Sometime around New Year’s Day, 1991, my girlfriend Polly, who I’ve been dating seriously for nine months, decides it’s time to take our relationship to the next level.
Here is an exact transcript of the conversation:
POLLY: I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I love you very much, and I think you and I are ready. We love each other like adults, so we should behave accordingly. It’s time to have sex, seems to me. What do you think?
ME: (gulp) OK?
Senior year of high school, both of uninitiated in the ways of love, this is a big deal. Contrary to popular news reports, which like to talk up the promiscuity of Kids These Days, the vast majority of my classmates are virgins. Reluctant virgins, but still. Even most of the cool kids have yet to go all the way, and I am not a cool kid. I cannot overstate the enormity of this development.
I’m going to a) lose my virginity, b) before I graduate from high school, c) with a smart, talented gal with whom I’m genuinely in love. Talk about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! That Polly bears an uncanny resemblance to Daphne from Scooby Doo is so much icing on the cake. Or the cherry pie, as it were.
Not that it’s all peaches and cream. Losing your virginity is like singing at a karaoke bar—sure, it’s thrilling when your number gets called, but once you get up there, you have to perform. What if I get stage fright?
And there are other concerns: birth control (research, procurement, implementation), the potential for cold feet, the need to shield the news from the veritable TMZ that is the high school grapevine, and, of course, the act itself, with its potential for embarrassment of the kind found in lesser Ben Stiller movies.
Then there’s the matter of venue. From which pier should our maiden voyage be launched?
Rather than utilize the back seat of my Skylark, or some deserted ballfield, we decide to wait until we can find a suitable location—a place where we are guaranteed to be undisturbed for a six hour period of time, to at least eliminate the nightmarish possibility of parents walking in on us.
Alas, such opportunities are rare at our respective homes. Godot might come and go and come back again before one of our suburban split-levels is sufficiently vacant.
Imagine my delight, then, when the starting tackle of the New York Giants, for whom I have occasionally but not recently house-sat, calls up, out of the blue, with a proposition that could well be the answer to our logistical problem:
“If we get to the Superbowl,” he tells me, “I’m going to need you to stay at the house.”
* * *
The job is easy enough. Feed the cats, scoop the poops, sleep at the house so would-be burglars steer clear. And $300 for the week is insanely good money for a high school kid who makes minimum wage working the McDonald’s drive-thru.
The cats are named Argus and Hopper. The former is the hundred-eyed sentinel of Greek myth; the latter, the artist who painted Boulevard of Broken Dreams. These are names you’d expect from a poet, a classics professor, a man of letters, and not a very large man whose lucrative job involves moving other very large men out of the way. But then, Daryl Reid is not your average football player.
He’s six-eight—he towered over my father, who at six feet tall is not a small guy, when I saw them standing side by side—and big, but unlike many offensive linemen, he’s not at all fat. He’s built more for the basketball court than the gridiron, like a fill-the-lane power forward with a nose for the glass. He’s also handsome, smart, and, oh yeah, wealthy. Our local paper, the Daily Record, reported that Reid earned a cool $300,000 for the 1990 season. Not too shabby.
He also has a killer collection of compact discs.
His wife Susan, a short, curvy, cute brunette—if I possessed the ability to see her as someone other than my mom’s chum from exercise class, which is how I happened upon the gig to begin with, I’d say she was hot—does most of the talking during my interactions with them.
“You can drive the Porsche if you want,” Susan told me, during the initial interview two years ago.
I am about as easy a teenager as can be hoped for. I don’t drink, smoke, do drugs, sniff glue, shoplift, break curfew, or cut class, and that C+ I got in AP calculus is the lone blemish on a superlative report card. Aside from two bathetic puffs on a Newport Light with my friend Mike Huening sophomore year, my most egregious act of rebellion in eighteen years involved eschewing evening mass at Youth Ministry for a slice of pizza at Romanelli’s. I’m the kind of kid Judd Nelson makes fun of in Breakfast Club. A goody-two-shoes geek. Ferris Bueller would take the Porsche; Greg Olear, not so much.
“Um, that’s OK. I have my own car.”
“Do you want me to buy you beer?”
Born in 1965, Daryl Reid is just six-and-a-half years older than me, a kid himself really, but because I’m still in high school, mired in the most narcissistic of the Eriksonian stages of development, I can’t discern the empire-vast difference between the Reids and my parents. I don’t realize that Susan Reid, closer to my age than my mom’s 43, wants to buy me beer because she would have liked someone to do that for her when she was a senior in high school, not that long ago.
“No, that’s OK.”
But she insists on buying something special for me, so I ask for Cocoa Pebbles.
* * *
The only circumstance under which I will openly disobey my parents’ orders is when the opportunity presents itself to make out. I will prevaricate, I will stretch the truth, I will omit key details, I will perjure myself in order to French kiss with impunity. Like, in eighth grade, I used to go to my girlfriend’s house after school, where we’d listen to Squeeze records and smooch. Afterward, when my mom would ask if we were alone, I’d say, “No. Her older sister was there.” This was true, but I would leave out the part about how her sister was downstairs with her boyfriend the entire length of my visit, doing things that would make Joe Francis blush.
The first time I watched the Reid house, I got into a heated argument with my mom. I wanted to have the girl I was seeing at the time, Sara, over the house to watch a movie. My mom said no. I maintained that if I was mature enough to live in a house for a week by myself, I was mature enough to have a friend over to watch TV. That’s when my father, who had been silent during the argument, asked me, “Do you have a prophylactic in your wallet?”
I had never heard the word spoken aloud before—I don’t know if I have since—but there was open-sesame-esque magic in those four syllables. My mother fell silent as if she’d been shot, her parental legs kicked out from underneath her, as I explained to my dad that I did not need a prophylactic because activities involving prophylactics were not on the agenda. Not with Sara, who was cute but kind of annoying.
“You’re not supposed to keep them in your wallet anyway,” I added sagely, “because they go bad.”
But I had held my ground, and by playing my parents against each other, had won both the battle and the war. Thus, if I land Reid’s housesitting gig this time, they won’t say boo about Polly being there unchaperoned.
“If we get to the Superbowl, I’m going to need you to stay at the house.”
A simple equation: If the Giants—a good team, but hardly the favorites—make it to the big game, I’m in like Flynn. The only obstacle to my happiness? Joe Montana and the mighty San Francisco 49ers.
* * *
After dispatching the Washington Redskins and the Chicago Bears in the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Giants fly to the Bay for an NFC Championship showdown with the Niners. The winner will advance to the Super Bowl. The loser will go home (which would be, in Reid’s case, the house at which I wouldn’t be losing my virginity).
The 49ers, owners of the top seed, are heavily favored. They are at home, where they beat the Giants by 7-3 a month before. Their starting quarterback, Joe Montana, is probably the best to ever play the position; New York, meanwhile, lost its starting QB, Phil Simms, in Week Ten, and heads to Candlestick Park with the backup, Jeff “Hoss” Hostetler, a Tarkentonian scrambler—and the owner of one of the worst mustaches in the history of professional sport—under center.
I’m watching the game with my parents and my brother, none of whom have any inkling of what’s at stake. I didn’t bring it up, of course, and how could they have guessed that my sex life was directly tied to the outcome of the contest? We are all fired up, even my footballphobic mother—it’s more fun to watch when you know someone on the team. We eat popcorn and drink Coke and cheer.
The first half is a grueling defensive battle, all hard hits and field position, not much scoring. At halftime the teams are knotted at six—two field goals apiece.
Five minutes into the third quarter, the 49ers’ vaunted offensive attack comes alive. Montana hits John Taylor (the wide receiver, not the bass player) on a slant pass that goes for 61 yards and a touchdown.
13-6 Niners, and my stomach begins to ache. If these fuckers score again, I think to myself, the game is over.
But the Giants strike back. On the next possession, Matt Bahr, the stout-hearted placekicker, kicks his third field goal of the game. 13-9, with fifteen minutes to play (fifteen football minutes, which is about an hour in realtime).
The fourth quarter begins. New York gets the ball, down four. San Francisco’s Jim Burt, a defensive lineman who looks like a tractor trailer with a red jersey draped over him, hits Hostetler low, sacking him, and causing Hoss’s knee to bend in ways that would snap a GI Joe action figure’s leg clean off.
This would be infuriating enough, but because Burt used to play for the Giants—he’s one of us, damn it!—the hit carries the additional sting of betrayal. At that moment, as ridiculous as it sounds, I hate Jim Burt more than I’ve ever hated another human being (this sports-hate will not be exceeded until Larry Brown begins coaching the Knicks). And I’m not alone. If Jim Burt were somehow teleported at that moment to some sports bar in, say, Bayonne, the beer-addled crowd would tear him limb from rhinosaurian limb.
Worse, the Giants don’t convert the third down. Facing fourth and long, Giants’ head coach Bill Parcells sends in the punting unit. But this is subterfuge. As the punter stands at the ready, the ball is snapped directly to the upback, linebacker Gary Reasons, who scampers eight yards for a first down. Three plays later, the unflappable Matt Bahr kicks his fourth field goal, pulling the Giants within one, 13-12.
More nervous cheering in my living room, but not much relief. The 49ers still have the lead, and the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year at quarterback.
They won’t have him for long.
As Montana rolls out right to pass, Giants’ defensive lineman Leonard Marshall, who had been pancake-blocked clear to the ground, recovers himself, rushes at Montana from the blind side, and smashes into his back with such ferocity that, as New York linebacker Carl Banks will later recall, “We thought he killed him.”
Marshall does not kill him. But he does break several ribs and his right hand. (Joe Montana will not return today. He will be sidelined for a season and a half. He will never start another game at quarterback for the 49ers).
In the living room, all four of us—even my mother—cheer as the future Hall of Fame quarterback writhes in agony. The Bad Boy crew weren’t this happy when 2Pac got dropped.
Cathartic as it is to watch San Francisco lose its best player, we’re by no means out of the woods. The 49ers’ second-stringer, Steve Young—a graduate of Brigham Young University and a descendent of its eponymous founder—is easily the best backup quarterback in the history of the National Football League, a fleet-of-foot lefty who will go on to win two MVP awards and a place in Canton. Plus, the Giants now face an enemy more imposing than even the great Montana: time. Two more first downs will run out clock, ending New York’s Superbowl dreams—and my even loftier ones.
Almost immediately, Young completes a long pass to tight end Brent Jones. First down, Niners. This feels like someone has just sucker-punched me in the kidney. All the 49ers need now is a single first down, ten more measly yards, and they can run out the clock. And even if the Giants force fourth down, the resulting punt will force us to go the length of the field, in very little time, with a quarterback on a bum knee, against a defense that has only allowed four field goals all day.
The game is over, I say to myself. I’m screwed—and not in the way that I was hoping for.
And then, something truly magical happens. Young hands the ball off to running back Roger Craig, who manages, during his burst through the line, to lose the handle. Giants’ outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor, arguably the best defensive player of all time, somehow comes up with the loose ball.
First down, Giants! In 49er territory!
(Across town, Polly’s parents, both academics, are wondering why their daughter, whose knowledge of and interest in football are cursory at best, is joyously jumping up and down in front of the TV.)
After a sick pass from Hostetler to tight end and Sly Stallone lookalike Mark Bavaro, eight seconds remain on the game clock. The ball is spotted on the 49ers’ 25-yard line. Matt Bahr, as tough a kicker as ever played the game, trots onto the field, his blood as cold as the ice in my Coke, to attempt a 37-yard field goal—what would be his fifth of the game.
Bahr does his stretches, follows through on several imaginary kicks, and steps into position. I resist the urge to close my eyes. My parents and my brother are riveted too, but no one—not my family, not Daryl Reid or any of the other players, not every degenerate gambler who took the Giants and the points—has as much riding on this kick as Yours Truly.
It’s come down to the wire. To one play. If Bahr makes the kick, the Giants go to the Superbowl, and I lose my virginity; if he misses, the Giants don’t go to the Superbowl—and I lose a whole lot more.
Before I can think about it too much, it’s over. The snap is good, the kick true. The ball sails cleanly through the uprights. The referees raise both arms above their heads—NFL sign language for “score”—and any vestigial Catholic qualm I might have about premarital sex evaporates along with the 49ers’ championship hopes.
This is an unequivocal go-ahead from the Almighty: just do it!
A week later, the Reids pay me five hundred bucks to watch their house, feed their cats, and eat their stash of Cocoa Pebbles; Polly and I gather rosebuds; and the Giants beat the Buffalo Bills (on a shanked Scott Norwood field goal that would inspire Vincent Gallo’s film Buffalo ’66) to win the Superbowl.
The next day, the Daily Record runs a huge photo of Daryl Reid, his arms outstretched, jubilant. I clip it and hang it on his refrigerator.