What’s in a (Middle) Name?

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Bart Starr passed away a few weeks ago. If you don’t know him, he was the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers during their glorious Vince Lombardi years when the Packers won the championship five out of seven years, including the first two Super Bowls. He was old time football. Perhaps not brilliant like Johnny Unitas, or as glamorous as Y.A. Tittle, or as athletic as Otto Graham, Bart Starr was workmanlike and effective. He was like the IBM of quarterbacks when IBM was the kind of company “no one would ever get fired for choosing.”

What you might not know about him is Bart Starr is the reason why I have the middle name I have.

Truth be told, Starr’s era had peaked by the time I understood there was a football league beyond the American Football League. The first AFL/NFL Championship I remember was Super Bowl III pitting the dominant Baltimore Colts against the upstart New York Jets.

Earl Morrall had to stand in for the injured Colts’ starter Unitas, but the team was still heavy favorites. Bart Starr and the Green Bay Packers had so convincingly beat the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders in the first two Super Bowls that no one in their right mind would have picked the Jets to win.

Joe Namath, the young sensational quarterback of the Jets likely wasn’t in his right mind when he guaranteed victory over the Colts. My brother Kenny and I, barely more than a handful of years old, were clearly too young to be in the right mind as we told everyone huddled around my grandparents’ black-and-white TV that we expected the Jets to win.

We were (obviously) Buffalo Bills fans. The Buffalo Bills were in the American Football League. The New York Jets were in the American Football League. Ergo, Kenny and I naturally cheered for the Jets. We also sincerely expected them to win. We couldn’t understand why all the adults in the room didn’t take us seriously.

Incidentally, the Jets only had three losses that year. Their first loss was against the Buffalo Bills. I remember listening to that game with my father and brother on the radio. (It was a home game so it was blacked out on local TV.) The Jets’ last loss was the infamous “Heidi Bowl” game against the Oakland Raiders. My brother and I were watching the game on TV with our father when the network switched to Heidi.

For some reason this excited my mother, who oddly assumed her young boys would prefer watching Heidi to watching football. We never liked Heidi, but we watched it obediently to please our mother.

Later that year I entered third grade. This was in a new elementary school building farther away. It opened a whole new world of friends to me. One of those new friends – Tommy – lived next to the school. While visiting him one day in fifth grade, he took me to the candy store up the street. I had some change from my hard-earned allowance. The thing I did next would significantly change my life (and my brother’s, too).

My friend convinced me to not spend all my money on candy. Instead, he encouraged me to buy football cards. Thus began a lifelong hobby, brief side business, and, ultimately, the source of my middle name.

Unlike my brother (“Kenneth Patrick Carosa”), my parents didn’t give me a middle name. I like to tell people it was because we were so poor we couldn’t afford one. In reality, my mother thought “Christopher” was very long, She felt it would be a burden for me to write my name if I had a middle name.

My second-grade teacher agreed. She once gave us an assignment to write our full name. She said I was lucky not to have a middle name because I could barely fit “Christopher Carosa” in the space provided. She also said, while everyone else had to practice writing their name ten times, I only had to do it seven times “because Christopher has a lot of letters.”

Several years later, as I was building that first set of football cards, I carefully marked off the checklist for each card I had. At the top of one column was a box indicating “#30 Bart Starr.” I had filled in all the boxes except for that one. I needed that one card to complete my set. Unfortunately, the store had run out of football cards.

That’s when my friend Chuck told me he had one. He was a cool kid and I had known him for a while. I asked him if he’d be interested in trading the card to me. He said he didn’t like football cards anymore, but he had been eying that “Peace” symbol I had been carrying around.

Now, I regularly roamed the Erie County Fairgrounds every August as my grandparents had a pizza stand there (my uncle still runs it). Kenny and I would tag along behind our parents as they looked at all the fine wares displayed throughout the annual event.

While they were looking, Kenny and I were grabbing all the free stuff. One stack of free things included stickers of the Mercedes Benz logo courtesy of a local car dealer. We grabbed a handful of them. They looked cool. They looked like peace symbols.

Our father laughed when we told him we just got some free peace symbol stickers. He told us what it really was. We had no clue what a “Mercedes Benz” meant. To us, the only real cars were Fords or Chevys. And sometimes Dodges, but only if they were a Charger or a Challenger.

The Mercedes Benz logo is a silver steering wheel against a black backdrop. The steering wheel had three radius arms trisecting the circle. Chuck thought it was a peace symbol. But, then again, Chuck was cool.

I readily agreed to the swap. Still, I felt I was taking advantage of him because I was giving him something I had plenty of and he was giving me something I really wanted – the Bart Starr card that would complete my collection.

So I added this bonus: “Chuck, not only am I going to give you this peace symbol, but I’m also going to choose your name as my middle name for my Confirmation.” Chuck laughed. Confirmation was a good three years away. By that time he probably wouldn’t remember and definitely wouldn’t care. He thought it was a nice gesture and a good over-the-top joke.

Well, those years went by. I moved away and never saw Chuck (or any other of those classmates) again.

When I was in eighth grade, roughly three years later, it was time for my Confirmation. As promised, I selected the name “Charles” to be my confirmation name.

Chuck never knew I remained true to my word.

But I did.

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