The evening was grim as Tony Anderson slogged his way home. Anger kept him warm, a red-hot coal in his chest. It could have been the flat tire he got after work, or that nobody invited him to the parties he knew they were having, or it could have been the icy slush filling his shoes and spattered on his pants. It was none of the above.
The next day was the big game. And the Packers were out.
The lucky Packers jersey, the green and yellow number that had seen him through the season, and which he hadn’t washed once, not once, since September – it hadn’t saved the game. Jermaine Kearse, wide receiver for the Seahawks, delivered the death blow to the Packers with that final touchdown catch.
At home, Tony threw a frozen burrito in the microwave and wiped his running nose with the sleeve of his jersey. The smell had set in deep, all of the popcorn, all the brats, all the drinks that splashed – a season’s worth of food. What was the point of washing it? He’d burn it, and the championship hopes with it. He pulled the jersey off, threw it in the wood box, and flung himself onto the couch.
His eyelids grew heavy. On the edge of sleep, he heard a strange noise coming from the chimney. It’s a month too late for Santa, he thought, as a ghost materialized from the flames of the fireplace. Tony bolted upright. He recognized the ghost, a former roommate from Cincinnati.
“Chad? What are you doing here?” said Tony.
“I come bearing a warning, dude,” Chad said. “Also, you owe me 20 bucks.” He was wearing the Bengals fan sweater that had inspired Tony to get his own. The black and orange pattern flickered in the firelight.
“A-are you dead?” Tony asked. Chad shrugged.
“Wouldn’t need 20 bucks then, would I?” He hovered over the floor, glaring at his former roomie. “You’ve forgotten what football means. You’ve forgotten the game. You’ve forgotten why you’re a fan. And you’re too annoying to hang out with.”
“Oh,” said Tony. “Is that why you won’t accept any of my Facebook invites?”
“Yeah, pretty much. And you reek. Wash the jersey,” replied Chad. He pointed to the greasy jersey on the wood-pile.
“That’s why tonight, before the microwave beeps, you’re gonna be visited by three spirits: The ghosts of Football past, present and future. You brought it on yourself, dude, but if you listen, maybe people will be able to stand you again. Good luck.”
Chad disappeared into the flames. A few seconds later, Tony heard steps, a metallic tapping, coming down the hallway.
Click, click, click. The sound stopped in front of his room. Pushing through the door, the ghost of Packer’s great Bart Starr appeared, fully decked out in his Packer’s uniform. Tony stared, frozen in fear.
“Yo,” said Starr. He snapped his fingers. Tony was dressed in his Packers jersey, but it was faded, with huge holes in the knit. “I’m the ghost of Football past. Come with me.” With a flicker too fast for the eye to follow, Bart Starr grabbed Tony by the arm. In an instant, they transported through time and space to the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. It was January 26, 1997.
“Whoa,” said Tony. “I know this game! The Packers beat the Patriots to win their first championship since 1968! Look! There’s Brett Farve! And Andre Rison! Hey! Hey, Andre!”
“Shut it,” said Bart. “They can’t hear you. We’re seeing what’s already happened—but you might want to take a look at the kid up in section 316.”
Tony scanned the stadium. There was a little boy wearing and green and yellow Packers sweater, the cuffs rolled up to his elbows. In his scrawny arms, a bag of popcorn tilted, spilling all over the people in front of him.
“That’s me!” said Tony. “My dad pulled some strings at the office and we flew out for the game. This is one of the happiest days of my life. It was amazing, the confetti blasted everywhere when we won. Like green snow.”
Bart Starr smiled. “Glad you remember how good a win can feel. But what about a loss?” The old quarterback snapped his fingers, and they were transported to Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. The day was January 25, 1998, the next year. “Do you remember this game?”
Tony’s smile disappeared. He knew it all too well.
“Yeah,” he said. “I was so sure the Packers would take this one, but Elway and the Broncos pulled it off, 31-24.” “Do you remember how you felt after the game?”
“Well, I cried,” said Tony. “And maybe it was stupid, but I wrote Brett Farve a letter telling him it was okay to lose sometimes.”
Bart Starr put his hand on Tony’s shoulder. It seemed as if the holes in the Green Bay jersey were getting a bit smaller, the color stronger. “You were a good fan as a youngster. Keep that memory with you. But now it’s time for me to go.”
Tony flipped around to talk to Bart, but he was too late. The player had vanished, and Tony was once again in his living room. “Whoa,” Tony said, “That was a trip.” He looked down at himself. The jersey on his body seemed solid enough, but there it was, still on the woodpile. Which one was real? Before he could test it out, another voice came from the kitchen.
“Hey there, gunslinger.”
Tony turned around and saw a huge man hovering by the fridge. His salt and pepper hair gleamed with ghostly light, as did the embroidered “4” on his embroidered jersey.
“Brett Farve!” His favorite player! In his house, his kitchen! Tony couldn’t believe it.
“I’m the ghost of Football Present,” said Brett, “and I have to show you something.” He juked back as if to throw a ball, and in the next step, they were transported to Arizona.
“We’re outside of University of Phoenix Stadium!” raved Tony. The gear-clad fans poured into the arena, and everywhere, ugly sweaters and jerseys and painted faces.
“That we are, ol’ buckaroo,” said Brett. He put his arm around Tony and pointed at a fountain. “Take a gander at those two over there.”
There, Tony saw a boy and his father resting at the edge of the water. “Oh papa!” the little guy said in the kind of British accent only found in the movies. “I wish we could go see the Seahawks play. I hope they win!” The Seattle Seahawks scarf wrapped around his neck was matched by the father’s geometric Seahawks sweater. A pair of crutches rested beside them. The father looked down. “Let’s hope there’s a scalper with some tickets,” he replied, placing a penny in his son’s palm.
“Now, make a wish and throw it in the fountain.”
“Can I wish for a ‘Seahawks: World Champions’ pennant to hang on my wall?” asked the boy.
“Of course!” said the father. After little Timmy threw his penny in the fountain and picked up his crutches, they joined the throng surrounding the stadium. For no reason, sad violin music filled the air.
Tony frowned as they walked away. “That didn’t seem very real,” he said.
Brett looked a little guilty. “Well, it might have been a bit staged, but you get the picture.”
“Do they ever get the tickets?” He remembered waiting outside stadiums, looking for a way in.
Brett Farve furrowed his brows and looked to the horizon. “I see a child who will never go to the game.”
“But Brett!” Tony shouted, “That can’t be! He’s just a little kid!”
But by the time Tony turned around to protest, Brett had disappeared, along with all the happy fans. Dark clouds covered the sky, and howling winds blew trash along the empty streets. The only figure remaining was tall, and wore a long black cloak that flagged in the breeze. And as Tony got closer, he recognized the daunting figure.
It was Al Michaels, the longtime Sunday Night Football announcer.
“Excuse my appearance,” said Al, unbuttoning the top few buttons of his jacket to reveal a jersey he’d worn at NBC’s holiday party the year before. It was finely stitched with blue and gold thread and featured the LA Ram’s logo over the breast. “It got chilly, waiting for you.”
“Al, what are you doing here?” asked Tony.
“I’m the ghost of Football Future, and I’ve been sent to deliver a very important message,” replied Al. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a magazine folded in two, and extended it to Tony.
With a cautious hand, he grabbed the paper. Tony looked at the magazine, chills running down his spine, fear trickling into his heart. It was a program for the big game 15 years in the future, featuring a matchup between the Denver Broncos and…the Los Angeles Packers.
“Al…what is this?” asked Tony in a shaky voice.
Al Michaels’ face grew stern. He sighed, put his left hand in his pocket, and grabbed Tony’s shoulder with the other.
“Well,” he began, gazing to the sky, “After the horrific loss to the Seahawks in 2015, the Packers nation gave up hope. They stopped supporting their team, buying gear, and even going Lambeau Field for games. The Packers had no choice but to move.”
Before Tony could comprehend Al’s words, an earthquake shook the entire city. Giant cracks appeared in the street, swallowing up whole cars and buildings, crashing buildings to the ground like JJ Watt does sacks.
“No! It can’t be!” screamed Tony, but it was too late. Al disappeared. The ground opened. An errant streetlight knocked
Tony into a giant crevasse.
Tony fell into the bottomless dark, his eyes never adjusting – falling – falling… he awoke to the beeping of a microwave. He found himself back in his living room, drenched in sweat, clutching his Packer’s jersey. Above him hovered his new roommate, Nathan.
“Bro, you alright?” Nathan asked, clutching a cup of coffee. “You had some gnarly screams just now.”
Tony shrugged aside Nathan’s concerns. Grabbing the sweater, he ran to the washing machine and threw it in. Luck wouldn’t wash away. Besides, it wasn’t about the luck. “What day is today?” Nathan heard his shout.
“Bro, it’s Sunday…the day of the big game!!”
“My goodness,” Tony said to himself. “The spirits did it all in one night!”
In a fit of laughter, Tony grabbed a wad of cash from his jeans and handed it to Nathan. “Dude, go to the local sports bar and order the extra large nachos. We’ll need it for the game tonight.”
Nathan’s eyes grew wide. “You mean the nachos as big as me?”
“Yes, bro, that’s the nachos I want for the game!” said Tony. And after Nathan left, Tony pulled the Packers jersey over his head. He smiled at the pine tree pattern, and vowed to himself to always root for his team, and never take them for granted again.
After that day, it was always said of Tony that he knew how to keep the big game well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.