Today I say goodbye to my good friend Tim. He'd been my neighbor for the past 15 years until he passed away on God Friday last week at the age of 53 after losing his battle with pancreatic cancer. I thought I'd tell you something about his life and the times we had together because, well, he deserves it.
There were two things that brought us together - the fact that we'd both been the sons of alcoholic fathers and our love of football. The first gave us a connection that people don't understand unless you've lived it. The second gave us a love-hate relationship that I think most sports fans can understand.
He came into my life in the late ‘90s, just as the Huskers were an ass-kicking machine. It was easy then to be a Husker fan. Tom Osborne's running game destroyed teams. It was the best of all possible worlds.
He was there for the worst of it as well. The first time I met his mother was during the 2001 62-36 Nebraska - Colorado debacle. I'd been thrown out of my house and regulated to the garage after my repeated profanity-laced tirades had become too much for Mrs Corn Nation to bear. After a bit of listening to the radio, I wandered across the street to Tim's and watched the game for a while in his downstairs, where he always had a better TV than me. (No shit, he did. Right after I finally bought a decent TV a few years ago that SOB went out and got one a little bigger.) We were fine until his mother said the four magic words that can set me off even when the Huskers are doing well.
"It's just a game."
And off I went into another tirade, which probably included something like "passionless goddamn people who don't have feelings unless they're stabbed in the eye with a red hot poker" and up jumped Tim, grabbing me and pulling me away from his mom, lest she lose an eye the way my hands fly around when I'm like that. He pushed me up the stairs and outside. We watched the rest of the game on his crappy old TV in his garage. Tim made sure that no one was injured, and some day after that, I went home.
It wasn't too long and the favored was returned. We both watched as his Minnesota Vikings got destroyed by the New York Giants 41-0 in the NFL players that January. I was the reasonable one then, if you can imagine, as Tim walked around the neighborhood in a daze. I was there to make sure he didn't injure himself or anyone else. Denny Green came out later and swore that the Giants had stolen the Vikings radio signals so they knew what plays the Vikes were going to run because that's the kind of dipshit that Denny Green was.
In 2002, Tim and I and another friend drove down to Ames to the Iowa State game that year. Along the way they kept trying to fire me up, get me screaming. I tried too, but it just wasn't in me. It wasn't in the Huskers, either, as we watched them get pounded, 36-14 by a Seneca Wallace-lead Cyclone team. "We're not the same Nebraska", was all I could offer. Tim stayed sober and drove us home.
He always rooted for my Cornhuskers, and while it was easy to root for the Minnesota Gophers, I only rarely rooted for his Minnesota Vikings. I'd tell him I would be rooting for his Vikings while we watched a game, but he knew better, me being a lifelong Packers fan. There would be times I'd try really hard to root for those purple and gold-wearing bastards, but I just couldn't do it. And he'd know. I'd try to lie to him and it would piss him off so bad, which made it even more fun than if I'd have told him the truth.
There is one exception, which on hindsight may have been providence as Tim wasn't diagnosed with cancer until mid-February. In the last game we watched together the Vikings had to get past the New Orleans Saints, the sentimental favorite, and for some reason, I honestly rooted for the Vikings. I have a couple good friends who are Saints season ticket holders, have been for years, but I thought that maybe once the Vikings and Tim deserved something good to happen to them. There hasn't been a single season in their existence that the Vikings haven't let their fans down. So just this once, in honor of our friendship, I honest to God rooted for the Vikings. It didn't help and for once we were both disappointed in the outcome of a NFL game.
I witnessed his baptism a couple weeks before his death, just like I had witnessed my dad's baptism before he died of pancreatic cancer in 1974. The last thing I said to Tim before my family left on a spring break vacation back to Western Nebraska was "don't die on me while I'm gone, you son of a bitch" and then I told him I loved him. He told me he loved me too. Then, in sticking with the character he was meant to play in my life, he passed away while I we were coming back to see him, in a way having the last laugh in our relationship.
Today is not a hard day, relatively speaking. There will be plenty of people around who knew Tim, and I'm sure we'll share many stories about him as we celebrate his life. Harder times will come later in the coming weeks as his wife and his college-aged sons realize their lives without him.
As for me, I'm pretty sure I won't fully understand that he's gone until August, when the magical feel of football returns. I'll go to look for him to give him so much shit about how his Vikings won't amount to crap again this season. I'll want to to tell him about how much the Cornhuskers will kick ass this year and that the "return to glory" days are here again and he won't be there. For the first time in many years, there won't be some crusty but good-hearted sonofabitch to save me from myself if things go bad. I'll have to finally take care of my own ass.
So goodbye Tim, you complete bastard. I hope Brett Favre comes back to play for the Viqueens and the Packers knock them out of the playoffs. When it happens, I'm sure you'll be up there somewhere swearing. I'll be down here screaming loud enough so you can hear.