When we recently attended Hospice du Rhône in Paso Robles a very long tradition for me was broken. Also occurring that weekend was the NFL draft. Stretching back to the sometime in the early-to-mid 80’s I have been a faithful draft follower. As an avid Detroit Lions fan, it has often been the highlight of the season for me. The first time I remember watching it was with my good friend Ronnie Schultz in some dive bar on Detroit Avenue. Ron was a die-hard Oakland Raiders fan and had a lot more hope for his team back in those days than I did. I was mainly there because I enjoyed his company and beer was involved. But a funny thing happened, I became hooked on watching the draft.
Over time the low-key event Ronnie and I had soddenly watched on a fledgling cable channel called ESPN has evolved into a huge event that is discussed for months prior by everyone from the nearly always comically wrong Mel Kiper, Jr. to your average soccer mom. But long before there were mock drafts and entire off-seasons devoted to speculation leading up to it, I would be glued to the TV to see who my Lions would pick as well as where my favorite college players would end up.
When my boys were old enough, and being from Ohio that was at about age 3, they started watching it with me. We rarely ever missed a single pick. Draft weekend was sacred. Being that it is held the same week that Amy decided to be born has sometimes led to some scheduling conflict, as you might imagine. However, she knew that she was joining a family that didn’t just have football in its blood, it had it in the core of its DNA, and she has been understanding. Until this year when we were invited to go to Paso Robles. Hospice du Rhône and her birthday combined was too much for me and my butt was pried from the couch on draft weekend.
In an era of smartphones and instant messaging it was still possible to keep track of the draft and discuss the picks with my kids. But with me in California, Alex in Ohio, and Jake in Texas, things just weren’t the same. That’s not to say that I would rather have stayed at home, but there was a twinge of regret that such a long streak came to an end. Just like the NFL draft, things change and evolve over time.
One thing that the draft always provides me is hope that the Lions will be much improved. That hasn’t actually happened much in many years, but my team shows real signs that they will soon be a force to be reckoned with in the NFL. It has been a very long time since they have been. Not since Barry Sanders hung up his cleats has their been this much real hope for the Lions.
The draft also reminds me of the last time that Detroit was a real contender. In 1991 the Lions were 12-4, had crushed Dallas in a game that ended the reigning Super Bowl champs’ hopes of getting back to the big game. The 38-6 ass whupping laid on the Cowboys was capped with an electrifying 47-yard run by Barry Sanders, and Lions fans were one game removed from playing in their first Super Bowl. There was only one problem, their opponent in the NFC championship game was one of the most dominant teams that the NFL has ever seen. The 1991 Washington Redskins had already beaten Detroit 45-0 in week 1, and had only lost 2 games all season. They destroyed my Lions that day, 41-10, before advancing to trounce the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl.
That, so far, was the pinnacle of my time as a Lions fan. We never have reached those heights again. That game also had 3 coincidental connections to my future draft days. The first in that the middle linebacker from that team wasn’t content to just deny the Lions a chance at a Super Bowl, he wasn’t satisfied until he turned them into a national joke. His name? Matt ****ing Millen, hands down the worst general manager ever in the history of all sports, a man who single-handedly took a playoff-contending team and led them to the only 0-16 season ever played in the NFL.
The second coincidence was that one of the starting cornerbacks on that Redskins team was Martin Mayhew, the man who has been cleaning up Matt ****ing Millen’s mess in recent years and is very much responsible for Lions fans having so much hope for our team’s future. Mr. Mayhew has been credited with overseeing what is widely considered the best draft of all 32 NFL teams this year.
That is a lot of football talk on a wine blog, but it goes a long way towards explaining why I was in such a good mood all weekend at Hospice du Rhône, despite not spending the time as I had for so many previous years. That good mood carried over as we drove out of Paso Robles after the festivities heading back to San Francisco. We were with our friends and fellow wine bloggers, Thea and Jason, who had scheduled some winery visits on the way back. Our first stop of the day was at Terry Hoage Vineyards.
It was an absolutely perfect day. The sky was a stunning blue broken only by some brilliant white clouds as we pulled into the vineyard. I kept trying to remember why the name Terry Hoage Vineyards sounded so familiar. I couldn’t recall having ever sampled any of their wines, so I figured that I had probably heard them discussed over the weekend in Paso.
We got out of the car and as we stretched and admired the beauty of the view available from the winery parking lot a tall, slightly familiar looking gentleman walked up and introduced himself as Terry. Terry talked a little about his vineyard and then his wife Jennifer joined us before inviting us inside to taste their wine. I have to say that we tasted some spectacular wines at Hospice du Rhône, but what we had at Terry Hoage Vineyards still stood out. More on them in Amy’s review and tastings notes in a future post.
As we stood around tasting and talking, Jennifer noticed me staring at some photos on the wall of Terry wearing a University of Georgia football uniform. She said there were more football photos of Terry in the next room and that I was welcome to go take a look. I started to realize why I knew the name Terry Hoage. Huge star at Georgia. Received the 5th most votes for the Heisman trophy in 1983. Two time SEC defensive player of the year, and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. Remember earlier when I said that there were three coincidences tying that NFC championship game to draft day for me? Guess what uniform Terry was wearing the photos in the other room? That’s right, he was a Washington Redskin.
Just to make sure, I asked him if they had they beaten the Detroit Lions in the NFC championship game the year he had played in the Super Bowl. When he confirmed that they had, I let him know that I will probably forgive him someday but that it was still way too soon. Despite that, he still allowed me to taste more of his fantastic wine and even autographed a hat for us. That hat is now proudly displayed on one of the shelves that contain all of our sports memorabilia. As you can see from the photo, it shares a spot with Redwing hockey pucks and not with any Lions stuff.
Like I said, it’s still way too soon for that.