Christmas fell on a Sunday in 1988 and that’s the first time I wrote “the football helmet” story in my column. I’ve repeated it from time to time, the last being 2016 when Christmas again fell on a Sunday.
I’m sharing that 2016 column as today’s blog. Why? Well, I sort of explained that last time. So, you’ll see.
Here’s the 2016 column:
“What are you writing about this week?” Mary Kay asked while I poured a coffee.
“I think it’s time to re-tell the football helmet story,” I answered.
I expected a groan. Instead she just rolled her eyes.
“What?” I asked, reaching for the nut roll.
“You’ve told that story so many times most of your readers have it memorized.”
“Well, maybe they still like hearing it,” I said between bites. “People still watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ or ‘A Christmas Story’ even though they know it inside out, don’t they?”
“And your football helmet story is up there with Jimmy Stewart and Ralphie?”
“I’m not saying that,” I countered. “I’m just saying maybe they’ll get a kick out of hearing it once again. Besides,” I added, “the first time I wrote it, Christmas fell on a Sunday, and it falls on a Sunday again this year. It’s perfect.”
Mary Kay went back to baking her cookies and I opened my laptop.
It was Christmas Day of 1988 when the football helmet story first appeared.
Michael, now 30, married and living in L.A., (he’s 33 now, by the way, and still living in L.A.) was a little over two years old then. We called him Mikey.
The first time we asked him what he wanted Santa to bring him for Christmas, he responded bluntly, “Football helmet.”
And that’s what he said any time anyone asked. “Football helmet.”
“We’re not getting a two-year-old a football helmet,” I pronounced. “That’s ridiculous.”
Then one day I saw him walking around with the plastic clothes basket on his head.
“What do you think you’re doing, Mikey?” I asked.
“Football helmet,” he said.
“Okay,” I admitted. “I guess Santa has to bring him a helmet.”
I was determined never to be the kind of dad who turns my son into a “Minnie Me.” I was not about to force him to be a Green Bay Packers fan in football or a St. Louis Cardinals fan in baseball. I wanted him to be his own man, even at two.
The Sears Wishbook was still popular in those days and it had a two-page spread of every NFL helmet, all in color. So we sat Mikey in his highchair, opened the Wishbook to those pages and placed it on the tray in front of him.
“Here you go, Mikey, pick out the helmet you want from Santa.”
As he took his time looking them over, I silently made predictions.
“He’s bound to pick the Bengals,” I thought, “with all those tiger stripes. Or maybe the Eagles with the wings. Or the Vikings or Rams. He knows what horns are. Hope it’s not the Vikings.”
“Orange one,” he pronounced, interrupting my reverie.
“I knew it,” I said, “pointing to the Bengals helmet. Look at all those tiger stripes.”
“No,” he said. “Orange one.”
“Orange one?” I asked, rather perplexed. “Orange one?”
I quickly scanned the pages. “You don’t mean this one?” I asked, my finger landing on the Cleveland Browns helmet.
“Orange one,” he repeated with a big smile.
My son had picked the ugliest helmet in football, this side of Penn State.
“Not this one?” I asked, pointing to the Eagles. “Or this one, pointing to the Rams? How about this,” I added hopefully, pointing to the Packers with that football shaped G on the side.”
“Orange one,” he said again.
His mind was made up.
A few days later I spotted a picture in Sports Illustrated with a Browns player making a tackle, his helmet clearly visible. So I tore it out and taped it to the wall next to the changing table in Mikey’s bedroom. That night as I got him into his jammies, I tapped the picture and said in a sing-song voice, “There’s the football helmet Mikey is getting from Santa. This bright, shiny orange one.”
Mikey looked up at the picture. “Black one,” he said.
I looked at the picture, too. The guy being tackled was in a Pittsburgh Steelers helmet.
“No, no,” I said. “This one is Mikey’s helmet. The orange one.”
“Black one,” he answered.
“Orange one,” I said.
“Black,” he responded.
“Orange!” I barked.
“Black!” he shot back.
I can’t remember how long we went at it but at last I just pulled the pictured off the wall.
“Bed time,” I said.
As mentioned above, I told this story in a column that ran on Christmas morning. It appeared under the headline “Why Santa has white hair,” and ended with this:
“So, when Mikey wakes up this morning he is going to find a shiny orange helmet under the tree. The odds are 50-50 I’ll be in the garage this afternoon painting it black.”
Well, I am happy to report there was not a single mention of a black helmet that Christmas. Mikey loved his ‘orange one’ and wore it proudly. For about three or four years, anyway.
When he started school and made new friends he had what I’m sure he thought an epiphany. He came home one day and announced he was now a Dallas Cowboys fan.
He still is.
When I wrote about this around ten years ago, a friend who happens to be a die-hard Packers fan told me allowing my son to become a Cowboys fan amounted to child abuse.
I wouldn’t go that far, but because of Mikey I now have to root for the Cowboys as well as the Parkers. Which might be parent abuse.