I attended my first Holiday Bowl on December 30, 1992, but almost didn’t. Rick Martin, a DA Investigator and former SDPD Sergeant put together a potluck tailgate party. At the time, he had been doing this for several years. The cast of attendees was fun. There were cops, judges, attorneys, and friends, about 30 in all.
Rick brought his dad’s motor home so we wouldn’t have to use the port-a-potties. The sausages, gourmet rolls, condiments, side dishes, and desserts were as good as you could find anywhere.
On December 28, two days before the game, my parents called to tell me that my 36-year old brother, Len, had died at home of a diabetic seizure. Even though I knew it would happen soon, I wasn’t prepared. A diabetic since age 10, Len was failing fast. He was on dialysis, and had diminished eyesight and poor circulation. Because I knew the end was near I had been back to Michigan six times during the year to see him.
Weeks earlier I had told my dad about the tailgate and he thought that sounded like the most fun he had ever heard of—a bunch of guys standing around, eating, drinking, smoking cigars, laughing and scratching before a football game. Soon after breaking the bad news to me my dad asked, “You’re still going to the game aren’t you?” I said I didn’t know. “You should go. Len would have wanted it.”
I later decided I would go. I had signed up to bring things and I couldn’t let the guys down. And, Len would have wanted it. When he was healthy he and his buddies did stuff like this all the time.
Going to the game was a good decision. It took my mind temporarily off my sorrow. The tailgate was tremendous. This year is the 20th year I have been invited. I missed a couple due to being in Michigan for the holidays. But, I’m here this year.
One guy who stops by every year is Bill Ritter. Youngsters won’t remember him, but on February 22, 1974, Ritter, a SDPD patrol officer, was sitting in his car in the Ocean Beach Pier parking lot writing a report. (This was before computers.) A low-life named Peter Mahone walked up, pulled a pistol, and shot Ritter in the face. The bullet broke a couple of teeth and exited through his neck. Ritter survived and continued his career. It is always great to see him and see how upbeat he is in spite of what happened. Mahone was arrested within the hour.
We always had a great time recounting stories and sharing cop, prosecutorial, and judicial lore. Our conversations were not politically correct, but boy, were they fun. If we talked like that at the office we would be written up, disciplined, reprimanded, or worse. We might have been irreverent and not politically correct, but we spoke the truth and accurately portrayed what happened in the stories we told. Life is not always politically correct, but you have to talk like it is or face the consequences.
A wrench was tossed into this year’s festivities. Although Rick is retired, his wife is still employed and has been transferred to Virginia. They are moving immediately. Rick didn’t have time to organize the event. Those who wanted could buy tickets, but there would be no tailgate. No one stepped up to take over.
I organized a modified tailgate where several guys convened at my pickup truck to drink beer, eat chips, trade insults, and tell more stories. It wasn’t even close to the old days, but it was good to see everyone who showed up. The Holiday Bowls were always fun, but none as memorable or bittersweet as the first and last ones. I’ll cherish all the memories.