It had navy blue wool body with silver vinyl sleeves, with a blue star patch on the left breast and a matching knit cap, and I guess in my 10-year-old mind, it made me an official Dallas Cowboy.

My big brother got the same thing for Christmas, except in the teal and orange of the Miami Dolphins. Eager to show off our new duds, we headed down the street to challenge a neighbor to a game. Our friend emerged from his porch decked out in the same varsity jacket and cap, only in the classic red, white and blue of Pat Patriot, and clutching a brand new Nerf football.

While the current First Lady and many of her gender would have high-tailed it back home to end their fashion nightmare, we were ready to strut our stuff on a runway of snow and ice. To apply the current vernacular to 1980, we was representin’. And although we would soon discover that vinyl sleeves and runny noses were an unnatural combination, we were five-foot tall versions of Roger Staubach, Bob Griese and Steve Grogan deciding the championship of the NFL with an all-time quarterback tossing a squishy red and white ball.

The Christmas memories of an irredeemable, lifelong sports junkie are overloaded with team colors and logos and balls and games. It’s hard to imagine what the holiday would have been like as a kid without a pack of baseball cards in the stocking or a hockey stick and skates under the tree. And some of us refuse to let those images go.

Oh sure, there were the Star Wars action figures and model trains to hold a young boy’s attention for a couple of weeks. But the cool stuff that didn’t get thrown into the toy box before February break usually had to do with sports.

The mother of all gifts for a lot of boys back in my day was electric football. This metal, table-top electrocution hazard was the first jaw-dropping present that I can remember. It had my beloved Cowboys pitted against the San Francisco 49ers, who were such also-rans in the mid-`70s that I was mad the game didn’t include the Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Rams or some more worthy foe.

I was six, just old enough to know not to eat the foam rubber footballs but still too young to figure out how in the heck to get the players to stop spinning in a circle when I plugged the field in. It didn’t matter. Mini-Randy White could still plug the B gap to stuff the run and Staubach could still go deep to Drew Pearson in the deft hands of a near-sighted six-year-old.

The football games became more high-tech after that. The cumbersome metal field gave way to a portable, hand-held electronic game (by Mattel or Coleco). Soon, that was replaced by Atari and Intellivision, whose attempts at football simulations would make today’s weaned-on-Madden youngster laugh with pity. And eventually that led to Nintendo and the all-time classic, Tecmo Bowl.

Whether or not you’ve outgrown your fascination with video games, chances are there’s still something waiting for you under the tree today that is tied to sports. It could be something recreational – a fishing pole, hiking boots, some blaze orange, a bicycle helmet. It could be tickets to a Maineiacs game or a Red Sox DVD. It could be memorabilia or a replica game jersey.

I don’t know if these gifts are some veiled attempt to recapture our youth, a way to relive the joy of finding a new hockey stick under the tree. All I know is, a lot of grown men are running around in Patriots or Bruins or Red Sox jerseys these days. I bet most of them had an electric football game when they were little.

Not that that’s anything to be ashamed of. The holidays wouldn’t be as much fun without sports. To borrow a phrase from the ESPN commercial – Without sports, all you’d get for Christmas is a tie.

Randy Whitehouse is a staff writer. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]


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