Seeing as how this will be the 25th Christmas since the gangly teenage sportswriter first kissed the prettiest cheerleader, a guy starts to run out of good gift ideas. Did the matching oven mitts thing. The Christmas-scene Tupperware. The Hairagami. How romantic can one husband get?
I really want this one to be special, but I'm choking. What gift is good enough for a woman who raised three wonderful kids while I phoned in for periodic updates from South Bend and Wimbledon and the swimsuit shoot? There must have been 100 times when she wanted to say, "Any chance you could see your family a little more and Scotland a little less?" but she never has.
How do you thank your best catcher, goalie, cornerback, ump, trainer, chef, business manager, p.r. agent, buddy and masseuse? What's the right gift for someone who never begs out of the action like so many can't-muss-my- Revlon wives? Someone who has never, not once, yelled, "No ball in the house!"
What's appropriate for a person who has cheerfully plotted so many family vacations around the Carquest Bowl or the Buick Open or the crucial Midwest subregional. Hey, kids! Who wants to go to a Clippers shootaround?
What sort of gift says, Thanks for not putting your fist through the souffl� when I call from the press box and tell you I can't make the gourmet dinner party for 12 you've cooked because Chuck Knoblauch suddenly forgot how to throw a baseball to first base? This is a person who has never said a peep about Mother's Day always coming on a Tuesday, Thanksgiving on Dec. 2 and Easter right around Yom Kippur. This is a woman who has never challenged the concept of the Sports Minute, as when dinner's on and I holler, "There's only a minute left in the game!" Then she knows she still has time to finish her quilt, do the taxes and reattach the back gutter.
What sort of Christmas present makes up for all the thankyous I forgot over 25 years? For instance, I don't think I ever thanked her for coming to my high school baseball games and sitting there in the freezing cold as I sat on the bench. Or for never complaining when all the other college girls got to go out to the clubs with their boyfriends after the basketball game while she drove my 1966 Nova as I typed madly on my portable typewriter in the passenger seat, 12 minutes to deadline.
I'm thinking it's not easy putting up with me. Popes have beatified women for less. How would you like to be married to a man who continues to harbor a belief that he'll be discovered by a major league scout, even at 42? Who else would pretend she saw my double off the fence but not the dribbler that went through my legs? Who else would act as if the forehead scrape I got in the alley basketball game is thisclose to requiring a trip to the emergency room when a Buzz Lightyear Band-Aid would've more than covered it?
She doesn't roll her eyes when the guys and I make plans for the annual touch football classic. She even keeps from rolling them again when I come back with a groin pull every year. And what other buddy of mine will sit and listen to the hole-by-hole recap of my round without charging caddie fees or saying, "I'll wait for the miniseries, thanks."
I mean, who else gets to sleep with his best editor? With someone who knows how to spell Poughkeepsie, can always come up with a better word for blowout and finds hundreds of gentle ways to say a column stinks? Maybe you should save this one for a special week, sweetheart, is a goody.
I don't know where I'd be without her, but I'm guessing it would probably be in Hubcap, Iowa, selling discount parachutes. I know I wouldn't be sitting here. So what gift is good enough for a woman who lets you have a lifelong affair with sports and never gets jealous? I never loved any of them as much as I do her, up to and including the playoffs.