The first half-week ended with a bang: a last-second victory with Mt. Etna, which is currently erupting, in the distance.
The introduction to living the Italian lifestyle led me two directions. The first, was exploring my new home, but I’ll get to that later.
The second, was fulfilling my appetite. As I took my first tour of the historic center, it was storybook: three- and four-story old buildings side-by-side, complete with flower boxes, drying clothes, and open windows. But, more importantly, the ground level consisted of cafe after cafe, restaurant after restaurant, and bar after bar. It’s important to note that “bar” in America leads to thoughts of wings, beer, and sports. On the contrary, “bar” to an Italian means simple sandwiches, coffee and espressos, and some time spent with a newspaper. I usually pass on the “bars.”
The cafes, on the other hand, are hot spots for an afternoon snack. Small sandwiches and single pieces of pizza are top choices. The sandwiches, around Parma, are mostly a variation on Prosciutto ham and a white cheese (Gorgonzola, Mozzarella, Parmesan [parmigiana]). The region of Emilia-Romagna, where Parma is located, is world renown for three things: Lambrusco wine, prosciutto ham, and Parmesan cheese. Hence, there’s a pride taken when creating a sandwich involving two out of the three. It’s actually a bit rare to find any other ingredients on your panino. A soft, buttery bread grilled together with the prosciutto and Parmesan is on a shelf in every cafe in the city.
The restaurants are not nearly as limited. Long menus suggest antipasti (appetizers), primi piatti (first plates - pasta), secondi piatti (second plates — meat or fish), and, of course, around twenty variations of pizza. A traditional Italian dinner involves an appetizer, first and second plate, and “something sweet” to conclude the meal. The appetizer is often a plate of light prosciutto with some cheese to be eaten with small pieces of bread. Americanized: ham and cheese on a Ritz cracker. Many of the pasta dishes I’ve found to resemble that of Caffe Capri’s selection in taste and appearance. However, sorry Mr. Quaranto, I love the fettuccine alfredo, but alfredo sauce can’t be found. I heard a story about its potential origins, but the people around here seem to think it’s an American twist. The second plate of meat or fish is simply that: a piece of grilled meat or fish; nothing too flashy. Finally, “something sweet” ranges from an espresso, to lemon-flavored liqueur called “limoncino,” or a bowl of strawberries topped with gelato. The latter is a personal favorite. Two hours later, the meal is over, but the conversation continues for at least another 30 minutes just outside the front door.
Oh yeah, I’m also playing football while I’m here. The second week, and my first in Parma, was against the Hohenems Blue Devils of Austria. They were reported to be a much bigger, stronger, younger team. I stress “younger” as our team is comprised mainly of men over the age of 30, including our 48-year-old tight end: Massimo. This was the semifinal game in the “EFAF Cup:” a European tournament we entered without much expectation for success. Upon arrival, the game appeared to be a watered-down version of David and Goliath. These Austrians looked to have just been unhooked from a steady I.V. drip of steroids. Nonetheless, we kicked off around 2:30 p.m. They scored with a sense of ease on the first drive. We answered, and quickly. A drive that began with a double-pass from myself to WR Corey Mazza then downfield to “Fanta” ended with a field goal. We stuffed them on the ensuing drive, marched downfield, then on a third down from about the 15 yard line, Mazza caught his first touchdown of the day. The game slowed as we returned punts throughout the rest of the first and most of the second quarter. As we were driving late in the second, our right tackle produced one of the finest “look out” blocks ever recorded. Their defensive end, from Middle Tennessee State, took advantage of a free shot on the QB. Now, imagine the cartoons where the QB leaves the mangled imprint in the ground: that was me. I picked myself up, held for the field goal, and trotted off the field. Needless to say, I checked that side the rest of the game. The Blue Devils put together a late drive and the half ended 15-13 in their favor.
The third quarter was much like the majority of the first half: trading punts without any points being put up. Finally, at the start of the fourth our drive ended as Mazza caught his second touchdown pass of the day. to make it 20-15. A quick stop, another touchdown for our star from Harvard, and the Panthers were on top 27-15. David was starting to get the best of Goliath. With about six minutes left in the game, the Blue Devils rallied for a quick score, stuffed our running back on 4th and 1, then scored again with only 1:32 remaining in the game. 29-27, Hohenems on top. We received the ball and after a short return were left again with 70 yards to score. Recall Week One’s story. An easy completion to the left and to the right took us out of bounds around midfield. Two dropped balls and a 10-yard loss on a sack and we were again stuck with fourth and 20 and using our last timeout. As I rolled to my right, last week’s hero, Marco Tunnera, broke out no more than 21 yards down field. I let the ball fly and controversy took over.
The ball may or may not have skipped in to our sliding receiver. I’ll never say.
However, in true Italian fashion, the referee awarded the catch and a shimmer of life remained in our quest for the European Cup. Another short pass and a 20-yard scramble left the Panthers on the 20 yard line with less than 20 seconds remaining. Our goal was to keep chipping away and kick the field goal. I had no interest in such thoughts. We called for out routes on both sides with our inside receivers pushing vertical. To my left was Corey Mazza and an Italian receiver we have affectionately nicknamed “Long” as he is 6-foot-4 and no thicker than a pipe-cleaner. Mazza was quickly double-covered.
Meanwhile, Long bent his route around the linebacker and just in front of the safety. As the ball hit his chest, the safety hit his back. Ball in hands, he twisted to the ground, literally on the goal line. Touchdown Panthers! And with only 10 seconds left on the clock. Despite the time remaining, the Panthers flooded the field and the referees let it slide. We missed the extra point and went on to win 33-29. After only a week and a half, I had thrown two of the most dramatic touchdown passes of my career. Our President was so ecstatic, he offered free beer to everyone until the kegs ran dry. The Italians overwhelming accepted the challenge. Several weeks down the road, we would be off to Berlin, Germany to play in the Championship. How could it get any sweeter?