached that milestone.

After what I counted as 513 days since this replay began, I hit Game No. 500. That's less than a game a day; it's a far cry from my old average of playing about four or five games a day. Used to be, I could finish a season-long replay involving the cards and dice of the game in 15 to 18 months. Now, based upon my less than stellar speed, I won't wrap this season up until well after the next presidential election.

We've all had those spells where life steps in and changes things and competes for the time we had for rolling APBA's games. For some, it's when high school dating began, or college days, or moving from home and beginning a career, or having kids. But the game will always stay with us, albeit at a much slower pace at times.

Since I began this replay on Aug. 16, 2015, I've driven to northern Illinois and back 18 times and almost went up there again last weekend. Work beckons often and I've been dealing with a medical issue of late that has gotten my attention some. It all takes up time. Time away from the game that we've loved since childhood.

But the game is there, always. And it provided some fun when I did finally reach Game No. 500 the other day. Detroit opened a 6-0 lead in the first inning when Andy Allanson hit a grand slam homer off Red Sox pitcher Joe Hesketh. Alan Trammell hit his first of two home runs in the second inning and by the third inning, the Tigers were leading 9-0. Walt Terrell held the Red Sox hitless until the fourth inning and gave up only four hits in his complete game outing.

The game was also the first of seven in a row where the home team won. Milwaukee upended Cleveland, 10-1, in the following game and later, Jose Canseco hit his American League leading 13th home run to give Oakland a 10-2 win over the White Sox. Seattle, Baltimore, Cincinnati and the Cubs also took home field wins.

I've found that the frequency of games occurs in frenzied spurts. I may not toss a contest for four or five days in a row and then spend an hour playing four or five games in a row when I find a wedge of free time. I hit No. 500 and several games beyond the other day when Holly, my Illinois girl who moved down here, called her aunt on the phone and talked for a while.

I still have 1,606 games to play to complete the 1991 season. I've reached May 24 in the replay and it's sizing up to be yet another good season to do. Right now, Seattle is leading Minnesota by three games in the American League West and the National League West is a dogfight early on. Montreal still continues to lose. The Cubs beat the Expos in 10 innings the other night, dropping the Canadian team to a record of 8-33. The Expos may be the worst team I've ever played in a replay; they aren't a bad team when you look at the players' statistics for that year, but as a team, they find so many ways to lose games.

One thousand, six hundred and six games left to go. At this rate, I'm still looking at four and a half years before completing this. I may have to step up the pace a tad.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Christmas Tree


It had to be Bumble, the abominable monster in the 1964 Rankin/Bass animated show Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, that topped the first Christmas tree in my home in 11 years.

The blue, toothy creature that terrorized Rudolph, Yukon and Hermey, but who actually had a heart of gold, is perched atop the branches our small tree, replacing the angle, star or snowflake that most use to adorn their displays.

A tree had always been a festive part of my holiday fare as a youth and it became a tradition when I got married years ago. In fact, there was a time when I was as enthusiastic about Christmas as the Clark Griswold character from the movie “National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.” I'd go to a nearby farm a cold day each year and cut down a nice fir tree while snow flurries fluttered and then haul it home and set it up.

I'd string lights galore from the house, around bushes and along the driveway. If something was stationary in the yard, it got bedecked with strings of thousands of blinking lights. It was Christmas, the most manic time of the year!

But that ended when my wife got sick with kidney failure. It's a debilitating disease and Christmas cheer was not on the forefront during the last of her life. We moved to a small house in 2005 and hastily put up an artificial tree in December, more for appearance than for tradition.

She died seven months later and her relatives, as relatives always do after a death, swooped in and picked over my stuff. They took clothes and shoes and books. Someone got my nice carpet steam cleaner. Her aunt took the Christmas tree. I was in the mourning stage at that time and was not really aware of all that was cleared from my home.

That year, the editors at the newspaper where I work had me come to Little Rock during the holidays, fearing my first Christmas alone would be rough. I usually work in a one-person bureau, covering northeast Arkansas. But that year, I worked in the newsroom for eight days, some 125 miles from my home, and lived in a hotel. I spent Christmas eve in a U.S. 167 convenience store, trying to convince a drunk couple not to continue driving because I'd have to write about their fatalities if they crashed.

Since then, I've worked four or five times on Christmas day. Last year, I wrote about an arson fire at the boyhood home of Bill Clinton in Hope, Ark. A year earlier, I covered a community dinner for a rural town where more than 300 showed up. In 2009, I did a story about people who had to work on the holiday and then followed that with an article about an evening snowstorm.

I lost the Christmas spirit. The holidays were depressing; I'd leave the my bureau office in the evening of Dec. 24 and sulk back to my house, watching others scamper to their homes full of family and cheer.

But then, this year. Those who've read Love, Life and APBA know about the Illinois girl and my changes. After I became smitten and drove to northern Illinois 17 times this year to see her, Holly moved here. And, because she is one of the most positive, spirited persons I've known, she decided we needed a Christmas tree.

We opted for a small 6-foot fake tree with colored lights and set it up a week before Christmas. It sits in the corner of our living room. There's some gaps in it; we've not manipulated the folding branches properly yet to cover the spaces. We also put on ornaments that she brought down with her during the move. She got a wreath made of real fir branches. The thick scent of pine permeates the living room and it makes an even more ambient season.

The tree looks great. It wouldn't have been there if not for her. And, hence, this is the “love” part of Love, Life and APBA. (There is APBA still: The first time I ever saw an APBA game — the 1976 football season — was underneath my parents' Christmas tree.)

In fact, Holly has been a great influence on a lot of things. I couldn't stand the classic movie “It's a Wonderful Life” because of its smarmy, warm felt message that, despite not having money, we are all wonderful. It went against my grain because I measured worth based upon my financial status. We watched the movie together the other day and for the first time ever, I liked it.
Bumble atop our Christmas tree

And Bumble.

I enjoyed the Rankin/Bass production of Rudolph as a child. I'd watch it each year and, full disclosure here, I'd tear up as an adult watching it because of the innocence of the show, the meaning behind it and the nostalgia it brought. But like all else that was Christmas, I stopped viewing it after 2006.

Holly and I watched it the other day for the first time in a decade and I loved it. And, yes, I teared up.

She knew of my fondness for the creature and when we saw a version of Bumble in a Christmas stocking at the store, she picked it up. It was the obvious tree topper. And for those who remembered the show, you'll get the symbolism. Far be it from me to overanalyze anything (I say sarcastically), but there is a deeper meaning to Bumble in our home.

Toward the end of Rudolph, prospector Yukon Cornelius sacrificed himself to save the reindeer and Hermey. He pushed Bumble toward the edge of a chasm and then, when Bumble fell, Yukon went with him.

“He's gone. Oh, he's gone,” Rudolph said as he looked over the cliff's edge.

But later, when Rudolph returned to Santa's place, there came a knock at the door. Yukon burst in with Bumble. The abominable monster fell, but didn't perish because, Yukon said, “Bumbles bounce.”

After more than a decade of dreading the Christmas holiday, I'm looking forward to this Christmas.

Maybe we all bounce, if you think about it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

American League Best Division

The California Angels are 15-3 against American League East teams so far in my 1991 APBA baseball season replay. They are 6-14 against their rivals in their American League West division.

Seattle is 13-5 against East division foes and have won 12 of 20 games against rivals in their own division.

It's been that kind of season so far as I've reached May 20, 1991, in this replay. It's still early. Very early in the season. But the American League West could change its name to the Best, while on the other side of the standings it's the American Least. So far, the West division teams have feasted on the East division teams, boosting their records and making the seven-team division far superior than their counterparts.

Only Toronto, with its 27-12 overall won-loss record so far, is playing above .500 in the Eastern Division. Detroit and Milwaukee are both 18-18. 

The rest have lost more than they've won; hapless Cleveland is 9-25. Indians outfielder Albert Belle, with his 10 home runs, is the only bright spot for the team. If I were a headline writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper in 1991, I'd be tempted to refer to the team as “Eerie by Erie.”

But I have strayed off the subject as I often do.

Those of you who are not initiated with the APBA sports replay contests, it's a statistically-based game that replicates real baseball — and football, hockey and basketball as well — seasons by using cards and dice. Each player receives a card with a variety of outcomes based upon his actual season production. Gamers roll two dice and match the results to corresponding numbers on player cards. If a real player is prone to strikeouts, chances are you could roll numbers resulting in a “13,” which is a strikeout. Inversely, Belle and other power hitters are more apt to have plenty of “1” results, which is the universal number for an APBA home run.

It takes me a long while to do a season replay. More so lately, I've discovered. Used to be, I could complete a full season, rolling the 2,106 games in about 16 to 18 months. I began this 1991 season in August 2015. Now, 16 months later, I am about 24 percent complete. I have excuses for the slower play. Those who've read prior posts know I've had a huge change in my world. My Illinois girl has moved down here and my time is taken up with the bliss of all that.

But, I still find some time to roll games. (Because Holly is a woman, it takes her a long while to chose what to wear, apply makeup, fix hair, change clothes, reapply makeup, debate about what coat to put on and fuss more with her hair anytime we go anywhere. Because I am a guy with limited looks and less fashion skills, I can be ready to go in five minutes. I can take advantage of her prep time to get a few games in while waiting for her).

And while I play the games I do notice the trends. The Angels have lost only twice to Baltimore and once to New York. It's enough to propel them to third place in the West, four games behind division-leading Seattle and half a game behind Minnesota.

All teams but Oakland in the West have winning records.

Overall, the West is 94-77 against the East so far. Texas is 17-15 against the East and have yet to play a West division team. The As, at 8-9 against the East, and Minnesota, oddly 6-12 when playing the East, are the only team with losing records against them.

And there's more. Seattle's ace Randy Johnson is 6-2 overall. Jay Buhner leads the league with 11 home runs and Mariners teammate Ken Griffey has eight dingers. Frank Thomas has belted 10 home runs for the White Sox and Kent Hrbek of the Twins, Royals' Danny Tartabull and As Jose Canseco each have nine homers.

Only Belle's 11 home runs and Toronto third baseman Kelly Gruber's nine homers are standouts in the East.

The West surely is the best so far.

But, I've reached May 20 in the replay, which means there's a shift in the schedule in 1991. Most teams now are playing their division rivals. Can Seattle maintain its lead playing West division teams? Will California fall back to reality and finish 81-81 like the Angels did in the real season? Can Minnesota dominate their foes and take back the lead as they did in the real season?

It's one of the reasons why we play these games. I've got to see what happens.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Small Car …

My Honda Pilot, the vehicle that got me to and back from northern Illinois 17 times this year, has died.

It gave up the ghost as a mechanic was looking at the vehicle's rear gasket while checking a major oil leak. I guess I'd die, too, in that predicament. A stranger poking around your rear while you're hoisted up on a rack is probably not the most dignified thing.

The mechanic had put two other gaskets in the Honda earlier in an attempt to stop the gush of oil, but it continued on. The Honda bravely took me on one last trek after that first costly repair — a late night trip to the train station some 30 miles from here to pick up Holly, my Illinois girl — before blinking on the Check Engine Light and then lapsing into a coma. Her return trip here was delayed a day and I was afraid the Honda would conk out before I could get her home. It didn't, although the oil light came on and the Check Engine Light began flickering that night, foreshadowing its demise.

Maybe I could have put in a new rear gasket, but the transmission was going fast, the brakes were bad and it was simply time to get another car. The expenses of repairing a car with over 180,000 miles was high. I had the Honda for eight years and it served its purpose. It will be missed.

Its last voyage was to limp to the Honda dealership in my town. I bought the Pilot eight years ago under similar circumstances. I had just bought an Izusu Trooper that September 2008 and was headed to cover a news story about 50 miles from home. The remnants of some hurricane blew into northern Arkansas then, toppling trees and smashing homes. There was one fatality and I was headed to the destruction.

The Trooper threw a rod in Weiner, Ark., 30 miles from my home, which, when looking back, is kind of ironic. I mean, “rod” and “Weiner” in the same sentence is somewhat appropriate, I guess. But I digress. I had the car towed, and later Honda took it in as a trade on the Pilot. I got a great deal on the Pilot, but in the trade, I lost the second CD of The Tragically Hip's double album “Yer Favourites,” which was apparently still in the CD player when I switched cars.

Flash forward eight years and the Pilot sat outside the same dealership while Holly and I agreed to six more years of car payments. I bought a 2016 Nissan Versa, a small, 4-cylinder car with great gas mileage.

It's not the Honda; it sits pretty low and it takes a while to get up to speed. And it's a tiny car. And I'm a fat guy. Watching me crawl out of the car is like watching a rhinoceros giving birth on one of those National Geographic Channel shows.

But the Nissan is easy to handle, it's got a good CD player and because the car is so small inside, it's easy to warm up when the heater kicks in. We're hoping to hit the road and head back to northern Illinois next week for a quick visit, and we'll see how the car does on the long haul. I am sure it will cost less in gas money to make the 547-mile trip there than it did with the Honda.

It's taking some getting used to, though. When we come out of the grocery store, we instinctively look for a white SUV at first, rather than a small grey car. I do have a thing on the key, when pressed, it makes the headlights come on. I do that so I don't look so stupid forgetting which car I have.

And loading the groceries is different. We used to toss 'em in the back of the Honda and then, routinely, I'd complain when the bottles of tea escaped from the bags and rolled around in the back as we drove home. Now, the groceries either sit in the back seat or in the trunk. The tea bottles roll no more.

But life rolls on and everything takes getting used to. And those car payments will take some getting used to. I had paid off that Honda a few years ago. Maybe I can sell video of me getting out of the Nissan to the National Geographic Channel or Animal Planet.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Thanksgiving Tradition

Since my wife died 11 years ago, I've spent Thanksgiving day in a variety of places.

I went to her parents' home the first holiday after her passing. A year later I sampled the cuisine of the season at a Burger King in West Memphis, Ark, after picking someone up at the airport in Memphis, Tenn. Nothing says festive more than chomping down a Whopper with cheese and then driving another hour to my home. I think my stomach,while digesting that flame-broiled monstrosity, made noises akin to those of a turkey just before beheading time.

I also worked at the newspaper where I'm employed on a Thanksgiving and I've gone to some friends' homes for the day. I also stayed home and cooked turkeys at least twice for my cat and I.

This year will be different again. Holly, my Illinois girl, is with me. It'll be the first time in a long while that I'll cook some holiday fare and eat with someone other than a cat.

But despite the changes, there's always a constant of the day and it's become as much a tradition as carving the turkey, watching football and sleeping most of the afternoon while processing the mass of chow we gobbled down,

I may have been in many different places during these past 11 Thanksgiving days, but I always ended up playing an APBA game before the day was over. It's an occurrence that began long before I started playing the APBA replay baseball game in 1998. As I mentioned here before, I came into this hobby somewhat backwards, or at least different than the majority of us who have loved this game for decades.

I first got the football game when I was 17. Back then, we were out of school for a few days, so that offered me plenty of time to play several games. A year later, my parents got me the basketball game and, again, while in college and home for the holiday, I'd play those games as well on the day.

It even began years before I got into the statistical-based sports replay game. I had an electric football game as a child that got plenty of usage on Turkey Day. My father and I would watch the Detroit football game on television and then he'd konk out in his chair in the living room and I'd end up playing electric football, trying, somehow, to be as quiet as I could while clicking the switch and watching as 22 plastic guys vibrated across the green metal field as he slumbered.

It was a peaceful time, playing those games through the years. I tended to worry about a lot of things back then — still do, come to think about it — but those Thanksgiving day games provided a nice break from school homework, issues with friends and the angst of being young back then. Now, the holiday serves again as a respite. There's no mail on the day meaning no bills. I've gone from worrying about making semester grades to worrying about making monthly mortgage payment. Telemarketers generally don't call on holidays, either, so there's relief from that as well.

This Thanksgiving will be different. It'll be the best one in years what with Holly being with me. I'll cook dinner and we'll watch television and just enjoy each others' company. But I'm sure at some point in the day, I'll roll a game or two in the 1991 APBA baseball season I'm replaying just to keep with tradition.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Short-Suffering Fandom

I never really liked the Chicago Cubs until this season began so I didn't fully get 108-years-of-futility mantra diehard fans bemoaned all the time.

Sure, I was aware of their history. Like any baseball fan, I knew the highlights of many teams' histories. I watched the Bartman Ball game on television in October 2003, but I was more entranced then by the New York Yankees since my father had grown up in New York and instilled a love of the Bronx Bombers in me at an early age. Just a few days before Bartman's mishap, the Yankees' Aaron Boone belted an 11th inning home run in Game 7 of the ALCS to beat the rivaled Boston Red Sox.

I was also knew about the black cat episode in Shea Stadium in 1969. I even interviewed former Cubs shortstop Don Kessinger in 2003 for a newspaper story about how a cat scampering across the New York Mets' field jinxed the Cubs into blowing an 8-game lead in the National League East Division late in the season. Kessinger, by the way, denied that the cat caused that run of bad luck back then.

When I lived in Minnesota, I was a Twins fan. The National League was out of my focus at the time. Plus, the little brother of my best friend, who was an obnoxious twerp then, was a huge Cubs' fan. It had a Pavlovian effect on me: See the Cubs, remember the kid. I moved to Arkansas later in life and, although I'm not embedded with the culture, this is St. Louis Cardinals' country. The Cubs are not well loved down here.

I didn't actually feel the struggles of being a Cubs' fan until I became enamored with my Illinois girl last year. She had been a life-long Cubs' supporter and lived through the disappointment of the 1984 season when the San Diego Padres beat Chicago in the NLCS after the Cubs took the first two games of the five-game series.

She warned me that this team could break my heart. We began our relationship late in the season of 2015; I followed the Cubs' playoff run only to be disappointed by the Mets in the NLCS.

So, the Cubs' fandom became part of our courtship in a sense. I was with her at a Waukegan laundromat washing quilts when Addison Russell hit a home run in the eighth to beat the Cincinnati Reds in Chicago's home opener in April. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Blatant name-dropping ahead) I e-mailed former Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene about a piece he wrote on traveling to the grave sites of Harry Carey, Jack Brickhouse, Ernie Banks and Ron Santo to tell them the Cubs were in the Series for the Wall Street Journal. In mentioning the season, I referred to seeing Russell's home run amidst the rinse cycle of the North Green Bay Road laundromat in lovely Waukegan. I've corresponded with Greene, my only real writing hero, for more than a decade, so writing about that was natural. He wrote back today saying he really liked the idea of me “being in a laundromat as the Cubs took their initial step toward the championship."

I'd keep Holly updated on scores during the season and, since we lived apart during the first half of the season and she didn't have cable television, I'd on occasion give her play-by-play over the phone when Chicago was playing on ESPN.

She moved down here in June and the Cubs kept playing, and winning. We'd watch games together and then, when they made the playoffs, we changed our nightly routine to watch each of the contests.

And she kept warning me of their potential for upsetting fans. She'd preface the Series opener by saying that if Cleveland won, at least Chicago made it to the championship for the first time since 1908. I began understanding. When I was in northern Illinois a lot this year, I'd see people wearing Cubs' shirts. They all had looks of confidence, but hidden underneath was an underlying sense of fear and apprehension.

In Game 7 of the Series, I finally understood what that 108-year mantra was about. The Cubs were up 8-6 in the eighth inning when Rajai Davis hit a two-run homer to tie the game. Davis drove in another run in the 10th, and that Fear became a reality. Could the Cubs lose again? Was there about to be another Bartman incident? Was there a goat bleating somewhere in a farm, miffed that one of his relatives was shunned from being in Wrigley during the 1945 Series?

But finally, finally, the Cubs had their championship when Kris Bryant fielded a Michael Martinez dribbler and tossed it to Anthony Rizzo on first.

In a sense, it was easy. Follow a team for the first time, basing it more on the love for a fan than for the team, and watch them win the World Series. I wish that concept would work with the Twins.