BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — So this is not really about skiing, but to I’m here in Beaver Creek for the Birds of Prey World Cup ski tournament. You might have heard that there’s a Winter Olympics coming up here in a couple of months, so I’m here working on few things.
And it’s cold. Seriously. Cold. OK, not the coldest I’ve ever been. The coldest I’ve ever been, I can tell you the exact date, was January 10, 1988 in Minneapolis. I was there to cover the Arizona-Minnesota playoff game, but because I knew the game was being played indoors I did not exactly dress for the occasion. Oh, I had my winter coat, but no hat, no gloves, no boots, I just didn’t expect to be outside for very long.
And, I wasn’t outside for very long. But long enough. The bus I took dropped me off on the wrong side of the Metrodome. The walk was probably 10 minutes, maybe 15. Hey, I’m a Cleveland kid. I grew up delivering newspapers in brutal cold. I grew up playing football in the snow, sledding on ice, what could 15 minutes of Minneapolis cold do to me anyway?
Answer: It could just about break me. The wind was howling, the temperature — I’m estimating here — was 583 million degrees below zero, and you could double that with the wind chill. By the time I made it around to the door my entire body was not just numb but tingling from a hundred thousand little tiny needles of ice. My nose felt as if I could break it off and put in my pocket for safekeeping. That was a different kind of cold one I never really wanted to experience again.
So, when I came here to the Colorado mountains, I brought enough warm things to clothe three Eskimo families. No joke, I have layers. Lots of layers. And today, when I went out to the race — “The wind chill is currently minus-1 degrees Farenheit,” Siri told me — I wore on five layers of shirts, three layers of pants, a neck thing I bought at some ski shop, a wool cap, a wool hood to put over the cap, three wool socks and boots.
And I stood at the bottom of the mountain, barely able to move, feeling like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, and watched some amazing skiing. This was the giant slalom event and everybody was pretty excited for it because apparently American Ted Ligety is making a claim as the greatest giant slalom skier who ever lived. I am certainly not enough of a ski expert to know what makes him so good, but I will say that even to a complete novice he is remarkable to watch ski. Just before he skied, fellow American Bode Miller went. Now Bode — I’m writing a story on him — is like this skiing version of James Bond, every turn there’s danger, every second he’s taking some death defying risk. During a Bode Miller run, you find yourself shouting or thinking “Whoa!” at least 25 times.
Ligety? None of that. He skies like it’s easier than walking. Everything is in perfect control, like he’s he’s a conductor telling the snow what to do. I guess the best way I can describe it is this. I watch Bode Miller ski and I think, “Man, I’d NEVER do that.” I watch Ted Ligety ski and I think, “Man, that looks like so much fun.”
OK, so Bode ends up second — his first podium finish in two years. Ligety finishes first, making him the first man since the great Alberto Tomba to win four of these giant slaloms in a row. Everybody’s all excited, and it’s white and beautiful and beyond freezing, and I’m bundled in all this clothing, and I feel about a million miles away from anyplace I’ve ever been. You know that feeling where you’re almost outside yourself?
Then, from a distant, I heard a woman yell this: “Oh my gosh, New England got the onside kick!”
And, like that, I was a kid back in Cleveland. Just like that. Nine words. I should say: I had no idea what was going on in that New England-Cleveland game. None. I didn’t know the Browns were winning. I had not seen a score all day. I wasn’t thinking about football at all. But as soon as I heard her shout that, my mind went, “Hey, the Patriots are playing the Browns today.” And I knew. Any Clevelander would know. I immediately thought about Brian Sipe throwing the interception. I thought about John Elway hitting that third-and-18. I thought about Ernest Byner fumbling. I thought about Michael Jordan hitting that shot and Art Modell yanking my heart out and Jose Mesa blowing that game and LeBron James leaving and the false hope of the Cory Snyder Indians and …
Nine words. That’s all it took to rip me from the top of a gorgeous mountain and put me back in my little bedroom, 14 years old, telling myself how stupid it is to cry over one football game but crying just the same.
I assumed the Browns lost the game — as it turns out when the woman said that, they were still winning. Like that mattered. Later, I found out that the Browns led 26-14 at the two minute warning, with New England still in its own territory. Then, of course, the Patriots scored with 1:01 left. The Browns, of course, committed a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty. The Patriots, of course, recovered the onside kick (in Cleveland territory because of that stupid penalty). The Patriots, of course, got what most people seem to agree was an atrocious pass interference call against Cleveland to move the ball to the 1. The Patriots, of course, scored with 31 seconds left.
Then, to make it just a little more fun, Cleveland got the ball down the field far enough to attempt a 58-yard field goal as the clock expired — and the kick fell short and the Browns lost 27-26.
But I didn’t need to learn any of that. It was all inside me already when I heard that woman shout the onside kick thing. Somehow, it seemed even colder outside.