Monday, October 21, 2013

Football Memories

I'm sitting here, on a Monday afternoon, watching ESPN's esteemed football roundup, "NFL Primetime."

I am sad.

Most Sundays throughout football season, my father would sit in his chair, watching his favorite team (Buffalo) play his favorite game. The supremely comforting aroma of my mother's spaghetti sauce permeated every room. Every once in a while, an excited yelp would emanate from my father and you would then hear my mother's response, "Did we score!?!?!"

Sometimes we would eat dinner in the kitchen. Sometimes we would eat in the living room, bowls of pasta balanced on tv trays. It didn't matter. We were all excited for Sunday evening television.

While I'm sure my sisters were excited for The Simpsons (okay okay, we all were) we also were looking forward to the best hour of football news anywhere. With the afternoon games still fresh in my mind, we would watch Chris Berman and Tom Jackson (with others including John Saunders, Pete Axthelm and Robin Roberts) break down every game.

To this day, the phrase "rumblin'... bumblin'... stumblin'" is almost enough to bring me to tears. This hour of television rivals every other childhood tv memory, including anything done by Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers. The personalities... the sheer genius combination of football acumen combined with eminently honest and earnest hosts, made this show.

This was not an extended SportsCenter highlights reel. The producers of this show allowed Chris and Tom (yes, I think of them as close friends of mine) to delve deeper into the actual games. It wasn't flashy, it wasn't cheap. It was instructive and fascinating.

In 2006, NBC ruined everything.

Upon stealing ("acquiring") the Sunday night games from ESPN, NBC negotiated into their contract exclusive rights to "extended highlights" for their pregame show. This completely eviscerated "NFL Primetime." ESPN moved their show to Mondays and the "NFL Primetime" of my childhood was lost and gone forever.

Now, I do not have anything against Trey Wingo, Tim Hasselbeck and Merrill Hodge. Their show is great. I still watch when I have the chance, particularly when I work on Sunday and don't get a chance to watch much football.

It still makes me sad.

Through no fault of ESPN or the new hosts, this beloved institution is no longer the same... and I miss it.

(I know, I know. This is supposedly a food blog.  I promise that I'll post mom's spaghetti sauce recipe here when I get the chance.)

As adults, my brothers, sisters and I have always been surprised that our mother's treasured spaghetti sauce was so damn simple. For years, I've explained our devotion to this recipe with the fact that it was the sauce we grew up eating on those gorgeous upstate NY fall days.
But then, the food blog world changed my opinion. They all seemed to revel in a simple, classic sauce created by celebrated Italian cooking guru Marcella Hazan.

I'm not kidding...
Amateur Gourmet (post 1)
Amateur Gourmet (post 2)
Smitten Kitchen
Rachel Eats

So it occurred to me... if this simple sauce can be raved about so effusively, my Mom's simple sauce could actually be as awesomely amazing as the six of us remember.

Step 1:
Brown 1 lb of hot italian sausage in a large dutch oven. (Mom's preferred brand was Gianelli. If you can't find it because you don't live in or near the greater Syracuse area, I suggest you use your mom's, dad's, uncle's, aunt's, cousin's, mentor's, dog's or dentist's favorite sausage. I mean, hey, why should YOU have to make all the decisions around here?) She left the sausage pieces whole in their casing.

Step 2:
Add one large can Hunt's Tomato Sauce. (And when I say "large"... I mean this one. Not this one).

Bring it all to a boil and then lower the heat to let it simmer covered for several hours (start at around noon, it'll be ready by dinner time). Seriously, you can do this on low. I remember the occasional bubble making plopping noises, not a steady simmer. The cover on the pot is primarily to keep the tomato mess to a minimum. Have your teenager stir the sauce every half hour or so. (Or you can do it, if you don't have a teenager to boss around).

You can also add browned meatballs when you add the tomato sauce, if that's your thang.

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