The Year of the Asterisk*

Terryl Rushing

Article by Terryl Rushing Featured Author


Pity the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Theirs is the only unbeaten season in the history of the National Football League. But in any list of noteworthy football accomplishments, some football geek will insist on an asterisk after the Dolphins’ name there. Why? In 1972, the NFL only played fourteen regular season games. Granted, the Dolphins won them all, as well as two post-season games and the Super Bowl, but that’s only seventeen games. Going down the list, you get to the 2007 New England Patriots, who went through eighteen games without a loss. But they get an asterisk, too, since they lost the Super Bowl. (And then there is the strike year, see The Replacements.)

Merriam-Webster defines the asterisk as “the character * thought of as being appended to something (such as an athletic accomplishment included in a record book) typically in order to indicate that there is a limiting fact or consideration which makes that thing less important or impressive than it would otherwise be.” An asterisk, therefore, means that there is something unusual about the circumstances surrounding a statement of fact that should be taken into consideration in assessing its merit. Kind of a “yeah, that’d be impressive, except…”

The Olympics have not gone asterisk-free. In 1980, the United States and several of its allies boycotted the Olympics, allegedly because the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Actually, it was because we just don’t like them. In 1984, the Soviet Union and several other communist countries boycotted the Olympics, because they don’t like us, either. What that means, I’m afraid, is that any swimming medal awarded in 1980 and any figure skating medal awarded in 1984 is suspect and deserving of an asterisk.

In the same vein, anything that happened in 2020 deserves an asterisk. Sports, of course, took a big hit. This will forever be the season that started late and was truncated early. Teams played with skeleton crews, without their fans, and, occasionally, without their coaches; playoff teams were sequestered and had only cardboard cutouts and soundtracks to spur them on. In my opinion, all coaches should get a pass for this impossible year, but I’m not the athletic director for Auburn or South Carolina. And if they offered me the job, that would justify a HUGE asterisk. Maybe four or five, along with some exclamation points.

But life is not just about sports, even though many SEC fans would disagree. What about school? This is the year of the virtual asterisk. Are the kids learning anything, other than that their Wi-Fi sucks? I saw a cartoon the other day where a kid was trying to hold completely still for thirty minutes, so his teacher would think his screen froze. Shouldn’t all standardized test scores this year come with an asterisk? And what about the kid who brags about having the highest grade in the class? Is he really the smartest kid in class, or did his dad shell out for a mesh router?

What about other annual rituals? Take the Miss America Pageant, for example. “And the winner is… Miss American Samoa!!” “The first runner up is… well, there is no runner up, there are no other contestants. American Samoa was the only American territory with a low enough Covid number to send a candidate.” (They had no cases as of October; I checked. Of course, they’ve also shut down the islands.) Here’s another unrelated but interesting fact, just chunked in here for free: It has been estimated that a male of Samoan descent is anywhere from 40 to 56 times more likely to play for the NFL than a non-Samoan American. But enough about football. I guess.

On the other hand, there are areas that thrive in the pandemic, but also need an asterisk. PPE manufacturers will likely never see this level of sales again, and someone will need to tamp down the stockholders’ expectations. Same with food delivery services and, well, delivery services of any kind. Because of the need to work from home (finally, it pays to be a geezer), office equipment sales must be booming. Have you tried to find a good webcam lately? I’ve tried to position my tablet every way I can devise to get a flattering shot for Zoom, but it’s not working. Maybe I’ve just aged ten years in the last nine months.

And, speaking of appearances, I’d like an asterisk next to any medical examination record from this year that mentions weight. I’m from the “here, hold my earrings” school of weight-taking at the doctor’s office, and the Quarantine Fifteen is no joke. In fact, when you’re five feet tall, the Quarantine Five is noticeable. On the one hand, my schedule has become so wonky that I’m down to one or two meals a day. On the other hand, the entrée is often chips, and the meal can last an hour or two. You may have disciplined yourself not to eat at your desk at the office, but when your desk is the sofa…

To add to the problem, many of us gym regulars have accepted that a face mask and a vigorous workout are antithetical. So, despite desperately missing our exercise buddies, we’ve plunked down money for some semblance of a home gym. For most of us, that “plunking” was modest — a yoga mat, a couple of weights, new shoes, and three or four running/walking routes mapped through the neighborhood. Well, okay; if you’re walking where your neighbors can see you, maybe a new outfit or two. Others “plunked” at a much more extravagant level; Peleton reported its first ever quarterly profit this year, based on a 172% surge in sales, and it now has more than one million subscribers to its streaming classes. Its shares are up more than 220% this year, and somebody’d better be inserting giant, boldface asterisks into that annual report!

Church attendance has taken a hit. Some denominations have removed guilt from the situation by decreeing that there be no in-person services. Just like those Zoom meetings where the below-the-waist wardrobe pretty much consists of sweatpants, there’s a lot of “pajama church” going on in front of the TV. Some of us have been dispensed of the obligation to attend church, but habit and guilt (did I mention I’m Catholic?) keep some of us showing up. I used to believe that, if I had a fatal wreck on my way to church (in true Roman tradition, I’m always running late), I’d go to heaven. Now, I’m thinking that catching Covid in the pew might have the same effect. I’m hoping God is putting an asterisk there.

There is one real, personal benefit to the pandemic. While masked, we’re almost unrecognizable. Now, when you see someone at Kroger early in the morning — before a shower and eye makeup — you can scoot past them (six feet away, of course) and hope that they thought they recognized you, but maybe it wasn’t… Yeah, it was me, but put an asterisk there.

Mentally and emotionally, we’re putting an asterisk beside too many personal milestones: the funerals we couldn’t attend, the weddings with no attendants, the visits to the hospital that we could not make, the missed births, graduations, birthdays, and welcome home, soldier celebrations. For each of us, in our life stories, 2020 is full of events that we would have been a part of, if it hadn’t been for Covid. We’ll have to mark those voids with an asterisk.

So, it’s a weird world out there, Bucky, but this will pass. And when it does, we’ll hug and shop and visit and dance (with other people, even). And 2021 will be the year of life, let’s mark it with the right symbol- (). Stay hopeful, my friends!

*The Covid 19 Pandemic of 2020 has been a heart wrenching, gut wrenching ride for so many, it almost seems wrong to write an article that pokes fun at any part of it. But humor reminds us that we are still human, still bound together on this planet, and we will get through this, somehow. There is no intent to mock anyone who has suffered, but only to give a momentary smile and respite from this viral nightmare.