Mandan News

Brian L. Gray: The rewards of learning something new

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There’s no bigger critic in your life than yourself.

And I believe that’s true. No one despises me more than me. I smoke too much, I have terrible posture, I’m lazy and oversleep all the time, my jaw cracks when I talk and eat, I never eat enough and overwork myself, my big mouth often gets me in trouble, I refuse to get a professional haircut because I’m cheap, and I’m not very sociable.

My list could go on, but if I said any more about myself you’d probably cancel your subscription to this paper based on principle alone. No one knows your faults better than yourself. Another key flaw of mine is resiliency. For some reason, even at age 29, I feel like I’m already set in my ways. I consider myself a very open-minded person, so when I decide something it becomes hard to change my mind.

When I got my first job after college at a radio station, I spent every Sunday working as a board operator for NFL games all day long. I couldn’t stand football, but worked the board each week so I could collect a check.

For two years I worked every Sunday, and refused to be swayed into liking the sport. But by my third year in radio, I began paying attention. I eventually warmed up to it. Before I knew it, I was clapping and cheering along with every game that played on the air.

These days, I love the sport. I don’t know what was wrong with me to never enjoy it.

This year my dad came up with the idea that the guys in our family do something we’ve never done before – take a trip without the women. So me, my dad and my two brothers, Mark and Tim, got tickets to see the Vikings take on the Bears at the Dome.

Tim backed out last minute, leaving us with one day to find someone. So Mark asked his girlfriend if her son, Gunnar, would want to go, knowing full well that the game started in the afternoon and we’d be getting home roughly five hours before his sixth grade class bell rang on Monday morning. But she was cool with it, as long as we always kept our eyes on him.

It’d been a long time since I’d hung out with someone that age. All of my siblings are grown up, single and don’t have children, so I had no idea how I’d do around an 11-year-old. But he and I connected pretty well. He eats and sleeps way more than I’m used to, and I’m still convinced that he’s named after one of the guys from the ’80s band Nelson, but he’s a pretty sharp and cool kid, and we had a lot of fun on the road and hanging out.

Even when I made stupid jokes, like warning Gunnar that he’d have to drive us home after the game because the three of us would be way too drunk to drive, he took it in stride and laughed.

This was the first time more than two members of our family had taken a trip together in over three years. Time, my family often proves, has a way of slipping away. My dad would attest to that. Like me, this was Gunnar’s second pro game. Mark had gone to three or four in his life. But my dad, at the age of 68, had never been to a professional NFL game before.

My dad would always tell me stories about the times he went to Twins games at the old Metropolitan Stadium when he was younger, and how much fun he had at those. But even as a lifelong fan of football and the Vikings, for some reason, going to a game was one of those things that slipped under the cracks. After more than three decades of working hard to feed his kids and keep us living in comfort, he rarely took time for things like this.

But now he has an NFL story to tell. As he told me during the game, a big problem he had was not being able to see first down yellow lines on the field, as he’d gotten used to having that visual aid after watching so many games on TV. He had so much fun at the game, in fact, that by the third quarter my dad was using his program as a bullhorn to belt out the Vikings horn call at the top of his lungs.

At my age, it’s exhilarating to take a weekend like this and spend a few days with family – whether they drive me crazy or not. As my siblings and I begin our own lives and make our ways into adulthood, times like these become more important, because they’ll only happen fewer and far between in the future.

Whether that’s a fault or not, I don’t know. All I know is I’m glad I set my stubborn ways aside years ago at the radio station and let something new in. For a guy who enjoys a good story, from movies to theatre, I enjoy football because it can be viewed like it’s a well told narrative tale – it has its drama, its conflicts, unanimity, altered agendas, victories and losses, its big finishes and most of all, you never know what to expect.

That’s simply my take on it, though. And that’s one of the great things about football – it can be enjoyed by people of all backgrounds, from a 68-year-old going to his first game, an 11-year-old going to his second, or a 29-year-old pseudo-intellectual hippie with a newspaper column.

I’m sure even the women in our family would have enjoyed the game too – if we’d actually invited them.