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Taylor Mason Beat Header

Super Bowl

I met Paul Wang some four decades ago.

Paul Wang is not his given name. Paul is from Taiwan. His real name is something else and I knew it once but that has long been forgotten - lost in the ether of time, a hazy memory not unlike a long field goal attempt by a Buffalo Bills place kicker that disappears just to the right of the goalpost at a key moment in an NFL playoff game, lost in the fade-out of a video replay.

Paul is the first miracle I experienced in-person, meeting him in a spacious multi-windowed classroom on a warm sunny day in June of 1983 on the campus of Northwestern University just north of Chicago. We were students in the Medill School of Advertising. I was drawn to him immediately because Paul, unlike every other student in the class, DID NOT SPEAK ENGLISH.

Oh, he knew a couple of words: “Hello.” And he could say “My name is Paul Wang. I am Taiwanese.” I was dumbfounded. How in the world is this person going to compete at this major university at the graduate school level with ambitious people like myself who have complete control of the language …in a course that is all about communication?

That’s the miracle. By the end of the summer, he had a grasp of English as a second language. By Halloween of that year, he was using slang. “That’s cool,” he’d say, not referring to the weather but as a statement of positivity.

We were more than classmates. I hung out with him. He was interesting and smart and motivated.

When Thanksgiving came around that year, he was going to be alone in a room in Evanston, Illinois, not getting the full-on American Thanksgiving vibe - family, fun, football, etc. So, I invited him to my grandmother’s yearly event on the Mason Family farm in Grand Ridge, Illinois. He said yes. At the same time another classmate, Dave Kasey was in the same predicament: stuck in a room by himself for the holiday.

So, I did what had to be done. I invited them both for turkey dinner with the family.

We drove that Thursday morning to the big farmhouse. Both were welcomed like family, and we ate unending quantities of food.

And then another miracle.

It was a yearly thing-to-do at Thanksgiving: my brothers and cousins and whoever else was there played The Turkey Bowl - a game of touch football that lasted about an hour or so and has been the stuff of legend (in my mind) all these years. After a few minutes, the youngest in the group - anyone under the age of 10 - were allowed to score “touchdowns” without anyone stopping them.

Example: a five-year-old cousin would be given the football. Everyone would begin shouting “RUN!” The child, not understanding the concept, would start out the wrong way and we’d all have to run past the kid, turn them around and have them run the other way to the other goal line and “score” a touchdown as we chased this little person, falling down just before we tag them or missing them and shouting “darn it!” as they giggled and ran… resulting in lots of laughter and some in-family anger (“I never got to score a touchdown like that when I was five!” Or, “The only year I got to score a touchdown it was called back by Uncle Bill for holding… what’s that about?”) and so on.

Super Bowl Trophy

My friends Wang and Kasey played in the Turkey Bowl that year. I will say this, and it is a controversial subject within Mason lore: I have always - ALWAYS - been on the winning team. I’m not saying I’m the best football player/athlete in the family but… well… you decide for yourself.

So back to the game with Wang and Kasey. It was competitive as I recall, but Paul was lost. Even though he was from Taiwan he still had heard of American football. And he had joined Kasey and myself when we went to a couple of Northwestern college football games (another story for another newsletter). But he didn’t know the rules.

Once we all figured that out (after, say, 20 minutes of Paul running the wrong way, dropping easy passes, not understanding the concept of “blocking” and “touch” football) my brothers and cousins all decided he needed to score a touchdown.

It played out like this: Paul ran into the end zone, marked by a fence post and a boot on the ground (defining my family) and I lobbed an ever-so-soft pass to him. Nobody tried to stop the ball or Paul, and he CAUGHT IT! resulting in much over-the-top celebrating, stupid end-zone dances and some anger on behalf of assorted Masons (“Nobody ever threw me a lob pass to score a touchdown,” etc.).

I think the game ended when, finally, my grandmother yelled “Do you want pumpkin pie or not?” And everyone, en masse, raced into the house.

A few minutes into dessert, Dave Kasey leaned over to me at the dinner table - we got to sit with the adults at the big people table, a first for me even though I was in my 20s - and said, “Where is Paul?”

I went on a search and found him in the big living room of Maison Mason. He had made a collect call to Taiwan to his parents. He was speaking his native dialect, Mandarin, but was clearly agitated and annoyed.

I could hear people on the other end of the phone conversation, coming through the earpiece of the old corded phone, which sounded like a celebration: lots of shouting and boisterous happy voices.

Paul laughed when he saw me and said goodbye to his mom and dad.

“Is there a problem?” I asked him.

“Well. In Taiwan the only thing we know about American football is The Super Bowl.”

I nodded. “I get it. It’s a big deal.”

Paul smiled. “Yes it is. So I told my parents I played football today in your Turkey Bowl. But they could not understand the concept of a Turkey Bowl… I told them I scored a touchdown in your game, but they think I scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl. I tried to explain but it’s too difficult… so I’m just going to let them think I did it: I caught a pass and scored in The Super Bowl.”

I am embarrassed to say I lost contact with Paul years ago. Last I heard, he is a professor at Northwestern. Dave Kasey went on to have an incredible career in advertising and hosts a fun podcast called Stories Unlimited (I have guested on it a couple of times). Like me, Dave is married and has kids and the three of us have followed whatever paths we followed.

But every year around February I remember tossing an arching (“catchable”) ball to my Taiwanese friend, who concentrated and grabbed it out of the cloudy, cold, midwestern sky for a “TD” and we all celebrated as if it mattered. There are some in this world who believed he did that in the biggest sporting event in the USA, The Super Bowl. As far as I’m concerned? That’s what happened.

Nice catch, Paul.

Thanks for reading.

My book, IRREVERSIBLE, is available at amazon.com HERE.

If you’d like a personalized comedy video, please find me HERE on Cameo and I’ll create something for you and your people.

Thanks for reading,

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