A Heart of Saturday Darkness

Saturdays in the fall are supposed to be spent outside under a canopy of colorful foliage not indoors on the sofa staring at hypnotically pixelated images of swamps and groves.

Look up at the screen long enough and soon the son of God will appear, arms held high above his golden dome, imploring you to join him on his quest for eternal Saturday salvation.

And remember this, there is not a house big enough on this temporal plain to contain all the lost souls traveling from rocky top to rose bowl searching for that ever elusive answer to weekend.

Incidentally, how many death valleys can one stomach stand before the belly overflows with enough BBQ tailgating goodness to feed an army of ancient warriors marching towards the colosseum?

It’s not too late however to embrace mother nature before father time takes its toll and you’re no longer able to tell the difference between blue sky and blue turf.

 

The Feast Of Football

College football is here. A nation of fans rejoice. From Columbia to College Station. Boise to Berkeley.  Morgantown to Madison. People will gather, hand in hand, arm in arm, to celebrate their favorite team.

Now is the time for optimism. Last season nothing but a memory. The future is bright but uncertain for no one knows what tomorrow holds. But rest assured there will be food, and lots of it.

Mesquite or medium rare, college football has a flavor for any type of taste bud. The tailgate is open to all. No need to make reservations. All that’s required is an empty stomach and a passion for gravity defying thrills and performances.

This offseason, as the grills and smokers lay dormant, college football endured landscape altering litigation that continues to threaten the way fans and players consume the sport. Amateurs or not, to the hundreds of thousands who pack the stands each and every Saturday until January, the players on the field represent hope. Hope that their favorite team will uphold the tradition and values that bring pride to universities across the country. Hope that this is the season where the stars align, where the puzzle pieces all fit, and where each course is satisfying.

Change is on the menu however as the BCS was thrown to the dumpster like two day old bread. And in its place a playoff, a true meritocracy, where in theory the best will not be able to hind behind conference affiliation or corporate appeal. All that should matter now is winning.

Will Jameis and the Noles come back for seconds, or will the Tide roll back to their presumed place at the table? Perhaps this is finally the season that Oregon breaks through and swooshes to the top. Or maybe, just maybe, a non super conference Cinderella like Marshall plays its way into an invitation to the ball.

However it plays out, January and Arlington are far far away. Fans of college football are advised to not look too far ahead because they might miss something memorable. A Mariota scramble down the sidelines or Spartan stuff at the goal line. Precious moments that make college football so beloved by so many.

Tis the season for feast or famine. For fans hungering for football. So bring your appetite. Kickoff is here. Bon appetite. Enjoy.

The Game Within The Game

The Harvard Football Flag

The Game is afoot as I proceed to platform 4 prepared to catch the train to New Haven and the 138th meeting between Harvard and Yale. The sky is blue and the air is crisp. Perfect for some late fall football in New England.

Standing at the station amongst a swarm of young people who don’t really look like they know or care a lot about football. Looks can be deceiving. Leggings and flannel are not necessarily an indication of gridiron expertise. Maybe they’ve come for the party.

Standing room only on the Metro North. Extra seats occupied by red solo cups and V8. Must be Bloody Mary season. A little hair of the dog for occupants of the 3rd car from the front. Harvard fan sitting cross legged on the ground with his head in his lap. Not a good sign for 9:30 in the morning.

Eavesdropping is entertaining but ultimately disheartening. Would love to share my views on the bullish bond market but my lack of financial expertise makes me feel like an impostor. My education has not prepared me for this moment.

As our train full of privilege passes over abandoned vehicles and dilapidated apartment complexes we are all reminded of the great divide between the haves and have nots. The train itself seems to recognize this chasm, picking up speed around some of the worst neighborhoods so it’s passengers won’t be bothered by the world outside this protective bubble of entitlement and opportunity.

When we arrive at Union Station people hatch from the train like salmon spawning in the rivers of the Pacific Northwest. The walk to the Yale Bowl is upstream after all and with cab lines extending around the block it’s a good thing I wore my walking shoes.

Now only 1.5 miles to the stadium. Passing through the heart of campus. History is overwhelming. Buildings cast an intimidating shadow as the eyes of past Presidents and poet laureates stare down disapprovingly like they know I don’t belong. Duck out of the commons and back onto the main thoroughfare where the stench of vodka cranberries wafts down from the pack of young alums in front of me. At this rate they’ll never make it through to the end of the game let alone halftime. These amateur alcoholics needs to take a lesson from the tortoise.

This particular section of New Haven has a rich history beyond Yale’s generous gentrification. On this day packs of football fans are stomping down sidewalks once trampled by Revolutionary Era horse and buggy.

Finding my friends amongst a sea of Blue and Crimson is a difficult task. They’re here to work, which during an event like The Game means networking, shaking hands and reminding loyal grads why they still love their school. And if that’s not enough, here, enjoy a complimentary beer koozie.

The tailgate itself is a nostalgic gathering of old and new friends. Clubs are represented by white tents and underneath each of these canopies lies an assortment of treats and refreshments befitting any generation or graduating class. When people are introduced they almost always indicate their graduating class, which to the majority of Harvard and Yale alums serves as a simple form of identification, much easier to remember than a social security number. Yet another reminder that Father Time remains undefeated.

Walking into the Yale Bowl is an unforgettable experience. The symmetry of the stadium evokes the classical architecture of ancient Rome. This coliseum in Connecticut has been staging battles for a century while we the emperors clap our hands together as a showing of gratitude for the gladiators down below.

Our section is occupied by some of Harvard’s most prestigious and loyal alums. Take Bill Markus class of ’60. He’s the sort of loyal follower who knows all the players without looking at the roster, calling them by there proper birth names like running back Paul Stanton Jr. Mr. Markus also has the endearing habit of creating acronyms for innocuous occurrences like IWV, or Increased Wind Velocity.

Sport’s traditions survive because of people like Mr. Markus. Take the famous Harvard Little Red Flag that has been in attendance for every Harvard/Yale football game since 1884. Bill has been bestowed with the honor of waiving the flag at these games since 2001. People approach him with great reverence. Pictures are taken. Memories are created.

The Game itself was spectacularly unspectacular with favorite Harvard defeating Yale 34-7. Thanks to Dartmouth beating Princeton the Crimson clinched a share of the Ivy League title while the Bulldogs continue to toil away in the middle of the pack. The game within the Game included a few separated shoulders and knees, nothing we haven’t come to expect on 100 yards of sod. A Harvard safety was thrown out of the game during the second quarter for launching himself at a defenseless Yale receiver. Not like the Yalies put up much of a fight during the remainder of the game but rules are rules.

The game ends without controversy. The Crimson march away with 7 in a row as the band serenades the team into the Thanksgiving break. The Yale contingent can take solace in the  fact that their classes will not resume until December while the Harvard student body returns to Cambridge for two days of lecture halls and homework before turkey. But none of that matters so long as they can keep warm.

On the frigid return trip to the station Bud Light Platinums have been traded for iPhone chargers as the energy starved status undaters send one final Facebook message before the light goes dark. The wind has picked up foreshadowing a cold holiday week again. With hangovers and hangers on in tote, these fastidious fans of the Ivy League bid farewell to New Haven and football for another year waiting for Harvard and Yale to meet again along the banks of Charles River for the 139th playing of The Game.  Bill Markus will be there. And so will the Little Red Flag, mothballs and all.

We Came To Remember A Friend

forsternWe came to remember a friend, a friend who had left us all much too soon. That’s what brought us all to The Big House. Of course when you arrive in Ann Arbor you realize that it isn’t even a house at all but rather a football stadium, but not just any kind of football stadium but a football stadium steeped in tradition and memories, memories of a glorious past full of Big Ten championships and Heisman Trophy winners. Few of us had any direct affiliation to the school or the stadium but none of that mattered, not on this Saturday. We came to remember a friend.

We came to remember a friend, a friend who had already sent in his undergrad deposit to the University of Illinois before realizing at the very last moment that he already bled Maize and Blue. These two colors run deep throughout this college town, creating avenues and arteries full of semi coherent stories that may or may not be complete fabrications of a time long ago. Rather than expose and vilify these novice hucksters for misrepresenting their youth, we accepted these tales out of respect for our friend. A friend whose favorite establishment is this place that specializes in homemade cheese pizza and large mason jars of sangria, the combination of which may lead to diabetic shock. The ice helped, at least enough to ward of the onset of a premature hangover. No complaints, the conversations were appreciated and the tributes tender and glowing. We came to remember a friend.

We came to remember a friend, a friend whose social calendar revolved around football games and the fraternity. His brothers were back in town, leading the charge past a row of social houses surrounded by swarms of scantily clad frosh all looking to be recognized on this the first weekend of the school year. We were much too old and haggard to slow down and mingle, fueled by the devastating realization that our kids are now closer to college than we are. Better to surround ourselves with grad students, who in this town, all seem to mingle in the downstairs of a dimly lit pub where the water pipes are exposed and hang just low enough to engage in a few feats of strength. This was another of our friend’s favorite places although it’s tough to imagine him attempting any kind of calisthenics. Especially when surrounded by several taps worth of local brew. A perfect way to prepare yourself for the following morning’s festivities. The home opener. We came to remember a friend.

We came to remember a friend, a friend so benign that he was able to foster relationships with a wide array of Wolverine fans, including the very kind folks who hosted our tailgate. Breakfast turns to lunch and as we stood amidst a sea of blue and cornfields of maize one starts to wonder how in the world we’re going to pack all these people into a single space. For some, the libations will help grease the skids, serving as a conduit to release all inhibitions. People watching is at a premium. The students are going hard because they’re young and they only know one speed. Grads are here too with strollers in tote as they introduce a whole new generation to Saturday, a day reserved for BBQ and seven layer dip. Locals dominate the parking lots as well, welcomed as equals amongst the euphoria. The opponents from the middle of the state arrive but their maroon proves to be no match for the primary colored protagonists. A football is found and our warmup begins but is cut short by the hordes making their towards the gleaming gates. Time to follow. We came to remember a friend.

We came to remember a friend, a friend who would never miss a game. The stadium has already filled up by the time we made the ascent to our seats. Behind us, The Team The Team The Team prepares to run onto the field serenaded by the marching band. As we take our seats, we Hail the Victors, the first of many reverential salutes on this day. The air is humid and the space limited but that will not prevent the record setting crowd of over 112K from enjoying the onslaught as the Chips prove to be little match while the common fan’s eyes turn towards the following week under the lights against rival Notre Dame. We stay in our seats, partially because there is not enough space to move but also because we didn’t want to miss something. Like the marching band honoring 007 at halftime or the backups coming in and giving us all a glimpse of the near future.  Our friend never liked to leave these games early either, anything to prolong the long walk home. By the 3rd quarter, we really could have used the shade. But, we came to remember a friend.

We came to remember a friend, a friend who enjoyed his post game rest. Win or lose, put the feet up for a few hours before commencing with late night activities. No late night activities for our crew, nice dinner and a few drinks with friends, some old, some new. Our bond is our friend, a person so endearing that his memory has created a tradition. His spirit shines on throughout the steps of Michigan Stadium and the stories we tell our kids. We came to remember a friend, a friend who will be with us always.

Falling Asleep During the BCS Championship

And I know I wasn’t the only person who drifted off to dreamland right around the same time as LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson overthrew a WR for the 20th time that evening. As far as I can tell, the only two redeeming qualities from last night’s BCS Championship Game, which Alabama won nearly by default, were Brent Musberger’s love affair with the Honey Badger and the fact that Nick Saban left his headlights on at halftime.

Other than this, we learned very little about either LSU or the Crimson Tide that we didn’t already know, other than Bobby Hebert continues to find a way to keep himself in the headlines and that having a ticket to the championship game didn’t actually entitle you to a seat. Once again, blame the media!

View from the Superdome courtesy of @ManUpTexasBBQ