I was 17 when I unwrapped the large box containing the APBA football game. It was the last gift my parents handed me from under the Christmas tree. It was the “headliner” gift of the holiday and it was well received. I had played electric football and baseball before, along with simple games that involved dice and spinners as a youngster.
But this game was different. The APBA games were far more complex; they utilized cards with real players' names on them and those cards replicated those players' actual statistics for the season. We could select our lineups, play the games and watch them as they unfolded before us. It was, in a sense, a step into being a grown up while still playing a game.
So, I opened the football game for the 1976 season and looked over the cards. There were Fran Tarkenton, Chuck Foreman, Gene Washington for the Minnesota Vikings, which, because I lived in Minnesota for a while, became the team I followed. Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, Kenny Stabler, O.J. Simpson and others were also carded. I was holding in my hands the heroes of my day.
I stayed up late that Dec. 25, 1977, reading the instructions for the football game, rolling dice, checking charts, learning the game. I selected the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins to play. It was complex and it took hours to figure out. I wanted to play the Vikings, but I needed to first learn the flow of the game. Obviously, I wanted to replay the previous Super Bowl in which Oakland beat the Vikings. I had to set things right.
I have never been one to sleep much; when I was 16, I worked at a bar and restaurant deep into the nights, so I was fine with figuring out the football game during the late hour. My parents slept while I tossed the dice that Christmas night and referred to the cards. I knew I'd be playing it the next day, and the day following. Even then, I understood the lure of this game and the long journey it would take me on.
I am sure so many people embarked on similar journeys on Christmas nights. And I hope more are doing so this night, 38 years later. And that they will play the game for at least 38 years like I have so far. It's one of the mainstays in the life I've run through.
Today, like I've done five times in the 10 years since my wife passed away, I worked Christmas Day at the newspaper where I am employed. Today, I wrote a story about an arson fire at Bill Clinton's birthplace home in Hope, Ark. In the past, I've scribed stories about homicides, a plane crash, snow storms and other mayhem on the holiday. The Christmas night APBA games were always was a respite for the long day. While others spent time with their families on the evening, I came home, left the harshness of the news outside and rolled a few games.
Tonight, later, I'll roll a game between Pittsburgh and Montreal in my 1991 APBA baseball replay and then another game between Detroit and Toronto. I'm still playing the game 38 years later, the longest thing I've consistently done. I've tabled the football game and didn't get into baseball until 1998 when I bought the game — for my own Christmas present that year.
The games keep rolling. They've done so ever since that night in 1977.