There are people who live for football and the Super Bowl. They arrange house parties; they make sure there’s plenty of food, cases of beer or bottles of wine on hand for the ‘life-changing’ extravaganza. For these people—they constitute multitudes-- Super Bowl Sunday is a major national holiday.
I’ve never been one of these people. To me, football is boring and watching football is tantamount to watching leaves fall in autumn. Playing football is even worse given the number of physical injuries many of its athletes sustain and that follow them throughout life: bad backs, crushed knees, brain injuries, dislocated shoulders, hip replacements.
In years past, I’ve tended to criticize how people can put so much energy and passion into something that’s just a game. But one year it was slightly different for me and that was when I found myself rooting for the Baltimore Ravensover the San Francisco 49ers during Super Bowl 2013.
The reason for my change of heart was simple: Steve Bisciotti, the majority owner of the Ravens at that time (he is now the sole owner), is a second cousin of mine, or more specifically, the son of my godmother, Patricia Bisciotti (nee Muldoon), who hails from my mother’s side of the family, the Irish Muldoon-Kelly clan from Tyrone County, Northern Ireland.
There was always random talk about Steve Bisciotti and the Ravens in family circles. That talk accelerated in the year 2000 when Bisciotti purchased 49% of the Ravens. It catapulted in 2004 when he purchased the remaining 51% and became the majority owner. While these developments struck me as interesting, I couldn’t say that I was especially excited about it. Since the Irish side of my family is so large, I had never met Steve Bisciotti until 2012. That was at a family funeral Mass for Patricia Bisciotti’s sister, Constance Davis, at St. Anastasia’s church in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. It was in that church that I was finally able to put a face to the name.
Interestingly enough, this was about the time when Ravens linebacker Brandon Ayanbadejo was being castigated by a conservative Maryland legislator, Emmett Burns, Jr. (D-Baltimore Co.) for his open support of same sex marriage. (How mild this issue seems today when compared to the taking-a-knee-madness that plagued many teams, especially the Ravens, during playing of playing of the National Anthem.) Ayanbadejo, who is heterosexual, was not shy about his support of the marriage issue every chance he got. This fact bothered Burns, who wrote a letter to Steve Bisciotti and (then) Ravens President Dick Cass asking that Ayanbedejo be silenced. The Democrat legislator, according to Baltimore’s Metro Weekly, wanted the Ravens to “inhibit” Ayanbadejo and “take the necessary actions,” to have the linebacker “cease and desist” his public support.
According to Ayanbedejo, Cass and Bisciotti had a talk about Burns’ letter and then Cass approached him with some words of encouragement, telling him first of all that we [the Ravens] support the right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment.” Ayanbadejo then went on to say that Cass told him, “We’re in support of you and it’s good that you’re able to voice your opinion and say how you feel. We’re not an organization that discriminates.”
When I read about this controversy, I knew that second cousin Steve Bisciotti had inherited his father’s benevolent generosity of spirit. I immediately wrote a column about it for the Huff Post, praising my second cousin to the skies, even though I had never met him. (As it turned out, my godmother had read the piece and expressed her appreciation.)
Although I had never met Steve Bisciotti, I did know his father.
As a college student in Maryland, I visited Steve Bisciotti’s father, Bernie Bisciotti (Uncle Bernie) in a Baltimore hospital with my own father, Thomas C. when Bernie was fighting terminal leukemia. Our visit lasted over an hour, but this was enough time to see that Bernie Bisciotti was an empathetic gentle giant of a man. As a nervous 19 year old, on the verge of doing alternate service as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, I was used to untoward looks and disapproving comments from unexpected quarters, especially from disgruntled uncles (the aunts were far more gracious) who saw me as nothing more than a draft dodger. But this was not the case with Uncle Bernie. In fact, the very opposite of this was true; Uncle Bernie wasn’t one to discriminate. The fact that he seemed so calm and peaceful when he knew he was going to die also impressed me as something very rare. The man, so close to death, seemed happier than ever.
Finding Steve Bisciotti standing by himself after the funeral Mass in the church drinking his trademark bottled water seemed to me to be the perfect opportunity to tell him about my meeting with his father so many years ago. I went over and introduced myself and reminded him that his mother was my godmother, and then recounted my hospital visit with his father.
He smiled and listened politely; at the mention of his father, Bernie, he showed an even greater interest. I may have mentioned my Huff Post piece about the Ravens but by then our connection seemed to be fading. Since I had come late to the funeral, perhaps the multitudes of friends and cousins in the church had already bent his ear into a state of total exhaustion. In any event, I returned to my pew feeling a sense of disappointment. It was as if I was not a family member but a casual friend of a family member.
I thought of H.L. Mencken’s comment. “Every man sees in his relatives, and especially in his cousins, a series of grotesque caricatures of himself.”
The following year, 2013, he would see his team, the Ravens, win the Super Bowl. At home in front of the television set I saw my godmother at the conclusion of the game walk out into the middle of the field in a rain of confetti and bombast. There she was, the woman whose smiling face that can still be seen in old family 8mm films stepping out of a car and entering my family’s house on Bond Avenue in Drexel Hill, a coonskin Davy Crockett hat on my head. There she was in the national limelight.
“That’s my Aunt Pat,” I told the people watching the game with me. “My godmother has confetti in her eyes!” Steve Biscotti was right beside her in center field, hugging and smiling.
After the disappointing experience at the funeral, I wondered if I was expecting too much from a man I’d never really known except through family talk. Did my expectations come from having seen his father so close to death, a scene that Steve Bisciotti didn’t see because he was a little boy at the time? Writing and publishing the Huff Post piece also caused me to expect more.
In the end, I decided it was a second cousin thing. Second cousins rarely rate; they are bottom of the totem pole people. Historically, they might be compared to third and fourth class Titanic passengers. The proof of this came after the funeral when it was it was stated through word of mouth that only first cousins were invited to the funeral luncheon. Second cousins and others had to fend for themselves (check out those nearby restaurants, etc.) I’ve encountered this once or twice before on my mother’s side of the family. The Irish seem especially prone to weird bouts of exclusivity. Certainly, inviting second cousins to the funeral luncheon was a very affordable thing in this case, given the success story mentioned above. Throughout my life I’ve been to funerals both high and low. Even at the low ones or funerals for very poor people, there were always a few sandwiches afterwards and a cup of coffee
Listen up all Ye Wealthy: It’s about the camaraderie as much as it is about the food!
After the funeral, my interest in football went up a notch but it didn’t last long. It’s still a beastly sport although the smell of autumn and the sound of cow bells when a football game is being played can be a wonderful thing. And football parties are great as an excuse to have a party. They’re fun, especially when nobody is watching the game but engaged in conversations with their backs to the TV.
One more thing: Sometime after the funeral I went home and Googled Steve Biscotti’s name, having heard something about the beauty of his huge estate on Maryland’s Severn River. When I spotted a picture of the residence, I thought I’d gotten one of the Royal Family’s palaces in England by mistake. It was breathtaking, as they say.