“New England Giant”
Sometimes you’re deep into the living of life, and it hits you: something isn’t quite right. It isn’t easily known at first, but as you meander through a day, the ambiguity clears and you find yourself looking down the barrel of an incontrovertible truth:
We are impermanent.
A hefty idea to roll around the noggin, considering how pre-disposed we all are to avoiding this impending reality at all times.
Yesterday, was that day for me. As spring rites roll out and signs of the season’s progression appear.
One way in which I measure the change from winter to spring is in the celebration of the annual NFL Entry Draft. Oddly, it never became a big deal to me until I became an adult. Ever more so as I realized how much it mattered to many people I love and care about.
The state of affairs of The New England Patriots is of great concern for many New Englanders. There has been great pride in our hometown team all along, but the last 18 years have been pretty special.
Yesterday was the first day of the 2018 NFL Entry Draft, and it was the first draft that my Uncle Kevin Patrick Connolly did not celebrate in some 58 years.
Kevin died in December of 2017. His streak of consecutive Draft Day Bunkering Down and Viewing ended on a December evening as he flung a desperate Hail Mary Pass.
When I sat down to watch the excessive pageantry and intrigue of this year’s draft, I was overcome with emotion. I recognized that it was the first time I concretely felt Kev’s absence.
For me, Kev had been a person who was ever-present in my life. Without exception, continually in the background, always ready to devote his time. It saddens me to admit it, but it was such a regular thing that it ended up being a bit taken for granted. He was an unassuming, quiet man. Oh, but would he glow when called upon to wax poetic on sports.
Mid to late spring was an auspicious time for him, as the NFL Draft was neatly nestled within baseball season warming up, hockey playoffs, basketball playoffs, and the Kentucky Derby. He would wage a viewing war on all fronts. A veritable bacchanalia of sports fan revelry.
Kev didn’t travel much, if at all. His extravagances came through improving the quality of his sports binge banquet by taking a room at the Holiday Inn in Somerville.
With precision, he would request the days off of work, rent the room, and arrive for early check-in at the hotel. Everything had to be just so. Three to four days of living on the lam, while taking respite in a cigar-smoke filled double suite, bucket upon bucket of as much ice as he could coax from the ice machine down the hall.
He would stop at a neighborhood smoke shop, likely up the street in Union Square, Somerville. There he would take a peek at the day’s racing forms at Wonderland or Suffolk Downs, and then lay claim his weapons of choice. Not a man for the Garcia Vegas, or the El Productos, Kev worshipped at the altar of the Dutch Masters.
He would procure a box of 50 Presidents. Wrapped clean, full of puff potential. He would leave the smoke shop, racing forms neatly folded against the cigar box he’d tuck up under his arm. Every once in a while he would bring the box down from his armpit to take a look at it. He’d marvel at the muffled sound he would get as he rapped the pin-nailed lid with the tips of his pudgy fingers with nails bitten down to the quick. It was oddly satisfying to him. Echoes would grow within the box after each cigar was enjoyed.
A man divided by loyalty, he adored both the New England Patriots and New York Giants. Or as he called them “da Gints.”
The 2007 and the 2011 Superbowl were tough for him. Boy did we bust his balls about it. He had more fun knowing that we were having fun giving him a hard time, and played along.
Regardless of the outcome each previous year, like clockwork he continued to make pilgrimage to his “Lost Weekends”.
It was always neat to check in with him shortly after one of these weekends, and get the “report”.
I learned that every year he would transcribe the draft round results of the NFL Draft into a spiral notebook, even though the draft results were neatly ordered in the next day’s paper. He found great satisfaction in making his own notes and observations, and had some type of short hand system that looked comparable to a baseball scoring sheet. He smiled at me when I’d ask him teasingly about the notebooks. Secrets forever guarded and forever unknown. I’d have given anything to see him meet Bill Belichick. Two very guarded men. Full of secrets and strategies. Or as Kev called it in his Boston Brogue, “stradgedy”.
I question if he could have subsisted solely on cigars and Diet Mountain Dew, but if there was ever an opportunity to gorge on his favorite sub sandwich, that would likely be a Chicken Cutlet Parmesan Sub Sandwich.This would have been procured for him at the nearby Royal Pizza Restaurant.
For those of us that knew Kev, he contained a multitude of peccadilloes, and the way he would work a sandwich when he ate it was a thing of beauty. It wasn’t gross, but very involved. He would hold the “Chicken Pahm” in his palms and make an assessment for the best point to bite. This happened after each and every bite, until the sandwich was gone. He also left no evidence behind on the wax paper and foil that the sub would come in. One of his techniques involved sopping up any excess sauce with the sub, and then consuming it. Like I said, it was an art of expression. Some might not appreciate it, but I certainly did. It was a relief to see someone in this world enjoy eating something without any self-awareness.
It’s the little things that creep up on you, and remind you of the details that comprise a person.
As I continue to watch the NFL Draft coverage over the weekend, I’ll recall those details and my heart will grow full. I’m fortunate to have been drafted to the team I got drafted to, and to have played the game of life with such New England Giants as my late Uncle Kev and my late Father Paul Hickey. The formations have changed, but we still have a team, and we’ve had some success drafting new players in 2008, 2011, 2014, and 2016 respectively. We’re just going to have to wait to see if those picks pan out. We’re under the salary cap, barely, and I don’t think we can trade them until they are all 18.