At this period of Jewish High Holy Days, others celebrate high holy days of a different sort. Fall abounds with worshippers. It’s football season.
Football mostly strikes me as a lot of overstuffed macho dudes thrashing about, trying to hurt each other in unfathomable maneuvers, all for the sake of a ridiculously shaped ball. But David Sommerfeld Jr. gave me a new perspective.
When he graduated from college, David’s mom Anne suggested he and his father get Detroit Lions season tickets as “a way to bond.” It worked. Almost 30 years later, David and his dad (also Dave) still spend 8 Sundays a year at Lions home games. When the 2 seats next to theirs became available, they grabbed them.
Aha, I thought. A bonding thing. I’m all about bonding.
Backstory. When David was a toddler, his mom dressed him in t-shirts and pajamas with a Denver Broncos logo. The Broncos logo at the time was an old fashioned D with a horse’s head in it. David liked horses. Voila. On Sundays in the 70s, the family visited David’s Dad’s parents. David’s grandfather, Henry, had one black and white TV, usually tuned to Star Trek. David wasn’t a Trekkie. When the show was over, David changed the channel to a football game, usually the Broncos.
David grew up in Troy, MI, and belonged to the Holy Name Catholic parish in Birmingham, MI. He worked at restaurants as a bus boy, then dishwasher, then cook. He delivered newspapers on his bike. One summer—“the greatest of my life”—he worked a concession stand at Pine Knob outdoor theater, then stuck around to hear, for free, Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, the Monkees, etc. He attended Birmingham Brother Rice H.S. All along, he loved TV and hoped to someday, somehow make a career of it. In high school, he attended a summer youth camp in TV production. In college, he served an unpaid internship for a sports division at WDIV in Detroit.
When it came time to choose a career, elders cautioned against TV. Too uncertain, they said. So David was sensible. He went to work as a manager for Bill Knapps, a popular family restaurant in Bloomfield Hills, MI. He worked there, and enjoyed it, for 4 years. But the thought of a TV career still nagged at him.
He made up his mind. He enrolled in a TV academic program at Detroit’s Wayne State University. He supported himself bartending at night. 1½ years later, he graduated.
His mom happened to (love that phrase) read in the Birmingham Eccentric that something called Bloomfield Community TV was holding an open house. Though he’d never heard of it, he attended. He met a producer who suggested he volunteer for BCTV. He did. Before long the producer retired. David applied for the job. He was hired on April 1, 1996.
“I love what I do. It’s different every day. I learn so much about different cultures from our guests,” he says. He’s been with BCTV for 21 years. He turned down an offer to work for a network and “never regretted it.”
One of his favorite programs was “Dining Out” with Jonathan Swift in the early 2000’s. “It was ‘Diners, Drive-ins and Dives’ before that show existed.” The host also worked for Madonna College setting up their international studies abroad program.
Travel perks are part of David’s job. Entrepreneur/philanthropist Murray Wikol of Bloomfield Hills restored a chateau in Pontlevoy, in the Loire Valley of France. It became the Eur-Am Center, which fosters cultural, academic and economic exchanges. The chateau is home base for Madonna College’s Study Abroad program. David filmed a documentary about it, leading to several shows for BCTV and to 2 more gigs in France including a fancy charity dinner.
Throughout, David’s remained an avid Broncos fan.
He even had a Labrador Retriever named Bronco. David’s nickname was Denver Dave, shortened for email purposes to DenDave. In 2006, when the Super Bowl was in Detroit, the Broncos had a shot at it. David wanted company cheering. Online, he found a Broncos fans website and reached out to fans from around the Midwest. Though the Broncos didn’t make it to the D that year, the fans remain friends. Every year they pick a Broncos game in the area and go together. David’s been attending Broncos games for over 30 years. The only year he missed was 2001. Denver was playing at Indianapolis. The game was postponed. It was 9.11.
I met David recently at the studios of BCTV. Psychologist Linda Sircus hosts an insightful program, “Managing Problems of Daily Living.” I was a guest on her show, talking about my book, GodSigns, and about the emotional side of facing cancer. (12 years and 2 months now, but who’s counting???) David was the producer.
David and wife Lisa have a son, Henry, 5. I asked if his football zeal had carried over to the next generation. David’s face fell. He’d taken Henry to a Lions game the year before. “All he wanted to do was play on my phone and run up and down the aisles.”
I made a suggestion. Burton and I took our sons to Tigers games when they were boys. Burton, David and Andy made bets on every pitch. A walk or a strike? Would the ball go into the infield or outfield? The boys loved it. I suggested David make up a game for Henry.
When I next saw David, he grinned and said, “A guest on a show made a great suggestion.” He’d gone online and found a game called Football Bingo. Henry distributed the cards. Each square represented a different possibility. If you saw a lady wearing red, you got a square. If the popcorn man came by. If a play was a pass or a punt. And so on. At a recent Detroit Lions game, Henry paid rapt attention and won the first line. In short, he’s become a fan.
(Maternal confession. I was an ardent, though fairly clueless, football fan for a brief period. Andy was co-captain of the Cranbrook football team in Bloomfield Hills. I attended every game with a loud bell which I clanged at any opportunity, deafening and annoying parents of the opposition. But, I was sure, bolstering team morale.)
Thanks, DenDave, for reminding readers of the bonding potential of pro sports. The Broncos share the record for the most Super Bowl appearances along with the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers (yes, I did google this). The Detroit Lions are noticeably absent. But as long as you keep attending with your dad and your son, you’re all winners.