Not a Fool’s Game
On Sunday, I will gather with family and friends at a favorite watering hole to cheer on our beloved Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl Sunday and sports bars hold special places in my heart.
On January 9, 1977, a few hours after I came into the world, my mother and I watched Super Bowl XI from our hospital room. Although it was the most crucial work day of the year for my grandfather, Mike "Skomie" Yokosuk, he called to ask my mother if his first grandchild was a boy or a Sosha.
Skomie owned a sports bar in Welch, WV. It was officially called The Sports Center, but was much more commonly known as "The Place." The Place was a proud dive bar with mismatched stools, warped clapboard floors, peeling paint and a deliberately filthy store front window.
The Place was always abuzz on Super Bowl Sunday. Coal miners and bankers jammed in beside each other to watch the game, guzzle draft beer, smoke cigarettes and most importantly bet. My granddad was the town bookie and the Super Bowl was the biggest night of the year.
I once asked him who his favorite team was and he said, "Sosha, my dear, my favorite team is the one that puts the most food in our bellies. You never, ever gamble with your heart. That’s a fool’s bet and we’re no fools."
We didn’t have a favorite team but we did have the spread. My granddad taught me to read the spread and what the over/under meant at a young age. He called it a math lesson and told me that math was always better than emotion.
The Place was open seven days a week. It was right down from our apartment and I hung out there as much as I could. I knew all the regulars. I would fetch them beers, empty the ash trays, and clean up the parlay tips. They often let me open the parlays for luck. And, if they won, they would tip me.
The Place only closed twice a year: during the MLB All-Star break in July when we went on a family vacation and the week after the Super Bowl when when my grandparents went on their annual cruise.
Although I am sure that Child Protective Service would lock someone away faster than you could say, cover the spread, if there was a five year old serving up Pabst Blue Ribbon in a gambling den in 2016, it is where some of my favorite memories were made.
The Panthers have my heart and on Sunday I’ll be cheering for them loudly. I feel confident that they will win but I won’t betting on them (even if such a thing was legal). I may have been raised in a bar but my granddad taught me that I’m no fool…well, at least when it comes to gambling.