Marietta summoned Donna and Jo-Jo to help with the kitchen cleanup. They never refused. Football Saturdays were always Frank’s days, and they were happy to be a part of it by helping to get the kitchen back in shape for their mother.
While Rocky finally had a chance to read the sports page, Frank sat by him at the kitchen table to finish his orange juice.
Jo-Jo seemed to have more nervous energy than usual as he washed the dishes. Then he burst out, “Listen, Frankie, when we played the Nutley Midgets in that All-Star game a couple of weeks ago, the Oval was soaked. It was terrible up the middle. It’ll be tough for Gino between the tackles today. Pal, it’s your day today. Bounce to the outside quick and hug the sidelines. It’ll be drier. Today, you end up big, Frankie.”
Donna completed her Saturday game day chores by placing her big brother’s gym bag next to the stairs leading out the backyard door. Marietta had folded Frank’s infrequently used black leather motorcycle jacket over one of the chairs.
It was time to leave for Clearman Field where the Bellboys dressed for their games. First Frank hugged Donna, and then his mother.
“I’ll be praying for you,” murmured Marietta.
Jo-Jo proudly received a kiss on his head from Frank.
Everyone now turned to Rocky. They were waiting for his perspective, knowing that he would share advice that would be salted with experiences from the streets of Newark, New Jersey to the sands of Iwo Jima. On this final Saturday game day for Frank, his father did not disappoint: “Frankie and Gino are gonna make history today,” said Rocky. “It’ll be Frankie’s greatest moment ever. Just play each play likes it’s your last, Daddy. Enjoy every moment. Don’t think of yourself. Forget the other games. Forget college. Just focus on each play. Remember, ‘Bonaducci’ means ‘good leader’ in the Italian. Be a leader today by doin’ everything you can to help your teammates. You’re not on Eniwetok in the South Pacific. No injury should take you off the field of battle. You’re playin’ the great American game of football, not fightin’ hand-to-hand combat. This game will get you the best education in the world. Your grandfather will be in the stands. Uncle Pete will be in the end zone with his friends. Mommy and Daddy will be there, Aunt Bella, Aunt Pinky, Uncle Jimmy Quinn, Uncle Caesar, and all the rest of your aunts, uncles, and cousins. Daddy, don’t let one guy take you down. Keep your knees high. Stay up. Don’t go down. Block for Gino and don’t let anybody get behind you on defense. Have no regrets at the end of the game. Leave it all on the field, Daddy.”
Frank hung on every word. Rocky was addressing him as “Daddy”.
Little did Rocky realize how accurate his first comment was on making “history”. From that day, Frank Bonaducci and Gino Babula would be linked inextricably forever, whenever Belleville and Nutley football would be discussed. Those who cherished the value of the cross-town rivalry would never forget this early December game in 1958, and Frank’s name in particular would be immortalized and caste in bronze. In future years the uninformed would comment, “But it was only a high school football game.” They would fail to comprehend that in some families, a high school football game is all they have.
Rocky shook Frank’s hand. Uncle Pete’s pre-game meal was now officially over. It was time to go.