When I was a child, there was a certain sameness to every Christmas and every Christmas Eve.
We lived about 330 miles from Dallas, where my parents grew up and where my grandparents lived until they died. My father was a college professor so, as soon as his school dismissed for the holidays and my brother and I were dismissed from our schools for the holidays, the family would pack up the car and hit the road for Dallas.
Both of my grandfathers died before I reached the age of 10, but we always stayed with my mother's mother when we were in town and we always visited my father's mother.
In addition to the family obligations, Christmas in Dallas always involved visiting all my parents' friends who were still in the area — and there were quite a few. Sometimes we planned group outings; if a good movie was showing, we might assemble for lunch and a matinee. If a Pink Panther movie was showing, seeing it was a sure thing.
The friends frequently gathered on Christmas Eve to drink wine and nibble on snacks. When I got a little older, I was allowed to join the festivity. I wasn't allowed to drink the wine until I was old enough to do so legally, but I drank soft drinks and enjoyed the snacks.
Well, that was how the holidays typically played out when I was growing up.
But I remember one special Christmas Eve — 40 years ago today — that I spent watching football with my father's mother.
Since I was a child, I have been a Green Bay Packers fan, and I guess I became a fan of the Packers in much the same way that most others do. They were the top team when I was little and I saw football on TV for the first time.
My family didn't have a TV until after the Vince Lombardi era, but our neighbors did, and that was where I saw football for the first time and became a Packers fan.
The Packers were terrible when I began following them and calling them my favorite team, but things changed — or seemed to — 40 years ago when Green Bay took the NFC Central crown from the Minnesota Vikings, who usually won that division in those years.
And on this day 40 years ago, the Packers played the Washington Redskins in the playoffs.
I remember little about that day except that I was excited about the Packers being in the playoffs. My mother and father and brother wanted to do some last–minute Christmas shopping, but I wanted to watch the football game. So my grandmother offered to stay with me that afternoon and watch the game while the rest of the family went shopping.
The Packers were never really in that game — the Redskins went on to lose to the undefeated Miami Dolphins in the Super Bowl — but I remember sharing the experience of watching that game with my grandmother.
There weren't many times in my life when I got to share something with her like that, and she died less than four years later. It is a cherished memory for me now — even though I can't remember anything we said that afternoon. I just remember that she cheered when something good happened for the Packers, even though not much did.
Grandmother was a Cowboys fan — and her Cowboys went on to lose to the Redskins the next week — but she cheered for the Packers that day just because they were my favorite team.