It was a Monday morning, my 17th birthday.
But I was in no mood to celebrate, as I wandered the nearly deserted halls of George Mason High School in Falls Church, Virginia.
My classmate, Kevin Nicholson, was an early bird too. He was on his usual perch, the floor in front of the library doors, overlooking the George Mason Mustang mosaic that dominated the main hallway of our school.
I’m not sure I’d classify Kevin as a friend, but if you were a boy living in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area during the 1972-1973 football season, you all had one thing in common — adoration for the Washington Redskins.
The day before, our Redskins had lost to the undefeated Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VII, 14-7. And if not for a freak misplay by the Dolphins’ placekicker, Garo Yepremian, in the last two minutes of the game, the Burgundy and Gold wouldn’t have scored at all.
When Kevin and I spotted each other, no words were necessary. We both simply shook our heads.
I remember being in a fog for weeks. At 17, I’d experienced my first profound sense of loss. Not a parent, not a sibling. Just a bunch of guys I only knew through a television screen and on the pages of the Washington Post sports section.
I watched professional football for at least 50 years. It was the way I bonded with my two older brothers and my father. It was how I spent hours and hours on Sunday afternoons and Monday nights in college, when I should have been studying my economics notes.
It was how I annoyed the women in my life. Just ask my wife, Betty.
My mother once demanded that I turn off the game and do some Christmas shopping before the stores closed. No problem, Mom, I thought. I could catch the last quarter in the television department at Penney’s.
But it’s been three years now since I’ve watched an NFL game, with one exception, last year’s Super Bowl. I couldn’t resist the backstory Deflategate drama. Not a bad game, as I recall. But it didn’t feel like the old days.
For years the reports of player misbehavior bothered me, but when the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice decked his finacee with a punch to the jaw, recorded live for all to see, and the NFL’s initial gross mishandling of the situation, I decided I’d had enough.
And I could no longer look the other way as athletes, bigger and faster than ever, impersonate heat-seeking missiles as they slam into each other, causing brain injuries we thought used to be restricted to professional boxers.
I still watch college football. Actually, it’s more like I glance at it. I don’t know why. Old habits die hard, I guess. Maybe I continue to delude myself that college players are just kids who love the game.
Our friends Wendy and Bob are visiting from Arizona. Bob is a big Kansas City Chiefs fan, and they play the Redskins later tonight. I might watch, just to be sociable. But pro football has lost its appeal for me, and I don’t see it ever coming back.
John Edmondson writes from Londonderry.