Insider Frank MacDonald outlines a special gift received for Christmas in 1979
My mind has been revving round and round these past few weeks. Thoughts flash by from holidays past, and one memory simply begs for attention.
The year was 1979. It was my final Christmas as a teenager. That translates to fewer toys of any sort. At 19, you are on the threshold of adulthood, at least according to the date on the driver’s license. From then on, practicality prevails.
On that particular Christmas morning, I remember two things rather vividly. First, Dad deposited a box of barbell weights on my lap. But it was a featherweight gift, a simple slip of paper, which has left the far more lasting impression.
To this very day, I wonder what possessed my parents to choose such an unlikely present and, if they hadn’t, exactly where I would be today?
Back then, on the eve of the Eighties, I doubt that I gave my folks much thought. And with their nest empty and me 90 miles away from home at college, I suspected the feeling was mutual on their part.
Mom Shoots, Scores
But I remember Mom being a bit excited as she instructed me to reach into the Christmas tree’s limbs to retrieve an envelope with my name on it. She had the look of excitement, that she had scored in getting me just what I needed, whether I knew it or not.
I opened the envelope. I stared at the contents for a second or two. There, written in my mom’s impeccable cursive, was a note about redeeming this homemade certificate for some tickets. Two tickets to see Sounders games. All of them.
Now, I must explain why getting Sounders season tickets from my parents seemed so implausible. First, I didn’t think they could afford it. Second, we lived in relative backwater town for soccer at the time. Mostly, though, I just figured my parents could’ve cared less about soccer.
Although I played the game throughout high school, Mom and Dad rarely came to watch, and when they did, it was through the windshield of their dark green Dodge Omni, and they usually drove off at halftime, never to return.
The other day I heard Kasey Keller tell the story of how he went to Sounders games with his father. His dad didn’t get it; he didn’t understand the game nor Kasey’s fascination with it, and he probably didn’t fancy his 12-year-old kid explaining the rules to him.
Wake Up, Dad
I don’t know if I bothered explaining the nuances to my parents because, honestly, I didn’t know why I liked watching or playing so much. I just did.
So when, during my freshman year at the U-Dub, I actually treated my parents to a Sounders-Oakland Stompers game in the Kingdome, all I can recall is sitting in the northeast corner of the 200 level, turning to my dad following the game’s only goal, and noticing that the crowd’s response had only served to disturb his nap.
It may have only been for a few minutes, but soccer had literally put him to sleep.
Six months later, however, he and my mom put the season tickets in my stocking. How odd. However, it proved to be divine inspiration and I’ll tell you why.
The Christmas of ’79 preceded the Summer of 1980, which must be recorded as, heretofore, the most glorious season of soccer in Seattle. Ask any fan with graying temples and they will tell you the stories.
Thanks for the Memories
Stories of Roger Davies showing a gigantic smile (between a rather large nose and sizable chin) after each of his 25 goals. Stories of Tommy Hutchison galloping down the wing, driving crosses into the crease for Davies and Mark Peterson, or cutting inside and cracking shots from distance. Stories of Alan Hudson playing his consummate ball control, or Bruce Rioch scoring on savage long-range shots from his cannon-like left foot, or Jack Brand flopping from post to post to stop seemingly everything opponents had to offer.
To me, the Sounders season of 1980 was the most magical ever. Twenty-five regular season wins in 32 games. Goals galore to go along with lots of live theater. Like the night both the Dutch Master, Rinus Michels, and Alan Hinton were thrown out.
Once red-carded for dissent from the bench, Hinton first marched up into the stands and took a seat. When the referee insisted he leave, Hinton did, only to reappear minutes later in the press box. From that game forward, the Seattle coach always watched at least half the game from that perch.
Most of the games I attended with my sister Carol, and early on she became hooked. Sufficiently so that she joined me for road trips to see the Sounders play the Whitecaps at Empire Stadium. She also tolerated my tantrums on those rare occasions when the team stumbled, such as the inexplicable home loss to lowly Philadelphia.
So many memories. I still associate the eruption of Mount St. Helens with Frank Barton. Sound a bit like something from Nick Hornby? See, it was Barton whose miss-hit shot evaded Volkmar Gross in overtime to beat San Diego on May 17. The next morning, I awoke to the news of the volcano’s explosion and a huge ash cloud heading in Seattle’s direction.
Ignition and Lift-Off
There are enough stories from that single season to fill a book or two. But what it really did was ignite the passion within me to follow this game wherever it could take me.
A year later, I was selected for an internship with the Sounders and, by June of 1982, I was hired by the club a week out of college. The team only lasted another season, yet while there I met a lot of good people whom I still swap stories with.
Not long after the Sounders folded, I found my way to Seattle Pacific. There, I met some people who were world-class in ability and character. I also witnessed first-hand some amazing things, like three NCAA Championships, including one via the most improbable of comebacks.
So much of my life has revolved around soccer that the two now seem inseparable, now more than ever. Like thousands of others, I am filled with anticipation of that first night for Sounders FC, when the curtain goes up at Qwest Field and the roar of the crowd rains down as the teams parade onto the pitch for the first time.
On that evening in March, my parents will be there with me. Figuratively, I say, because they both passed away recently. That loss has left me thinking about them again and again, particularly during this first Christmas season without them.
I wonder what they were thinking back in 1979. What prompted Mom and Dad to unwittingly set me on this course?
Did they think it would prompt me to get some dates? (It didn’t.) Was it a preemptive strike against them returning to the Dome, ever again? (Again, no deal. They joined my future in-laws for the Cosmos’ visits in ‘82). Or were they just void of other ideas of what to get their gangly son, and so my sister suggested something to the effect of ‘play it safe, think soccer?’
It’s a question which I never asked. Not then, nor in their final days. Now I’ll never know the answer for sure. I suppose it’s not that important, and they probably had long-forgotten the specifics of the case anyways.
Maybe the answer is simple: A hunch, a feeling or spiritually inspired; they sensed it was the right thing to do, particularly with the clock ticking down toward Christmas Eve. Or perhaps they just cared more and gave more thought to what I wanted than my 19-year-old mind could comprehend at the time.
Whatever it was, I hope that I can do it too. I hope I get lucky and find the key that unlocks someone’s true passion or purpose. Maybe it’s Christmas, maybe it’s just another Monday. Maybe it’s a friend, maybe it’s a stranger. Maybe it’s a gift I give to my kids, just as their grandparents did with me.
Mom and Dad, thanks. You have no idea what a difference you made.