By Michael Lewis
Today is Thanksgiving Day, a day for being thankful, stuffing ourselves with a boatload of food, even turkey, and watching football games.
Even if you’re not a fan of the American gridiron version, there’s a good chance that the game will be on in the background of whatever house you are celebrating this national tradition.
Well, I would like to share with you a secret I have been harboring for years – the end of my passion for football, which even has surprised me considering my background. Oh yeah, that’s American gridiron football, not the football or the futbol of the beautiful game.
So, just how did that occur?
Well, all the news about concussions — way too many of them — the violence of the game, the NFL’s pathetic handling of wife and girlfriend man-handlers in the league certainly didn’t help.
One incident started to turn things on its head for me.
A little more than four years ago, Oct. 1, 2014, I covered the Shoreham-Wading River football game at Elwood/John Glenn High School for the Riverhead News-Review. The game was played on a Wednesday because of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur that weekend.
Late in the third quarter, Tom Cutinella, a junior guard-linebacker, suffered an injury on a running play and was injured. Cutinella got up and stumbled to a knee. He stood again and attempted to walk off the field but collapsed several feet from the sideline. He was taken to Huntington Hospital, where he died several hours later.
I sent in my original story to managing editor Joe Werkmeister, who once was the sports editor of the paper, before Cutinella had died. Since Joe probably had forgotten more about Shoreham athletics than I would ever know, he took over the coverage from there. At 11:05 p.m. I received an email from him saying that Cutinella had passed away.
I was stunned, utterly stunned.
Never had I ever received an email like that. I felt for him, his family and the Shoreham-Wading team and community.
Over the past several years, I found myself not caring to watch football, especially on pro football Sunday. Yes, old habits die hard and I rooted for the Giants to win and even wanted the Jets to record victories because the fall can get pretty depressing when both teams fall like flies week after week. But it wasn’t like I watched the action from kickoff to the final whistle.
For many people who know me, this could be considered astounding news.
Growing upon Long Island, football was my second favorite sport, only to baseball.
We played touch football in the street and tackle football in nearby Salisbury Park (now Eisenhower Park) in Westbury, N.Y.
The Giants, who actually played in New York in those days, were my favorite side.
I got an opportunity from a neighbor to watch Giants play the Pittsburgh Steelers many years ago at Yankee Stadium, the original Yankee Stadium (not today’s soulless home to the Yankees and New York City FC).
I purchased this dice football in the mail for $5 and my best friend and I had many a classic confrontation whether we were pitting the great Green Bay Packer teams against the equally fabulous Dallas Cowboys squads or coaching the Giants or Jets.
During the Jets’ incredible march to the Super Bowl in 1968 and 1969, I managed to secure a locker room interview with Gerry Philbin and Johnny Sample for my high school newspaper at W. Tresper Clarke H.S. in Westbury, The Vanguard, prior to the NFL championship game.
(What made that interview special was that I was somehow rejected at the door, even though I had the proper documents. After a forlorn journey home in a cold Long Island Railroad car that did not have any heat, I called and complained to the team’s PR director and he said to come back the next day. I learned something about resiliency back then).
The next summer, my best friend Jim Toscano, Bill Miller and myself went to the Jets training camp at nearby Hofstra University and wound up interviewing no other than Joe Willie Namath. The man who brought us to the Hofstra dorm — I believe it was Tower C — was no other than Jim Trecker, who turned into a renowned soccer public relations maven. Yes, I wrote a piece about Namath for The Vanguard as well.
In college, I covered the Nassau Community College football team for the student newspaper, The Vignette, vigorously and did a few Syracuse University games for that school’s paper, The Daily Orange.
With the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, I wrote about high school and college football games and I even got an opportunity to cover the Buffalo Bills on occasion.
So, my football background was pretty heavy.
But my interest just hasn’t been the same in recent years.
On the other hand, I always will love futbol. It is part of my DNA. Unfortunately, football has become less of an attractive sport to me.
I won’t criticize anyone for following it. I understand, especially since it has been ingrained in so many of us. Heck, I still can look at a game and analyze it like I did years ago.
My wife and I even watch the Super Bowl together, sometimes with friends, many times for the commercials (although I analyze that game as well).
My passion for that sport has waned, perhaps for the best.
Here is my story about Tom Cutinella for the Riverhead News-Review website Oct. 1, 2014:
By Michael Lewis
Lined up two by two, a solemn Shoreham-Wading River High School football team marched out of the Elwood/John Glenn High football stadium with many of the players holding hands last Wednesday.
The players presumably were showing solidarity for their fallen teammate, Tom Cutinella, who was injured in their Suffolk County Division IV game against Glenn.
At the time the game was suspended, the Wildcats led, 17-12, with 3:51 remaining in the third quarter.
Several hours later, Cutinella died at Huntington Hospital due to injuries he suffered on the last play before officials called the game in Elwood. He was 16.
The contest originally was rescheduled to be finished last Thursday, but it was not known if or when the game will be completed.
Cutinella, a junior guard-linebacker and an honors student, suffered the injury on a running play with SWR facing a second down and five situation at its 45-yard line. Quarterback Danny Hughes had handed the ball to Chris Rosati, who began to run to his left. Cutienlla went to block a defender as a collision occurred between him and a Glenn player.
Rosati gained five yards and secured a first down at the 50-yard line.
Cutinella reportedly got up and stumbled to a knee. He stood again and attempted to walk off the field but collapsed several feet from the sideline, according to a witness.
After Cutinella fell to the ground, the game was stopped as the crowd went silent. SWR head coach Matthew Millheiser and several school officials stood near the junior.
Both teams eventually were instructed to go to opposite end zones. They took their helmets off and a knee while officials waited for an ambulance. The injury occurred at about 5:45 p.m. and an ambulance with emergency medical technicians from the Greenlawn Fire Department responded in 10 minutes.
While Cutinella was put on a stretcher and placed in the vehicle, the crowd applauded with some fans shouting: “OK Thomas! OK Thomas.”
The ambulance left the field at 6:05 p.m.
After the game was suspended and the Wildcats left the field and filled their bus, Millheiser was asked about Cutinella’s condition.
“He’s in good hands at Huntington Hospital,” he said outside the team bus.
Asked if there was any diagnosis, Millheiser replied, “That’s it.”
The game, an early-season showdown between the best defense (3-0 SWR) and offense (3-0 Glenn) in Division IV, was turning into quite a competitive match.
Just prior to the game suspension, the Wildcats grabbed a 17-12 lead on Hughes’ 43-yard touchdown pass to Rosati with 6:40 left in the third quarter and had regained possession on Aaron Harley-rey’s interception.
SWR did not get off to a good start as Hughes was intercepted by linebacker Edwin Rubio on the third play from scrimmage at its 31-yard line. Five plays later, Glenn quarterback Wayne White ran 17 yards up the middle to score a TD with 8:25 remaining in the opening quarter. The point after was not converted as the Knights led, 6-0.
The Wildcats grabbed a 7-6 edge as Hughes swept 11 yards to the right side and Daniel Mahoney converted the first of his two extra points with 3:31 left in the second period.
The visitors extended their lead to 10-7 on Mahoney’s 29-yard field goal with three seconds remaining in the half.
The Panthers retook the lead on their first drive of the second half, a four-play, 65-yard series that was climaxed by White’s four-yard TD run for a 12-10 advantage with 10:26 remaining in the quarter. The extra-point attempt hit the right upright and bounded away.
On the next drive, the Wildcats went 68 yards in seven plays, highlighted by Hughes’ long pass to Rosati as Mahoney kicked the point after for a five-point lead.