This was pretty unusual - but not unheard of - so I sleepily made my way to the phone. At the other end of the line was one of my mom's dear friends, Sam, and what he had to say brought me to full awake status in nanoseconds.
His neighbors, longtime Washington Redskins season tickets holders, couldn't make it to that day's playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons. They had given Sam their two tickets and he was inviting me to come along.
This opportunity came at a key time in my development. I was 12 years old and had just finished my second season of youth football. We had been living in the Washington DC area for a couple of years and I was already becoming bought into the local football team. It was cold and raining relentlessly that day . . . but there was no way I was going to miss such an opportunity!
Sam picked me up and we made our way into the District. As we entered historic RFK Stadium, they were kindly giving out yellow seat cushions to protect fans from the cold, wet bleachers.
The game began inauspiciously. The Falcons had talked a lot of talk. Deion Sanders was a particularly vocal player and there were rumors that M.C. Hammer was on their sideline to boot. The Falcons sang "To Hell With the Redskins" (a mockery of the Washington fight song, "Hail to the Redskins") and sent out 47 players to the opening coin toss.
The Redskins let their play do the talking. Rookie Ricky Ervins led a dominant running game that opened up Mark Rypien's passing game to "The Posse," (hat tip to the front five "Hogskins" for effective run blocking and solid pass protection) especially my favorite, Art Monk. Fullback Gerald Riggs accounted for two touchdowns, which was fire in the belly for this wide-eyed aspiring fullback.
On defense too, Darrell Green led a stifling performance. By the fourth quarter the Skins were sitting on a solid lead and it was becoming evident that we would be headed to the NFC Championship. When Riggs made it 24-7, effectively ruling out any potential Falcons comeback, the crowd went wild.
Someone threw one of those yellow seat cushions down onto the field. I remember it as if time slowed down for those few seconds as we all watched that cushion fall several stories to the ground. Then, suddenly, time resumed and everybody threw a seat cushion in. It was raining yellow confetti. The ref was blowing his whistle. It was pouring. It was cold. But we were going to the championship!
A quarter century later I remember that moment as if it were yesterday. That time-standing-still experience was truly magical for this young football player. I had thrown my cushion in along with everyone else but Sam held onto his and let me keep it. I still have it to this day. It's a reminder not just of that special moment, and of that Superbowl-winning season, but also of how much magic it is possible to create in the lives of children.
Thank you, Sam, for that lesson, and good luck to the Redskins today in their playoff game against the Packers!