Standing up for our anthem
ELKTON — “I had a great weekend,” Cuffs said, offering a rare smile in his private booth in Jimmy’s North Street Hotel saloon.
“Hit the daily number straight again?” asked Billy Bibbs, one of Cuffs’ Crew and a fellow tavern regular. “Nope,” Cuffs replied. “Get an inheritance, or win Publisher’s Clearing House?” Bibbs pressed.
“Nothing like that,” Cuffs explained. “Had a pleasant Sunday afternoon, enjoyed the great outdoors, and left modern society’s silly, stressful nonsense behind.”
Joining in the conversation, I offered a clever quip. “That means you definitely didn’t waste your day watching the anthem- kneeling, Red Rover- arm- linking, look- at- us- we- have- a- cause, disgusting Baltimore Ravens.”
“Nope,” Cuffs replied calmly. “They’re dead to me, and have absolutely no chance at being forgiven.”
“You still upset about that stupidity when they dishonored Old Glory on foreign soil? Knelt for our anthem and stood tall for ‘ God Save the Queen’? ” Bibbs asked. “Because, to me, too, that really was a kick in the gut. Lost all my respect for them, and for pro football in general, when I saw that happen.”
Nodding, Cuffs said, “That was the capper for me, too. But I’ve been following them less and less over the last few years, mainly because of their lousy play. But when our whining, overpaid millionaires continue to lose games — plus, push their anti- police, anti- USA politics in my face — I decided I could do more productive things on Sunday afternoons.” “Like what?” I asked. “Rake leaves. Clean up the yard. Wash the car. Go out to a restaurant — as long as it doesn’t have any NFL games on its TVs. Like I said,” Cuffs insisted, “our local team, its coach, and the whole spineless league, commissioner, and owners are dead to me. And I’m not alone on this.”
“I hear ya,” Bibbs said. “Heard some clever guy on the radio say NFL now stands for ‘ No Fans Left.’ ”
Adding to the conversation, I said, “I read somewhere that John Wayne once said, ‘ I’d ask the band to play my favorite song, but then everybody’d have to stand up.’ ”
“Here’s to the Duke!” Bibbs said, raising his glass. “Lately, I been watching the CFL — Canadian Football League — on my computer. And that works fine for me. No drama. No controversy. Less show- boating by overpaid prima donnas. And their games are pretty good. After you understand their oddball rules.”
“Well, I’m staying local,” said Cuffs. “Went to my nephew Ralphie’s Little League baseball tournament, over in South Jersey, for the last few weeks. Calm afternoons. Old- fashioned, small town setting. Nothing political or controversial to ruin my mood.”
Bibbs and I nodded, picturing the serene scene in our mind.
“But there was one incident involving our national anthem that stood out,” Cuffs said.
Instinctively, expecting a problem, Bibbs asked, “Something happen that ruined your day?”
“Nope,” Cuffs said, smiling, “just the opposite.”
Elkton’s ornery oracle explained that he had arrived at the baseball game during the second inning. After taking a seat in the bleachers, he — along with other spectators — were distracted by the sound of recorded rap music coming from a youth football league complex, located about a half mile away.
“You could hear the music more than see its source,” Cuffs said. “A dense section of forest separated our ball diamond from the pigskin complex. But after about 15 minutes, and you got into the game, you didn’t notice the agitated, rap sounds — like you did when you first arrived.
“Then suddenly, in the midst of the fifth inning of our game, all action on our field stopped. Responding to a familiar patriotic tune, the young players and their coaches took off their hats and put their hands over the hearts. As did every parent, spectator, and visitor in the bleachers, plus those seated along the sidelines.
“We all stood at attention and showed respect for our ‘ Star Spangled Banner,’ ” Cuffs explained. “No one had to issue a command or suggestion. Our response to the sacred song was just instinctive. The proper thing to do.”
“But it was coming from another field, a half- mile away?” asked Bibbs.
“Right,” Cuffs answered. “But the pure beauty of the moment was that it was their anthem, for the start of their nearby football game. But it also was our anthem, too — and anyone else’s within hearing distance.
“So the all the players, and spectators at Ralphie’s game,” Cuffs added, “stopped and showed the proper respect for their flag and their country.” “Just like ever yone used to do,” I said. “Right,” added Cuffs, in a slightly disappointed tone, “just like everyone used to do.”