Essay and drawing copyright 1999 by Barrie Maguire
Al Wistert Calling
At the height of the telemarketing hour one evening a few months back, I let the answering machine pick up an incoming phone call.
"Barrie Maguire," a strong deep voice began, "you wont believe who this is, calling you on the phone."
Glancing over at my wife, I stood up.
The voice continued, "You know you wrote that story about when you were nine and went to that 48 championship game in the snow? Well, this is the captain of the Philadelphia Eagles in those day, Al Wistert, calling from Grants Pass, Idaho."
I leapt for phone, "Hello?"
Al Wistert said, "Barrie? Weve never met but--"
"Yes we have!" I gushed into the phone, "but you wouldnt remember because I was just a little kid. My uncle always used to talk about seeing me walk off the field one time with Al Wisterts huge hand on my shoulder."
He laughed. And I was a child again, the blurry image of a massive green giant with a big white "70" on his jersey towering above me.
He said, "Well, somebody sent me your story from the paper, and theres a mistake in it."
"Oh, no!" I said, "What was the mistake?"
"That wasnt Pihos who caught that first play touchdown pass that was called back, it was Jack Ferrante." (At the sound of Ferrantes name my childs heart skipped a beat.) "Ferrante was furious when he found out offsides had been called. He ran over to the official, screaming, Who was offsides? Who was offsides? and the guy told him, You were."
"You know," Wistert grew thoughtful, "Ive watched the films of that game many times, and I dont believe he was offsides.
"But Ill tell you why it looked that way. Wed put in a special play for that game, practiced it all week. Ferrante was the only man to go downfield, the other ten dropped back to protect Thompson, to give him time to throw long, so it just looked like Ferrante jumped the gun."
He added, "You ought to call Jack Ferrante and apologize."
I had to catch my breath. Here I stood, fifty years later, talking on the phone with Al Wistert. He told me stories about the early days of the NFL, about Steve Van Buren, about the early efforts to get a pension plan for NFL players. He told me about his farm in Grants Pass where he lived with his wife and grown daughter, of whom he spoke with great pride. He told me how that very morning hed been out on a back hoe grading the gravel road to his farm. I told him things too, about Sunday mornings as a child outside Daviss Drug Store in Narberth with my father and Bert Bell, about going to every Eagles home game from the blizzard game until I went away to college in 1956. I couldnt keep the grin out of my voice, I was a kid living a dream.
For almost a half hour we talked and talked, exchanged addresses and phone numbers (including Jack Ferrantes), and finally, reluctantly, I hung up the phone.
I turned excitedly to my wife, "That was Al Wistert!"
But of course she didnt know who Al Wistert was.
Who could I tell? My kids? They were sports fans, but far too young to understand what had just happened. I stood there by the phone. My wife looked on helplessly.
Who could I tell? Who would appreciate what had just happened to me? My father, of course, my uncle Jiggs. But my father had been gone for almost 40 years. Uncle Jiggs and all of those grown-up men Id squeezed into the car with on those long-ago Sunday morning drives to Shibe Park, all of those men were gone too.
There was no one to tell. No one. God, I thought, Dad would love this story. And standing by the phone that night I missed him more than I had in years.