March 2, 2010

Tales by Triplett – It’s never too late to learn

Triplett,PatrickBy Patrick Triplett

God love my mom. She means well. But try as she may, she just doesn’t quite get it when it comes to sports. Granted, she didn’t start getting involved until her grandson, Mike, became a sportswriter a few years ago. She began reading his articles and watching his interviews on TV with great interest, but with little knowledge of the subject.

My dad taught me to be a sports fan at an early age, and we watched games religiously together while my mom chose to do things far less important, such as buying the groceries, paying the bills and balancing the checkbook.

Now she is trying to play catch up in her later years, asking Mike and me more questions than Shaquille O’Neal has missed free throws.

There was a time when she couldn’t tell you the difference between a grand slam homer and a slam dunk. While she has learned quite a lot over the past few years, she still has a long way to go.

The one defining moment I will never forget was when she called and tried to impress me that while driving home she listened to the entire first quarter of an Iowa game on the radio. I was impressed until she said, “I didn’t know they were still playing football this late in the year.” They weren’t. She was listening to a basketball game.

Over the years she has referred to Joe Paterno as Joe Paternal, Michael Jordan as Michael Jackson and Joe Pepitone as Joe Pepperoni. Once during a family trip through Georgia, we went out of our way to check out Augusta National Golf Course, only to be denied access at the front gate. My mom, in a desperate attempt to persuade the security guard, boldly stated, “What if I told you I knew Jack Nicholson personally?”

Realizing of course she meant Jack Nicklaus, I couldn’t help but laugh while the stoned-faced guard just stood there shaking his head.

But clearly her biggest hurdle is trying to understand the rules of sports, particularly regarding football. She attempts to follow sports in general, but focuses mainly on football because of her grandson, who started out writing for the Iowa Hawkeyes, then the San Francisco 49ers, and currently the New Orleans Saints. She is gradually learning the basics, but sometimes will throw us off guard with a question like:

“I was watching the bowl selection show on TV and I saw where they picked Iowa to go to the Orange Bowl. But why didn’t they pick the Saints to go to the Super Bowl? Aren’t they one of the best teams?”

I will usually pause for a moment after these kinds of questions, allowing my brain to process the information. Then I will take a deep breath and try my best to answer a question that seems so basic to me yet something so foreign to her.

Me: Because Iowa is a college team and the Saints are a pro team. The Super Bowl is for pro teams.
Mom: But the IBS said they were announcing all the teams for the bowl games. Isn’t the Super Bowl one of them?
Me: IBS? You mean BCS?
Mom: Oh, yes, BCS.
Me: College teams are selected to play in the BCS bowls by a committee. The Super Bowl is played between the two NFL teams who win their conference playoff.
Mom: The NFL? Is that different than the BCS?
Me: Yes. The NFL is the name for the pro football league.
Mom: And they hold some sort of conference to vote on who gets to play in the Super Bowl?
Me: (Long pause).

I then spend the next 20 minutes explaining how the playoff system works in the NFL. Just when I thought she had finally grasped it she says, “OK, I think I got it. Just be sure and let me know when the Saints play in the Super Bowl so I can watch it.” Ironically, they did play in the Super Bowl and won. She probably figured it was meant to be all along. Come to think of it, maybe it was.

She reads the sports page and watches ESPN on a regular basis, two things she would never have done in the past. It is becoming obvious that her level of sports knowledge is growing. She will impress me by asking or telling me something that I was surprised she knew, only to follow it up with a question that she has asked many times before and obviously still cannot quite comprehend.

But despite the multitude of questions, I have to give my mom a lot of credit. She has come a long way in a short time. And she is living proof that it’s never too late to learn.