All week long, Pastor Walter Mitty’s friends in town have been giving him a hard time because of the Bears-Packers game at Soldier Field, Thursday night.
It’s become one of the rituals in Poplar Park to mark the turning of the seasons — the pool closes on Labor Day, the kids go back to school, and everyone teases the pastor of the Poplar Park Community Church about being a cheesehead.
This year, however, the teasing has quickly segued into folks asking each other, “What do you think about Andrew Luck?”
Some parents at Mitty’s church, in fact, have made it known that they will not allow their middle school kids to go out for football when they get to high school and instead are enrolling them in the soccer programs at the park district which are growing in popularity.
When Pastor Mitty and his good friend Michael Rosenthal learned that Zaphne had her Retro coffee shop open even on Labor Day, and since neither one had anywhere else to go, they decided to stroll over, grab a couple of lattes and catch up with each other.
After filling Michael in on what is new with his sister-in-law and two nephews in Manitowoc, Mitty changed the subject and asked, “Michael, what do you think about Andrew Luck?”
“The football player?”
“Yeah. I’ve been thinking a lot about him. Did I tell you I got a brain concussion playing football in ninth grade? It happened in practice. I was small, slow and weak and we bench warmers would run the upcoming opponent’s offense in practice against our first-string defense. So the coach told me to take the handoff and run around the left side of the offensive line, and suddenly all my blockers disappeared and this first string linebacker had a clear path between him and me. It was ugly.”
“Well, that explains why you can’t remember what you had for breakfast this morning,” Michael said with a mischievous grin.
“Thanks a lot old friend! I get teased about being a cheesehead by everyone in town, and now my best friend is diagnosing me with dementia.”
“Two lattes for Walt and Michael — my favorite customers,” shouted Zaphne with an affectionate smile from behind the counter.
“Favorite customers?” Michael returned the young, attractive entrepreneur’s smile.
“Well, to be honest,” Zaphne replied, “you’re the only customers in the place, so I really didn’t risk offending anyone.”
After the laughter died down, Zaphne asked, “What were you two talking about?”
“Football. I was telling Michael about my short football career in middle school back in Manitowoc.”
“No offense, Walt, but you don’t have a football player’s body.”
“It took me till the ninth grade to figure that out,” Mitty said, shaking his head. “That’s when I let go of the dream of starting at quarterback for the Packers, and began to think about a future vocation that matched the gifts God gave me instead of living in a fantasy world.”
Zaphne pulled up a chair and joined her elders. “I never really did get American football,” she began as Mitty and Michael sipped their lattes. “Never got boxing either. I played soccer in high school, and, sure, there would sometimes be collisions and bumps and bruises, but they were never intentional.”
Mitty thought a moment and said, “You know, when I played football in the youth league — I think it was in seventh grade — the boys who were bigger than me were also not very agile. They grew so fast, and I was a little quicker, so that evened things out a little. And I have to say that tackling another player felt kind of good.”
Zaphne, winking, said, “Testosterone! Men! Dominance!”
Mitty feigned defensiveness and Zaphne continued. “When I think back to the girls on my high school soccer team, it was like we weren’t out to beat the other team so much as wanting our team to win. Does that make sense?”
“I’m not sure,” Michael replied. “Say more.”
“Well, I think it was more about the joy of working together. I remember the time we played the high school that won the state championship the year before, and they beat us 5 to 1. But after the game, we didn’t feel like we’d lost. We felt like going against one of the best teams in the state brought out the best in us, and that feeling was really, really satisfying.”
“So I’m wondering how that story applies to Andrew Luck’s decision,” said Mitty.
“Maybe,” Michael replied, “Luck has this competition thing in perspective. I can think of a lot of guys right here in Poplar Park who, because of their ego, need to win so they keep repeating the same behaviors over and over even though everyone can see that what they’re doing isn’t good for them, their loved ones, or the village itself for that matter.”
“Or,” Zaphne added, “our national politics.”
The conversation turned to Mitty and Michael telling stories to their younger friend about the good old days, and as they got up to leave the Retro, Pastor Walt said, “Thank you, Zaphne.”
“For the coffee?”
“That too, but mainly for giving me a good story to start my sermon next Sunday.”