Having great team football dinners goes with the territory.
Growing up in upstate New York (a huge diary farming area where Polish farmers decided to settle), I was exposed to many delights, such as kielbasa.
For whatever reason, everyone in my area said “kielbasi” even though it was spelled “kielbasa,” so as a kid I learned there are certain mysteries of the universe you simply don’t question.
We didn’t question it either when my high school football teammates and I learned that a group of parents had planned a Polish Night for the team. It was all, “Right on!”
You have to understand that we grew up among people who, despite living in the woods, would pack up a travel trailer to go to an area even more wooded. Once there, the adults would break out a keg of beer, kielbasa, mustard and other items such as potato pancakes. Why they ever left the kitchen, I don’t know? But once fully stuffed, they would utter phrases such as “I wonder what the rich people are doing.”
It was a representative group that would be in charge of our football dinner. Like today’s more modern, and in many cases larger version, the dinner was prepared and served by parents of the players and was aimed at building camaraderie among the team members. It also allowed the parents to meet the kids wearing No. 32, No. 45 and No. 87. It was kind of hard to see through those helmets.
Usually the dinners were a great idea for everyone involved. We munched out more than once during the season on fabulous steaks and what kid doesn’t like spaghetti and meatballs? I remember my dad got to cook once, and the roast beef came out great. I was a little worried because he was the kind of cook who would fry eggs on top of the inch of bacon grease he had accumulated in the cast iron pan. The eggs just kind of floated around. Even so, the roast beef meal was a winner.
Then came Polish Night.
We should have gotten a heads up during those camping trips where the adults spent half the day eating. Besides the kielbasa and potato pancakes, some of the adults munched ... off to a side ... on limburger cheese. This was by no means any kind of ethnic distinction, just people who could stand eating tasty, stinky cheese. We figured that their sense of smell had burned away long ago.
Those were the people who were in charge of Polish Night.
As the players arrived and started to unload from the cars, a strange smell was wafting from the nearby house.
In order to set the scene, it might be noted that the parents who cooked and served the dinner actually hosted the dinner as well. We never did a dinner in a school cafeteria like they do now. Forty players would squeeze into a home with a whole lot of card tables standing end to end.
What this meant was that things were cramped, and all smells were trapped within the confines.
Figuring we had passed some hidden garbage cans, we entered the dwelling anyway. Oh gosh. Either there was a dead mouse caught under the floor or they were cooking just one thing.
Did you ever notice that skunks go to cabbage refueling docks? Nothing could smell that bad. Well, OK, perhaps brussels sprouts.
We looked all around as we passed the kitchen. No kielbasa in sight and no potato pancakes.
Golumpki (stuffed cabbage) for everyone.
Our coach probably thought we were emotional about the game, because we had tears in our eyes. it was the perfect night to talk about getting through adversity.
Somehow, as we walked away covered in Golumpki perfume, we were better men.
Too bad we were routed the next day.
Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 379-5632.