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  • Writer's pictureThe Hammonton Gazette

Looking back on four decades of friendship, and beyond

There are a group of friends of mine, the majority of whom I have known since our days in elementary school in the 1970s and 1980s, then into middle school and high school. The friendships have stayed intact through many changes—going off to college or into the workforce, careers, marriages, children, divorces, and deaths in the family.

There have been a lot of shared experiences and memories along the way. We’ve joined together for parties, dinners, weddings, funerals and events. The background music of the last 40-plus years has been a ton of history, in-jokes, hit songs, TV shows, movies and the references that we all make to each other that we all get immediately.

I cannot tell you how much comfort that much mutual experience with so many friends brings with it.

The main tent pole of that common ground for most of my group of friends has been a fantasy football league—the FFL for short—that grew out of a group of guys who (ironically enough) played basketball in middle school for the Bulldogs and freshman year for Hammonton High School in the late 1980s.

This year, the vast majority of the guys in the league are turning 50.

In other words, the FFL is about to meet the AARP.

That core group and some others gathered at my parents’ house on Sunday afternoons to watch the Philadelphia Eagles play football on TV, play football in what was then an empty lot across the street during halftime as well as after the game and play video games on our Sega Genesis game console.

I was thinking about it this week because December 31 marked 34 years since the Fog Bowl, where the Eagles lost in the divisional playoffs to the Bears. We couldn’t even watch the game on television due to the fog in Chicago. By then we had already begun talking about starting a fantasy football league. In August of 1989, we held our first draft. The core group of guys in the league—eight of us—have remained in the FFL ever since. The other guys who came later have also stayed on for many years.

A lot of new memories have been made, built on top of the solid foundation of the ones that already kept us connected. It’s been an amazing mix of nostalgia and right now.

I’ve won the league—we call our championship the Madden Bowl, after the late, great coach and broadcaster John Madden—exactly once. And yet, I wouldn’t even think of not playing every year. Our trophy is named for the man who made football Sundays so much fun when he watched the Eagles with us each week when we were kids: the Frank G. Donio trophy. Dad would have loved it.

It’s been a blessing to have lifelong friends who reach back to elementary school days and college days (one of whom I’ll be seeing this week, another one of whom reminded me of a Boston University hockey game this past weekend) who aren’t part of the FFL. Together with the FFL friends, spending time with them feels like being part of a championship team, every year.

This past weekend, I was watching some of a marathon of “The West Wing” on HLN that was on television. One of the episodes featured a quote delivered by Richard Schiff who played Toby Zeigler on the show.

“We’re a team … We win together, we lose together. We celebrate and we mourn together.

And defeats are softened and victories sweeter because we did them together … You’re my guys and I’m yours … and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you,” he said.

That sounds exactly like the team of friends I’ve been on the last four decades or so.

Gabriel J. Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.


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