I was almost abnormally shy as a child, speaking only when I had to when anyone other than my parents, siblings, or closest friends were around. Oral reports at school were dreaded ordeals, which I rose to haltingly and all but inaudibly. In due course, I graduated from high school with top honors as "quietest" in my Monroe (N.Y.) High class of 310 students, receiving a cardboard megaphone from my peers to encourage a greater vocal presence.
It was not until I settled in Indiana that my potential in this regard flowered – as a complete surprise to me. I arrived in 1975, the season Indiana University's basketball team under coach Bob Knight went undefeated and ultimately captured the (1976) NCAA championship. I wasn't into sports then, refusing unbelievably gracious offers of tickets and ignoring the hype during IU's postseason run. The celebrations following that final triumph hardly registered. Yet something must have quietly clicked.
Still largely oblivious to sports, I became more confident with my own voice as a graduate journalism student, a reporter for the local paper and writer for the university's faculty research magazine. Face-to-face interviews became second nature, even enjoyable.
Gradually, I began to notice and respond aloud to Indiana basketball. One could hardly survive socially in Bloomington without knowing about Big Ten rankings and the merits of man-to-man versus zone defense. By the time IU won its next NCAA championship in 1986, I was a fully engaged season ticketholder with a real grasp of the game's strategies and no need for megaphones. I became wildly expressive on the team's behalf. When my son was old enough, we both leapt to our feet when IU scored, adding appreciably to the roar of the cavernous and packed stadium.
My descent down the slippery slope into football, first IU and then NFL, was inevitable, though at odds with my upbringing. How I'd moaned as a child when NFL games ran overtime, eating into anticipated Sunday movies. When a made-for-TV "Heidi" preempted the last minute of a battle between my home state's New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders in November 1968, I'd happily tuned into the Swiss idyll without a clue that it was causing football fans nationwide to go apoplectic. As I drank in the film, the Raiders overcame a three-point Jets lead to win. I was clueless, as were many others (far less happily).
Oh, but how well I came to understand the fans' frustration. Many an IU football victory over the decades might have been fueled solely by my supercharged vocal chords.
My Monroe High classmates would be amazed to learn what that cardboard megaphone unleashed.