It's astounding, sometimes, the things that stick with us over the years. We each have a small collection of "I remember where I was when..." moments; they could be 9/11, the birth of a child, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, meeting the woman who would become your wife, etc. These memories are personal, and indelibly stamped on our hippocampi. I'd like to share one of my memories with you today. It's the story of where I was during Super Bowl XLIX.
I was living overseas at the time, in Yeongtong, South Korea. Yeongtong is a small suburb of Suwon, about an hour-ish from Seoul if you take the subway. I had been working as an English teacher at a private academy called The Ian School. Moving to South Korea was the best decision I ever made. It was the best year of my life, without a doubt (and not just because the Pats won a championship).
At the time, I was teaching a group of six-year-olds. We had a rule at The Ian School - when you're in the classroom, you have to speak English. No Korean allowed. It's one of those English language immersion programs, and it works wonders. I'd put my students up against anyone else in Suwon. Now, you're familiar with the time zone difference between South Korea and the east coast of the United States, right? South Korea is about 12-13 hours ahead of the east coast of the US. This is important: I did not get to watch Super Bowl XLIX on a television at night with friends, family, and nachos. I was working. Sunday evening for you guys meant Monday morning for me, and I had to teach phonics and listen to a bunch of 6-year-olds read a book about a talking alligator who was also an inventor.
Now, in fairness, I could have called out sick and watched the game at a nearby American bar, but it felt wrong to lie, and I knew the school didn't really have a substitute teacher for my class, so I showed up in my Patriots hoodie (sleeves intact; the weather gets a bit frosty in South Korea during February) and proceeded to ignore the students for most of the morning. I was able to watch the game on my phone - I'm not entirely sure how - but I must have sucked down most of the school's WiFi while frenetically pacing around the classroom. The kids - who were marvelous, and very kind, and very patient - asked me a variety of questions that probably had something to do with my job, but were plainly ignored because they had nothing to do with Nate Solder missing his blocks on Michael Bennett. When Malcolm Butler tipped that pass and Jermaine Kearse caught it anyway, I collapsed on the hardwood floor. The students asked me "Teacher, are you okay?" "Teacher, what's wrong?" "Teacher, the alligator invented a telephone th-" which I'm not even sure I could react to. My friends texted me "hey, are you gonna be okay?" because they thought it was another helmet/Manningham catch. Hell, didn't we all?
Then it happened.
It's done. We're back. We did it. We're champs. We're the best. The texts quickly reverted back to "never mind, hope you rot, fuck you and fuck your team." The catharsis I felt in that moment was a rush of adrenaline I can't compare to almost anything else I've experienced. I don't know if I've ever been louder in my life. I was whooping, hollering, the kids were looking at each other and thinking "I don't think that's English," but they were just pleased as punch that I was happy. I had all the kids line up and give me a high five. Not sure I've ever given harder high fives than I did in that moment; I'd bet dollars to donuts one of those kids needed rotator cuff surgery afterwards. My father, who hadn't texted me the entire game, sent me only two words: "I'm shaking." After the morning classes, I walked down to the entrance of the school - where you took off your shoes and put on slippers, as is the custom - where my girlfriend was waiting for me. I wrapped my arms around her neck and barely choked "It's over. They won." She tolerated my exuberance; I realized that when she had no reaction to the Patriots signing Darrelle Revis earlier that season that she'd just never care. She was just happy that I was happy (I bought her a knockoff Brady jersey in Itaewon all the same). I've heard about being so happy you can cry, and I was almost at that point, but I was just too happy to cry. There was something different about the way the sun shone that day. Water tasted a bit colder, a bit more refreshing. The smell of fried street food was even sweeter. My jaw hurt from smiling so damned much.
It doesn't end there.
I had a class of 10-11 year-olds later in the day, one of my favorite classes. (A brief aside: this class featured my favorite student, Brian. For his first book report, his essay began with the words "I hate Hitler." I read it aloud to the class and told them "These are the three most important words you will ever learn in the English language.") The week leading up to the game, I promised them a pizza party if the Patriots won. There was an ulterior motive here: a good way to learn English is by reading current events. The kids were actually fairly diligent in researching American football, the teams involved, and the event itself. I like to think I left South Korea better than I found it - by turning a classroom of kids into Patriots fans.