I watched that game in the home of Wilmer Wise
In 1972, when the Oakland Raiders lost the AFC Championship to the Pittsburgh Steelers on a fluke last second play, which became known as the “Immaculate Reception”, I thought my life would end. The fog of depression and disappointment generated an irrational animosity towards Pittsburgh that I held on to until the 1980’s when I met Chuck Noll, the coach of that Steelers team, at a gig and discovered that he loved jazz.
When my New Orleans Saints lost our very first playoff game in 1988, 44-10, to the Minnesota Vikings, I felt sick for weeks. Any mention of Minnesota would cause an immediate and negative mood swing -although I did manage to maintain a respect for their populace because of the weather they endure.
And when the New England Patriots were given a free ride to the Super Bowl in 2001 (on a bad officiating decision known as the “Tuck Rule”) sending them to their first Super Bowl, it left a bad taste that still remains today. However, I felt some vindication when the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl on a fluke catch by David Tyree. Over the next year or three, whenever I felt bad, all I had to do was reflect on that and I immediately felt better about life.
Back when the Oakland Raiders beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1981 Super Bowl, I had been in New York for a little over a year. The game was in New Orleans and just a mention of the Crescent City made me homesick. I watched that game in the home of Wilmer Wise. He was a pioneering black trumpeter in the world of classical music. He had played with and knew everyone from Basie to legendary cellist Pablo Casals. In 1965 he won the Assistant Principal chair in the Baltimore Symphony and also toured throughout Europe as principal trumpet in the Marlboro Festival Orchestra, conducted by Rudolf Serkin. Wilmer was old school, and despite his many achievements, he had seen and put up with his fair share of stuff.
Wilmer looked out for me so thoroughly; it remains difficult to this day for me to understand why. He called me to play gigs with him and to substitute for him. He defended me against prejudiced contractors, kept his foot in my behind when I needed it and generally encouraged me to become a better musician and a better person.
When I think back to watching that Super Bowl in his house I always remember that even though I was hollering and screaming at the TV, Wilmer showed absolutely no interest in the game. He was actually bemused by my fanaticism. Being nineteen, and full of all that comes with the wisdom of that perspective, I asked incredulously, “Man, how can anyone not love football?” He laughed and said, “It’s just a game. It’s not a matter of life or death.” At the time I thought, “Who ever heard of such nonsense?” but I said nothing.
Wilmer passed away on Friday night and we lost not only a great musician, but a true advocate for quality in all manner of human conduct. For me, I lost an irreplaceable mentor.
When the New England Patriots defeated the Seattle Seahawks on a fluke, dumb, final play call last night in the Super Bowl, my bad feelings about the Tuck Rule resurfaced, I felt numb and close to nausea. On the way home I remembered what Wilmer had said about the Raiders/Eagles Super Bowl 34 years ago and had to laugh. It’s certainly not a matter of life or death. It’s just a game. I finally understand that……but they should have run the ball.
I wish I could tell him that. He would have just shook his head, laughed and said, “oh boy….”