There was still an hour till kickoff, and Robby was already nervous and ornery. A Miami Dolphins fan since birth, his heroes would be taking on America's most hated team, the New England Patriots, at 1 p.m.
"The Pats are vulnerable this week," I told him. "They're banged up at key positions. Brady hasn't been Brady lately. Look, the Jets beat 'em last week!"
Robby and I have a touchy football relationship. He loves his Dolphins and hates my team, the Jets. Hates them in a particularly loud and demonstrative way. Which, in turn, tends to make me root hard against his Dolphins. Still, he's my son -- my youngest son -- and I felt bad that he was so down an hour before game time.
"This is the best time of the whole week," I said. "I couldn't possibly be in a better mood."
It was Family Weekend at USC, and my wife, our middle son, and I were visiting Robby, all watching Sunday NFL football together at Barney's Beanery, a sports bar in Santa Monica. My Jets would be playing the Cincinnati Bengals in the later game -- starting right after the Dolphins-Patriots. We were a touchdown underdog, playing on the road. Yet my expectations were sky-high. As I've often said, my happiest time of the year, as a Jets fan, is just before the season starts. My happiest time on Sunday is just before the game. Before reality sets in.
"You're the only person I know who actually enjoys watching his team play," Robby said. "The rest of us suffer."
As much as Robby was determined to suffer, his team played an immaculate first half, and led the Patriots 17-3 at intermission. But it all went south after halftime. Two really bad penalty calls derailed the Dolphins' momentum, and then one truly horrendous call served as the coup de grace. At the first flag, Robby threw his cellphone against the wall. With the last one he began bellowing in outrage, then buried his head in his arms. The final score was Pats 27, Dolphins 17.
By the start of the Jets game, Robby was surprisingly composed. For the rest of the afternoon, he only had to worry about his fantasy teams. His major ordeal was finished for the week.
And I? As we were about to kick off to the Bengals, I was relishing the next few hours.
Barely five minutes into the game, the Bengals took a 7-0 lead, and before the end of the first quarter, they'd stretched that lead to 14-0. Greg, also a Jets fan, but a calm and clear-eyed one, gave me a look: This doesn't look like our day. But I was undaunted.
On the first play of the third quarter, the Bengals intercepted a Jets pass and returned it for a touchdown. It put them up 35-9. I began mumbling my calculations. "Let's see, we're down 26. That's three touchdowns, two two-point conversions, and a field goal. We still have 29 minutes to play. So if we score two touchdowns this quarter..."
Robby, Greg, and Carol were all staring at me -- incredulous.
With three minutes to go in the game, and the Jets behind 49-9, even I could see what was happening, and I couldn't take it anymore. I actually had to leave the bar and start walking back to the hotel. I was finally as miserable about my Jets as Robby had been about his Dolphins.
I suppose you could say I might have been better off if I had at least cushioned myself for the possibility of defeat, the way Robby had, and the way most normal people do. But that's not the way I Iook at it. The way I look at it is that Robby was miserable before his game, during his game, and after his game. I was happy the whole day -- until it became mathematically impossible for the Jets to win.
This Sunday, the Jets play the New Orleans Saints. The Jets are 4-4. The Saints are 6-1, with lots of experts picking them to go to the Super Bowl. But the game is in Met Life Stadium. And the Jets always bounce back after a bad loss. And I feel Geno, our quarterback, is due for a big game...
Hank Herman is a Westport writer, and "The Home Team" appears every other Friday. Hank's adventures can be followed on his blog "Beagle Man" on the Westport News website -- http://blog.ctnews.com/beagleman/. Hank can be followed on Twitter @BeagleManHank and reached by email at DoubleH50@gmail.com.