I cannot un-know what I know. I cannot reverse time. I cannot deny what has happened.
But I cannot imagine going on knowing that one day, fourteen years ago, I may have accidentally rooted for Kansas.
My dad used to do a bit of work with the D.C.-area Boys and Girls Club, which was affiliated with the D.C. police, which was the reason why dad always ended up as the policeman in my elementary school’s annual Sock Hop production of the “YMCA.” But it’s also the reason why we ended up at a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club, this one put on by the Washington Redskins.
The MC that night was Chris Berman. He did a couple “back back back” jokes, the DJ played “Hail to the Redskins,” and then Berman tossed it to the live auction.
One of the items was a trip to Kansas City to see the Redskins play. I do not know why — I was only 7 at the time, and I’d never been to Missouri before — but I asked my dad if I could bid on it. He said yes.
He thought I’d bid once or twice and get out of it.
I wanted to win.
The ballroom must’ve held a thousand people, maybe more, so it’s understandable why the auctioneer didn’t initially notice my arm shooting into the air. But around $300, my Uncle Sol caught his eye and gave him a wave in my direction.
“$300,” he said, and pointed at me.
This being my first live auction, I was unfamiliar with the bidding process. I didn’t notice other people taking their hands down after bidding. So even after the auctioneer pointed at me, I kept my arm up. He looked elsewhere. Someone bid $350. He looked back at me.
“$400,” he said.
My arm stayed in the air.
It went on like this for a few more rounds. Dad told me to stop bidding; my hand stayed in the air. But by then, it was too late. It was down to just me and one other contender.
I bid, and the auctioneer looked at the other bidder. He was consulting with his wife. How much was too much to spend on a mid-November trip to Kansas City? he was surely asking. She gave him a look. His arm stayed by his side.
“Going once,” the auctioneer said. His eyes swept the room. He caught my eye. My hand was still in the air.
“You can’t bid against yourself,” he said. The entire room laughed.
When the room quieted, he asked for a second time, and then a third, but the other bidder didn’t match.
When you’re seven, it’s only the weird things that stick out. Going to Kansas City, I remember we flew Midwest Express out of the old terminal at National Airport, and I remember that the stewardesses gave us real silverware to eat our in-flight meal with. I remember that we stopped in Milwaukee, and that dad wanted to buy me a Green Bay Packers cheese head. (I wasn’t interested.) I remember going to a barbecue place in Kansas City, where they used paint brushes to slather sauce on their brisket sandwiches, and where the food was wrapped in the Sunday edition of the Kansas City Star. (The barbecue place turned out to be the legendary Arthur Bryant’s.) I remember the omelete bar at the hotel, and I remember regretting having gone through six or seven eggs at breakfast before the flight back to D.C.
The game itself was less memorable. We had seats in the upper deck behind one of the benches. It was cold. The Redskins lost, and I remember Brian Mitchell dropping a pass in the end zone on a 4th down. The box score doesn’t provide much help: the Redskins ran through Gus Frerotte and Heath Shuler at QB that day. It didn’t matter. They lost, 24-3.
But it’s this other memory that’s started to bother me.
Not having anything to do on a Saturday in Kansas City, my dad and I decided to drive out to Lawrence, Kan., to see a football game.
I’d long since forgotten the opponent, but I was thinking about the game yesterday, and I checked in with Google to see if it could offer any answers. I tracked down the date of the Redskins-Chiefs game, and then cross-checked it with the KU football schedule.
The day was Nov. 4, 1995, and I watched as the Kansas Jayhawks beat the Missouri Tigers, 42-23. That’s what the box score says, but I don’t remember it. My memories from that day are hollow: a long, flat stretch of highway out to Lawrence; a half-empty stadium; and something about a giant drum. I can’t know for sure, but I’d guess that my dad and I cheered for Kansas that day.
What I didn’t know is that a decade later, I’d be enrolling at the University of Missouri.
It’s weird, now, but I feel almost wronged by the memory. There is the Chase Daniel cover of Sports Illustrated hanging next to my bed. There is a Brad Smith jersey hanging in the closet. There is a copy of the Mizzou alumni magazine on the coffee table.
And then there is this memory, of a chilly fall day, of a horseshoe stadium, of a rivalry game that I didn’t fully understand.
A decade later, I’d fall in love with one of those teams. I’d plan my Saturdays around their Saturdays, and their glory would become my glory.
But on Nov. 4, 1995, I’m afraid that I rooted for the wrong one.
I wish I’d known then. I wish I didn’t know now.