A Super Bowl toast raised in memory
An annual game-day tradition continues, just the way a late friend would want it
"Crime musta just gone down in the city!"
That's how he'd greet you sometimes when he answered the door on Super Bowl Sundays.
Or he'd hit you with, "Damn, when'd they let you out?" The prison-release greeting always caused Def Comedy-type laughter. Or this classic from last year: "I sang the State Farm agent song. How'd your unemployed [butt] pop up here?"
Sometimes, he'd ask people at the door who they were rooting for. If they answered with the team he didn't want to win, he wouldn't let them in.
For the last 20-some-odd years (no one officially kept count), my god-brother Andre Curry hosted the annual Super Bowl party that was our crew's one-day football holiday -- the day we looked forward to like our kids looked forward to the sun coming up on Dec. 25.
His Super Bowl parties were our Christmas, complete with laughter, liquor, the game on in two different rooms, and a 'hood-famous secret-recipe homemade goulash that was always gone by the end of the first quarter.
Sunday was another one of those legendary affairs. But this time, for the first time, Big Dre wasn't there. He unexpectedly passed away in May. Congestive heart failure. SB XLV was our first Super Bowl without him.
But in his honor, the party went on.
For just about everyone in our collective, it was one of those "looking forward to/not looking forward to" kind of occasions. As much as each of us was into seeing the Packers and the Steelers battle, we all knew that the game would probably take a backseat to the one person who wasn't there.
Dre, a high school football coach, was our football guy; the football guy in the clique. He lived for these Sundays.
Which is why he chose every year to play host for the last game of the NFL season. Now that he's gone, Dre's cousin, Mickey Pruitt, inherited the tradition, one that every member of our crew knew had to be kept alive.
Mickey is a former NFL player, former champion with the Dallas Cowboys. (All in good fun, he brought out the replica SB trophy he got as a member of the Cowboys to remind us.) This party might have meant as much to him as SB XXVII, the one in which he played.
As Sunday's game went on, Dre's absence became more obvious, his presence more missed. Although his words, his jokes and even his obnoxious ability to be right about 90 percent of our meaningful historical Super Bowl stats questions weren't there, everything else remained the same. Raul -- we call him "Ru" -- still placed bets on everything imaginable, including yards gained on second downs. Maurice ("Mo") still argued loud enough to make everyone think the next people to ring the doorbell would be the cops.
And Andre's 17-year old son Brandon -- who was always a part of our Super Bowl activities even when he was too young to watch the game with us -- helped keep the tradition intact by making his father's goulash for the first time in his life.
Like father, like half-grown son.
At halftime, a ceremonial toast. Shots chased by extra shots. Dre would have expected nothing less. I was prepared for a sad Super Bowl, but it turned into one of joy. For all of us. This collection of friends, who grew up together or grew on one another and used football as an excuse to get together and act the fools for one day a year, has turned into something much, much more.
Now the party is liturgical. From an annual affair to a ritual. One that the man who put us all together in the first place would be proud of if he were still with us.
"He still is," my man Luke assured me as we watched that championship belt get draped across Aaron Rogers' shoulder. Big Dre still was.
For Father's Day last year, we all had black rubber wrist bracelets made in Andre's honor. On them, along with his name ("Dre") and dates ("1962-2010") are the three words that best tell the story of his life: "Live. Love. Laugh."
Which is what we all did during this first Super Bowl without him. Again, he would have expected nothing less.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.