On the wee coffee tables flanking the comfy armchairs in his den, Vinny Fitzpatrick carefully placed his cheese board selections.
The cheeses acknowledged the Green Bay Packers’ deep-rooted dairy heritage, and Vinny had sourced a couple of Wisconsin’s finest, a tangy blue and a nutty brick, from the deli on Vernon Avenue.
For an accompaniment, he had two packets of Jacob’s cream crackers, a jar of onion relish, and the last slab of stout from Christmas.
“Fail to prepare, prepare to fail, as Royzer would say,” grinned Vinny, as he opened his first can and delivered a practised pour.
It was Sunday night in Clontarf and Vinny was in ‘Cheesehead’ mode, right down to the replica Packers jersey he had somehow squeezed into – “for the first quarter anyway”.
His love of the Packers dated back to the late Vince Lombardi, the club's legendary coach of the 60s, who rattled off one-liners like Groucho Marx.
For all that Lombardi had more lip than Muhammad Ali, it had been the Packers' ensemble which caught Vinny's eye in Sports Illustrated as a chubby kid.
The green, white and gold colours were as close to the Irish tricolour as made no difference to Vinny, who hooked his American Football trailer to the wanderly wagon of Wisconsin.
Mostly, Vinny experienced winters of discontent but there had been Super Bowl glory years of 1996 and 2010, and now the Packers, unfancied outside of Green Bay, had advanced to the playoffs as a wild card.
and his magic arm calling the shots, Vinny felt they had a squeak of going all the way.
If they did, he’d be €660 richer, having had a score last September on the Packers at 33/1. “That would reduce the Leopardstown swelling,” he thought.
Just then, Vinny’s phone beeped with a text. His caller had arrived. Quietly, so as not to waken the twins or Angie, Vinny tip-toed downstairs and opened the hall door.
There, he was greeted by a tall figure in Indian garb, complete with a fine feather headdress. “How,” quipped the visitor, holding up the palm of his hand in friendship.
It was The Reverend whose passion for a punt was matched by his unyielding support of the Washington Redskins, for he had spent a cluster of summers working in ‘DC’ in the 80s when the Redskins ruled the NFL Wild West.
“C’mon up, Rev,” said Vinny, ushering his betting buddy upstairs.
A few minutes later, as the teams lined up for the kick-off, drinks were to hand and bets were in place, an even nifty-fifty on the outcome and €20 on the total number of points scored – Vinny went for 50 or more, The Reverend for 49 or less.
There was also the matter of ‘The Great Stomach Turn Off,’ which had been cooked up over a pint in Foley’s the night before.
If the Redskins scored a touchdown, Vinny would eat something green, as chosen by The Reverend; if the Packers got over the end line, the padre would chomp on some of Vinny’s red-skinned chow.
There were no boundaries on the victuals; they just had to be edible and harmless.
When the Redskins struck early, The Reverend reached into a brown paper bag and produced a sprout.
“The last of the Cheeky Charlies from Christmas,” he grinned. “Boiled earlier to within an inch of its life.”
With a grimace, for he hated sprouts, Vinny managed to chomp down on the cabbage-like marble, whose taste he drowned out with an accompanying can.
“Yuch,”’ he grimaced.
Thankfully for Vinny, the Packers hit back. After their first touchdown, he served a portion of crispy skins from two rooster spuds baked earlier. “These are yummy,” said The Reverend.
When the Packers scored again, it was a slice of red onion from Vinny’s kitchen for The Reverend. “Not so yummy,” he muttered.
At 17-11, the Packers were in front but the Redskins hit back with their second touchdown, after which The Reverend flaunted a wee plastic tub. “Get a whiff of this,” he said, opening the lid.
The aroma was overpowering and reminded Vinny of the niff from his feet after a day’s golf in high summer.
“Stilton, the king of cheeses. This one’s all green and yellow too, if a little overripe,” grinned The Reverend.
Undeterred, Vinny dipped a finger into the Stilton and sucked on it fondly.
“Magic,” he said. “Worth falling behind for too.”
Thereafter, the traffic was all one-way as the Packers tacked on two more touchdowns to pull clear. In turn, The Reverend was given a slice of watermelon and a handful of strawberries.
“I thought about a red-hot chilli pepper but couldn’t do that to you, Rev,” said Vinny. “Anyway, I won both bets so that’s seventy nicker you’re down.”
As they finished off a final can apiece, The Reverend acknowledged the influence of quarterback Rodgers.
“He’s a heck of a player, one of the best, but he’ll have his work cut out against ‘Major Tom’ if the Packers meet the Patriots in the Super Bowl,” said The Rev.
Both men nodded in agreement for they held Tom Brady in the highest esteem.
“To Major Tom,” they said before calling it quits.
As Vinny waved his friend off home at the door, he was struck by the clear night sky.
Above, to the north, The Plough was tilted on its handle, to the south-east the belt of Orion twinkled brightly.
“The stars look very different today,” he thought.