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Best seat in the house

Posted Oct 1, 2013

The Patriots are coming to town this Sunday, a good time as any to go through my dad's wallet.

The Patriots are coming to town this Sunday, a good time as any to go through my dad's wallet.

I shoved it in my computer bag the day after he died suddenly the week of the June minicamp. Then when we went on our first road trip two months later I hid it in my desk.

Couldn't open it. Couldn't look at it. One of the first catches of memory is my dad's wallet. At the bookstore or at the movies or at the library in his big, safe hands. Or folded on the living-room table like some kind of silent sentry. Calm and constant with all the answers.

A Campbell County Public Library card. A Kentucky driver's license that expires Sept. 18, 2014. A membership card from the Coast Guard Combat Veterans Association. A faded color picture of a smiling baby wearing a sailor's hat stuffed in the corner of a wingback chair from December 1959, a month after Boston was awarded an AFL franchise.

He was looking forward to this one. We talked about it. Zim had all his guys back and Mike and Marvin had shored up the roster with two kids that really made their offense different. My dad's new team, the Bengals, had a real shot at home against his old team, the Patriots of Belichick and Thomas Edward Patrick Brady.

Roy Hobson was 87 and wise and ornery and proud and profane and he was Bengals all the way once he moved from his native Massachusetts after 77 years.

Gung ho, just like was in the fall of '42 when he left the senior class at Quincy High at 17 years old and a month and joined the Coast Guard. All in, just like he was after a June weekend in '50 on the Cape when North Korea invaded South Korea and he re-upped in the army on Monday.

So it kind of worked out that when Roy (I called him Roy until I was 5 because I was the only kid and that's what my mom called him) moved to town and became the grand old man of Great American Ball Park.

During the first eight years of the new yard he stood guard at the umpires room as a member of the security detail and slowly but surely became a local legend. His booming New England accent, his quick wit, his endless stories, and his priceless observations made him a favorite of the passing parade. Some even brought cameras to get their picture with him.

Roy ran with a Bengals crowd. They worked baseball but talked football. Gatto, the boss, and his crew had tickets and tailgated and the summer nights passed with bull sessions about Carson and T.J. and the pure outrageousness of The Ocho, and how they always won when Rudi ran well. When Zimmer showed up wasn't this finally the guy that could put the Bengals over the top and stop the other team? They dissected Carson's knee and elbow and had countdowns to Opening Day.

When he was still able, my mom would sometimes drive him to their tailgates before games. Talk about living and dying. How about those Mondays the phone would ring after a bad one and he wanted some answers?

"Let me ask you a question," he always began, but he didn't seem to mind I never had any answers.

A laminated Social Security card. A business card from Heekin Animal Hospital. A Kenton County Public Library card. A black-and-white photo of a dog named "Sooyie" with 1945 written on the back taken on one of my dad's ships.

Gung ho. All in. But I always suspected he still carried a bit of a torch for these Patriots. He tolerated the Red Sox. Yet he loved the Patriots when hardly anybody else did.

It was Roy that steered me from the Giants and on to the Patriots. I was of the TV generation and the Pats weren’t always on but the Giants always were. My room was a shrine to Boston sports with a poster of Yaz on the door and posters on the walls of Tony C., and Havlicek and Bobby Orr flying through the air to win the Stanley Cup back in '70.

But the football poster was Giants running back Ron Johnson.

Roy changed all that.

They were now called the New England Patriots and had just drafted this great young quarterback out of Stanford who had won the Heisman: Jim Plunkett.

I was Gung Ho and All In and it was quite a ride. The Pats were something else we could talk about no matter where we were on the timeline. Schools, cars, girls, jobs, marriage, kids.

We inhaled the sports section the morning after the Pats stunned the Colts and I can still see the headline: "Plunkett to Vataha…And bomb was ticking." We couldn't believe that they called roughing on Sugar Bear Ray Hamilton against the Raiders or that Raymond Berry waited that long to bring Steve Grogan off the bench in the Super Bowl against the Bears, or that Bill Parcells actually wanted to come to New England to coach.

A Medicare Health Insurance card. A card from Sparrow & Newton's Hairstyling in Fort Wright, Ky.: "Our motto: We're always here unless we're not here." A black-and-white photo of Roy in uniform as an MP in Germany with "E. Bremharve" May 1953 written on the back. A business card from "At The Dock," the outboard and engine service his buddy Matt ran in Salem, Mass.

But nothing changes you like a move and family. Once he got out here his guy was Carson and like everyone else he was a little hurt and angry when he left, thankful for many of the moments he gave, and eagerly ready to embrace Andy Dalton.

Still, there was always that little ember of a torch. He kept up with the Pats. He loved Drew Bledsoe because of his toughness, but he was always fascinated by how Belichick moved so seamlessly to Brady.

"Hey," he might say to me in the playoffs. "How do those guys keep doing it? Pretty good, isn't it?"

My mom's not exactly a football connoisseur, but the fireball former nurse knows one thing and that is she can't stand Brady.

Too good looking. Pretty boy, she calls him. Too good. Too perfect. Too not real. My dad and I defended him, telling her that he's the ultimate winner and team guy and the reason he's a great quarterback is because of the reality of the old school. He works at it. He demands the most out of himself and the people around him. He's a thinking man in a game of brutes.

"Geez, Nancy," he would say in his 55-year refrain. Or something like that.

"It's not the kid's fault he's good."

They could, of course, agree on A.J. Green.

"Oh," my mother would swoon at the mere mention of his name. "My favorite."

"Let me ask you something," Roy might say after one of those Mondays. "Why didn't they throw it to Green more?"

As for Belichick, well, it was hard for Roy not to like Belichick, too. He made the sad-sack Patriots champions. A smart guy that didn't mind telling the rest of the world to go to hell if they didn't like the way he did it. There was more than a little of that in Roy Hobson.

By the time I came along, he had pumped torpedoes at German U-boats in the North Atlantic,  guarded prisoners at the Nuremberg Trials, gone to art school, worked at the Fore River Shipyard, and got married to the fireball nurse in an outdoor wedding at her Maine home.

"Be careful of the flag wavers," said the guy that signed up for two wars.

But he never minded the Bengals flag wavers. He became one. Somebody gave him a six pack of Who Dey beer and he put it in a place of honor on his bookshelf. Nearby was a framed picture from one of the frigid tailgates where he looked to be wearing Bengals gloves. Often when I'd stop by for lunch he'd be wearing his 2009 AFC North Championship sweatshirt and reading one of his mysteries.

"Let me ask you something," he said this spring. "Are they going to sign the big guy?"

"You mean Andre Smith" I asked.

"Yeah," he said. "Andre Smith."

"We'll know by the draft," I said.

A 2013 American Legion membership card from the Cyril P. Morrisette Post in West Quincy. A Kentucky Powerball ticket from Wednesday, May 29, 2013 for a three-buck Power Play.

A wallet can tell you a lot about a guy. Somehow you can shove 87 years into your pocket. Deeds and dates. Friends and family. Hopes and dreams.

Is there anything else?

My dad's wallet unfolds into three sections. Smack in the middle, right when you open it, there is an orange and black card. Bengals is written in stripes on the top. My business card.

There was never any doubt. Once and always a card-carrying member of Bengaldom, Roy's got the best seat in the house Sunday to see his new team play his old team.

"Let me ask you a question," he is no doubt saying.

Who knows, Dad. If they can keep Brady off the field ...

 

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