Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On the Fusina Feud, Cont'd.

And so Jeff Pearlman responds to my criticism of his criticism of the great Chuck Fusina--and he does it by "playing the USFL card." This is a low blow, Jeff, as we both know it is impossible to effectively parry against nostalgia for a league where an egomaniacal caricature of a billionaire, a personally fragmented running back, and an Oompa-Loompa briefly joined forces. It is also probably a bad idea to fan the flames of a virtual feud with an accomplished journalist who has handled the real-life Kenny Powers and the "real-life Emmitt Smith,"* but I am obliged to stand up for the honor of a quarterback who represents the one thing in the world of sports I still hold sacred--and I am not speaking of the Philadelphia Stars.**

Here's the thing: I cannot defend Chuck Fusina on the merits of his professional football career. And if I am being honest, I don't care very much about Chuck Fusina's professional career; I knew of him long before then. I knew of him in the fall of 1978, the year my family uprooted from New York to Pennsylvania, to a college town located approximately four hours from everywhere, to a hamlet in the geographic center of the state that will forever be defined by the distinct profile of its professorial football coach. I knew of Chuck Fusina because he was the quarterback of the local eleven, a group of young men who played in prison-issue uniforms in a stadium on the far side of town; I knew of him because that fall, in the backyard of a house on Devonshire Drive, my friend Scott Holderman and I would regularly re-enact the Fusina-to-Fitzkee connection.***

I turned six years old that fall. In New York, I had seen a few things; I watched the Yankees, because my father watched the Yankees; I watched the New York Cosmos, because--well, I have no idea why. But that was different; in New York, and in most big cities, there are so many passions outside of sports that the local teams often feel detached from the daily reality. But it's different in central Pennsylvania. And so the rise of Chuck Fusina portended, for me, the birth of the only true sporting passion I have left, the only connection that remains between me and my childhood:

I am a Penn State fan.

It kind of shames me to admit this, as I have based my entire career upon detachment and rationality. And I would like to think that I am not immune to criticism of said program (as witnessed here and here), and I do, in fact, find the blind worship of message-board acolytes to be a truly chilling proposition, but the fact is this: When a Penn State football game comes on the television, I am engulfed by a strange and powerful feeling. My temperature rises, and my temperament fluctuates, and I chew my clothing to pieces, and I emit guttural noises that have been known to literally frighten my girlfriend out of the room (in the wake of a last-second loss to Michigan a few years back, I actually jumped so high that I slugged her ceiling fan).

At age 36, I can honestly say that there is nothing else in the world that makes me feel this way. And I have a constant worry that one of these years, it will just go away, and I will be left with nothing, and all these decades I've spent indulging in this utterly irrational behavior will suddenly seem silly and useless, and I will spend my Saturdays watching The Beltway Boys and attending operettas. And I know Jeff has written (often and eloquently) about how sports no longer arouse any kind of mysticism for him, but I happen to think we need certain constants in our lives, and I happen to think this is one reason why sports fans cling to such irrational illusions. And this particular constant, in my case, began with Charles Anthony Fusina, with a quarterback who may be a footnote to nearly everyone else--but who opened me up to some of the most angst-ridden, passionate, pleasurable and entirely inexplicable moments of my existence.****

*Though I am not sure what this phrase--"the real-life Emmitt Smith"--actually means. Also, if you are reading this and you somehow haven't read Boys Will Be Boys, let me just say this: How can you possibly go wrong with a sports book whose primary Amazon.com "key phrase" is proctological?
**Though their move to Baltimore was, to me, the most crushing moment of my youth, on par with the cancellation of My Two Dads.
***This was Fusina-to-Fitzkee's rawer indie work, as opposed to their watered-down, pop-laden Philadelphia Stars material.
****And just to be sure there is a requisite amount of what the youth call "smack" and/or misplaced aggression in this post: The kind of man who cites The Cable Guy as "the funniest movie ever" is the kind of man who claims "Yellow Submarine" is his favorite Beatles' song. If you start arguing for the spiritual profundity of Weird Al lyrics, Jeff, I may have to call for a virtual intervention.

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