Sunday, February 05, 2006

Super Bowl Sundays

Super Bowl Sundays are never really about football for me. They always remind me of Alaska.

Super Bowl Sunday always reminds me of the evening before the start of a murder case I tried more than a fifteen years ago. It reminds of being in an airport in late January, waiting for a small "puddle-jumper" plane to take me to an extreme, remote location, in the middle of a deep, freezing winter, to defend a man charged with the grandaddy of all crimes--a man caught with a smoking gun in his hands, a man with his life in my hands.

For a trial lawyer, the night before a trial always presents an opportunity to "take stock" of things. The pressure is on and at full-tilt. Although one has a fair idea of what might happen, trials are ultimately about people, and people have a way of saying things and doing things in trial that cannot be predicted, or scripted. I suspect the pressure of trial lawyering is not unlike the pressure the director of a play feels before opening night, with the minor exception that if the play flops, nobody's life has been ruined.

Super Bowl Sunday always reminds of that night I sat in that airport, waiting for that choppy little plane flight into the heart of Alaska, my heart racing so hard that it hurt, my fear so palpable I could just about taste it. And it reminds me of the temptation I resisted to skip that plane flight. I clearly remember playing out a scenario about calling the judge in the morning and to tell him my car broke down on the way to the airport, or that I would need another month or two to get my schedule in order for a new trial date, etc. Who knows, I remember thinking, it might just lead to a plea agreement in favor my client. What good is a copout without a dose of rationalization, right?

I remember looking around at the people in the airport watching The Big Game, seemingly carefree, drinking beers, smoking and joking. My "stolen homework" fantasy continued to fester. Then my flight was called.

There are times in every person's life--if they have lived a life worth thinking about--when a temptation resisted or a challenge met helps define that life. When the flight was called, I must honestly admit that I hesitated just a moment, but not all that long. I grabbed my client's file and went to the gate.

My steps up the stairs of the airplane that night felt like the steps of a man.

[Other posts related to this trial can be found here and here.]