It didn't matter to me. I knew the Santa gift would always be the best present of the year. The headliner, if you will.
And when I got my first APBA gift — the 1976 football game — Santa's name was emblazoned upon the To and From tag stuck on the present.
So began the love affair I have with this game now 36 years later.
Gone now in my adult world is the magic of Santa leaving gifts. Gone, even, is the Christmas tree that I used to put up in my house for the season. I work at my newspaper job on the holiday, and will do so again this year, to avoid sitting home alone on the day reserved for families and gift-giving and over-eating and noise.
But the magic of the APBA game will always remain.
When I got that football game in 1977, it was the last gift my parents had for me that Christmas. My father slid it from beneath the tree, handing it to me almost sacredly, as a monk would present some handwritten script he had completed after 30 years in seclusion. It was a heavy gift; those who play the football game know this. The game contained nearly 1,000 cards of players. It was hefty.
I opened it up and spread it out across the living room floor. Later, I retired to my bedroom and stayed up into the early morning hours learning the intricacies of the game, rolling the dice, checking numbers on the players' cards and practicing playing. Eventually, I played a game and became addicted to the magic of the game.
Twenty-one years later, I captured that magic again, albeit in a more serene, older way. Most people begin their APBA lives with the baseball contest. I started with football and then migrated to basketball and even hockey before getting into baseball. I did it backwards.
In 1998, I ordered the game. Both my parents were deceased and my wife, while accepting my sports addiction, did not enable it by buying me the games. There would not be a game from Santa under the tree for me. So, I ordered the game and waited.
A week or so before Christmas, my wife and I went to Memphis to shop. She dropped in some outlet mall toy store to find coloring books for the grandkids and I spotted an APBA baseball game on a shelf. I knew my order for the full set would arrive soon, but the Santa magic took hold of me. I grabbed the game and paid the $5 for it. It contained only three teams, but I reasoned I would practice playing that set so I could work out the kinks before the real game came in.
I got the full 1998 season on Dec. 28 and began playing it immediately. I've not stopped since, rolling seven full seasons, about half of the 1925 season and 80 percent of the 1942 season I'm on now. It's a good game, especially to last this long in my life.
There won't be a Santa at my house this year. But the game remains in my world and it continues to bring the magic that I first experienced as a youngster when Santa was delivering the good stuff.