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Fun and Games
Steve Rushin
March 05, 2001
To a 10-year-old who knew his sports backward and forward, a guy named Otto had special appeal
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March 05, 2001

Fun And Games

To a 10-year-old who knew his sports backward and forward, a guy named Otto had special appeal

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Excuse me while I retrieve my childlike sense of wonder and become 10 years old again, and fall back in love with sports.

I remember sitting with my mom and dad and brothers and sister at Minnesota Twins games in Metropolitan Stadium—side by side in the bleachers, all seven of us, descending in height like organ pipes. My brothers and I ate peanuts, and the brown husks adhered to our teeth, and when Rod Carew came to the plate we grinned like jack-o'-lanterns.

We looked like the NHL stars whose pictures we scissored out of Goal! magazine and taped to a wood-paneled wall of our basement: Bobby Clarke had a smile like Roman ruins. Mike Bossy wore a sport coat that was cut (to judge by the pattern) from casino carpeting. Bobby Hull's hairpiece was something you'd fish from a clogged drain. But they were gods.

And the names! The NHL of the '70s had Cesare Maniago, Guy Lafleur, Jude Drouin. Gilles Gilbert was pronounced "Zheel Zheelbair." At my school—Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Bloomington, Minn.—Father Gilbert became, to me and my friends, Father Zheelbair. The best name to say was Yvan Cournoyer of the Montreal Canadiens. You scored in street hockey and threw up your hands and shouted "Ee-vonnn CORN-why-ayyyy!"

Father Zheelbair was our favorite priest because he let us out of Mass early once, when the Vikings had a playoff game. He told us to bow our heads and pray for God's blessing, and then he asked Our Heavenly Father to intercede against the Los Angeles Rams. Then we went home and turned on the TV to see a righteous God smite Jack Youngblood.

We spent all summer trying to be Rod Carew. Rodney Cline (the doctor who delivered Rod Carew was named Rodney Cline) Carew, we knew from his baseball card, was born on a train in the Panama Canal zone. A man, a plan, a canal—Panama.

A palindrome is a word or phrase that reads the same backward and forward. The first sentence ever spoken was a palindrome: "Madam, I'm Adam." Or so it said in a book of word games that my mom checked out of the library for me.

Words, I discovered, could be made to do anything, and though I rolled my eyes when Mom brought more books, she knew I was thrilled. If I stumbled on a big word and asked my dad what it was, he would peer like Kilroy over his newspaper and say, "Look it up."

Once I asked my dad if he knew what a palindrome is. When he said no, what is it, I said, "Look it up." But he didn't. He just shot me a look.

To be Rod Carew you had to steal thinly sliced salami from Mike McCollow's mom's fridge and cram a wad of it into your right cheek. (Go hang a salami, I'm a lasagna hog: That was the best palindrome I ever read.) Salami made your spit look like tobacco juice. Once I asked my big brother if that was a jawbreaker in Rod Carew's cheek—an Everlasting Gobstopper, maybe, that would turn his tongue blue. But he said, "No, you spaz, it's Red Man tobacco."

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