Monthly Archives: September 2007

Blogpoll Week Six

Rank Team Delta
1 LSU 25
2 California 24
3 Southern Cal 23
4 South Florida 22
5 Ohio State 21
6 Kentucky 20
7 Missouri 19
8 Wisconsin 18
9 Boston College 17
10 Oregon 16
11 Florida 15
12 Oklahoma 14
13 Arizona State 13
14 South Carolina 12
15 Georgia 11
16 Illinois 10
17 Cincinnati 9
18 Clemson 8
19 Hawaii 7
20 Michigan State 6
21 Rutgers 5
22 West Virginia 4
23 Purdue 3
24 Kansas State 2
25 Boise State 1

Dropped Out:

My impeccable timing allows me to enter into the Blogpoll a priori and post-Apocalyptic Top 25 meltdown. As Mergz of Saurian Sagacity kept saying to me, eyebrows arched and voice tremulous with the deep, dark fear attendant on facing Road Brandon Cox: “Colorado over Oklahoma, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria!” That’s exactly what this poll looks like: mass hysteria.

Right off the bat: USC-LSU as co-number one is now so quaint it’s practically antediluvian. It’s Louisiana State and the rest of us. Tulane first half blip aside, the Tigers scare me so bad I’d probably use a picture of Glenn Dorsey instead of Ex-Lax. Am I bailing on USC? Not entirely. I had them as number two before this weekend and now they’ve dropped to three, getting leapfrogged by the Cal Golden Bears of the University of California-Berkeley, which is in Berkeley. The Oregon that got beat by the inhuman Desean Jackson was not the Oregon of your father, if your father is a year older than you and spent the past couple of seasons watching the Ducks jump out to early season hyperbole only to be shot down by quarterbacking (Leaf as an alternative to anyone?) or the kind of no-hats-or-certain-colors fashion police state employed by some prep schools to avoid death by gang association/retina flare. And if your father is indeed older than you, congratulations: those are some impressive genes you have there if your pop’s seminal vesicles were active at a scant twelve months. High five you virile man child, you.

USC and Ohio State now seem, impossibly, like mirror images of each other: statue quarterbacks with an anonymous wide receiver core and a predictably vicious defense. USC’s tailbacks and Chris Wells manage the same thing as well, which is the untrammeled destruction of the opposing team. USC gets the edge because Pete Carroll could totally steal your wife, while Tressel would just sit at the bar and stare at you and the lady all night before spilling his gin martini on his way to his car. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we all know a single flare from the nostrils of Carroll’s immaculately broken nose has been known to cause Genesis-like flooding in all nearby female genitalia. The resultant poll disparity is the result of Pete’s pheremone domination. So there’s that, Trojan fans. Plus this: don’t ever dress your team up like Notre Dame because you might end up playing like them. Still, it’s not looking good for USC and its week to week infirmary. It’s three weeks of semi-cruising until Autzen. The state of California had better approve and fund stem cell research in the interim because we are dropping like flies with the DNA of Chad Pennington, and we need new organs, people. Think of the children.

Chilo Rachal is now a part of the Make-a-Wish Foundation. His request: tacos.

South Florida is, for lack of a better word, legit. In the New Math South Florida is India: teeming with computer engineers/cheetah-like defenders, eager to break away from sullen, relatively poorer neighbors like Pakistan/Florida State and angling to attain everything their former English/Floridian masters stand for. USF and Indians both like curry, incidentally.

Kentucky, Missouri and Boston College are all grouped together under the heading of THANK GOD MY TEAM DOESN’T HAVE TO PLAY THAT QB. Each one of them could, if found on USC’s schedule, cause my testes to shrink into very, very small testes. Wisconsin seems to be a Texas-like smoke and mirrors operation but they’ve kept it up so far. The only reason I have the Badgers ahead of BC is thanks to the courageous efforts of the Minutemen of UMass, who failed in the whole beating BC thing but succeeded in making the rest of us eye the score with increased scrutiny which, if you’re beating Holy Cross by 10, is about the only thing you can hope for.

Everything else is kinda meh: at this point no one with two losses gets in, and anyone who looks good now – or at least record wise looks good (I’m talking about you, Virginia!) – but got blown out earlier also does not get in. This includes: Miami, Texas A&M, Nebraska, Virginia Tech, Texas, UCLA and other teams too embarrassing to be mentioned (I’m talking about you, Virginia!). There are a few teams who slipped into my ballot that were kinda sorta blown out. Boise State is one of them, losing by two touchdowns to Washington. I suppose the Broncos did get their asses handed to them in the form of Ian Johnson not running for a hundred and the offense not scoring a single point in the second half, but it didn’t feel nearly as bad as the losses suffered by the above teams. West Virginia, on the other hand, was a game that was never really that close – the Bulls’ defense so thoroughly handled the ‘eers it was, occasionally, a boring game even in the student section. That the final outcome was within one score is the only thing keeping them on my ballot. This is not a hard and fast rule, but considering that only five weeks of football have been played it’s pretty hard to forget something like Oklahoma throttling the Canes or UCLA being UCLA.

The only other thing of note: Kansas and Purdue are just toss ups, since they’ve played exactly no one. Also: it’s extraordinarily surreal to be debating about Illinois and Indiana in terms of the Top 25. Indiana misses the cut thanks to a head-to-head loss, and Florida State manages to undo several years of “Ahhh, don’t worry. It’s Florida State,” by beating ‘Bama and seriously meriting consideration in the bottom end of the 25.

Anarchy!

EDIT: On second thought, screw Kansas and un-screw Kansas State. That road loss to the Auburn Tigers of War Eagle Plainsmen fame is looking better and better.

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Blogpollin’! With an apostrophe to denote casual, perhaps rural excitement!

Stupid me finally got around to asking Brian of mgoblog to enroll me in the Blogpoll. This is as good a season for me to do it as I will be seeing the vast majority of the Top 25 live, in person and with plastic cups full of substances in my hand[s]. And this I vow: to never, ever, ever vote sober.

And I will still whup on Stewie Mandel’s ballot every time, even if I am chewin’ on peyote buttons.

Chewin’ on peyote buttons! Rural! Bring on the jorts!

(Incidentally, it’s 1:17 Eastern and I finally got a ticket to USF-West Virginia-OMFG did that quarterback just pass?!-Battle for the Bucs’ Pirate Ship. Shout out to Kyle of bullspen.com and the USF athletic department. SHOUT!)

JORTS! I’m a bit excited, as you can tell. Three Top 25 teams in two days. I’m a grown man!

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Week four, part one: Western Kentucky 20, Middle Tennessee State 17; Georgia 26, Alabama 23 (OT); hunk o’ burning goat love; tellums; a warm bath; a swab

Whatever invisible demarcation between North and South exists – and the Wikipedia entry on Mason and Dixon’s line did nothing to help me decide where or what it is, though it did pique my interest in Thomas Pynchon’s novel of the same name which, in its defense, “makes no claim of being historically rigorous” – I passed it on Monday, September 17 on my way from Marion, Illinois to Murfreesboro, Tennessee. To celebrate I queued up Paul Simon’s “Graceland” and hummed along:

The Mississippi Delta was shining
Like a national guitar
I am following the river
Down the highway
Through the cradle of the Civil War
I’m going to Graceland
Graceland
In Memphis Tennessee
Im going to Graceland

And:

In Graceland, in Graceland
I’m going to Graceland
For reasons I cannot explain
There’s some part of me wants to see
Graceland
And I may be obliged to defend
Every love, every ending
Or maybe there’s no obligations now
Maybe I’ve a reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

I still haven’t been to Memphis, or Graceland. My understanding of Tennessee geography was, literally, short: the state can’t be that big, surely, especially to a Californian. The Humboldt County marijuana mules get leg cramps before they even get to the East Bay, let alone San Diego. Tennessee! I laughed at your physical stature.

At it’s longest the Volunteer State stretches 440 miles, with the cities of Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville forming a loose parallelogram following the contours of the state itself. I lingered in the Nashville area for the duration of my stay in Tennessee. Why? Lookout Mountain – site of Rock City, the Three Battles of Chattanooga (of which the Third was the most important, signalling the true end of the Confederacy and the start of the Union’s advance into Atlanta) and the climax of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods – is near Chattanooga. The Battle of Shiloh Hill took place about a hundred miles east of Memphis. And Memphis! I tried explaining the significance of Memphis in my mind to a native, who could not come up with a single redemptive quality for her home city.

“Barbeque! The blues! Johnny Cash! Carl Perkins! Sam Cooke! Tennessee Williams! Beale Street! Barbeque! Martin Luther King’s last speech at Mason Temple! Barbeque!” I explained, somewhat quietly and with a strained candor. I had barbeque on my mind at the time, and didn’t want to excite anyone lest they they realize I had come, like a Hamburglar of smoked goods, to rob them of their most prized meat confections.

“Yeah, but it’s a shit hole,” she said. I left it at that, though even now the idea of Memphis pulsates in my brain and I don’t think I will be able to resist a walk along Beale Street. Hard to explain why I never made it there, considering that a few hundred miles were nothing to an odometer whose patience, having been stretched thin for three weeks, emulated the agonies of sainthood and transcended its mortal state to reach a perpetual beatification that said, simply, “Do whatever you must. I have a harp and cloud, and a halo.”

There was also the issue of Murfreesboro, home of the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders and my de-facto headquarters for at least four days. The population of Murfreesboro has doubled since 1990 (46,000), making it – at an estimated 92,559 – one of the fastest growing cities in America. MTSU is the largest undergraduate university in the state of Tennessee. The locals were never hesitant to point out these two facts to me, but despite the growing evidence of Murfreesboro’s ascendance the general opinion of those communicating with me via the internet and text messaging was this: “You’ll run out of things to do once you park.”

So how did I manage to not go insane after four days away from the four big cities of Tennessee? Start with those same locals, who began, first, by intriguing me as the first representatives of The South I had met on my travels and moved to the simple acts of kindness, acceptance and blah blah blah that make my bleeding heart ache at the thought of the horrid cliche of it all: Southern hospitality at its finest, and no matter my will there wasn’t an ounce of irony I could wring from that.

(Also helping me not going insane was a tour of Lynchburg, home of the Jack Daniel’s distillery and essentially my Dome of the Rock. From smelling the 140 proof White Lightning to walking amongst thousands of barrels of whiskey, whiskey, whiskey everywhere, I was in heaven for the vast majority of the tour until the end. Moore County, of which Lynchburg is a part, is a dry county and has been for something like a century. The penultimate factoid – 75 million gallons of Jack Daniel’s whiskey in a dry county – erased the serenity imposed by bucolic Lynchburg’s gorgeous scenery and the peacefulness of a small town with one industry and no hurry. One local laughed at me when I asked him where the nearest bar was, which is one reason I returned to Murfreesboro like a man stranded in the desert would run towards ancient Baghdad.)

It started by meeting up with John and Chris, both members of an MTSU message board and both of them loonier than a cathouse full of Cajuns – which is a phrase I picked up at MTSU’s library, incidentally, and seems to convey a generally positive slant.

John contacted me at the beginning of my trip. He was alerted to my project by the miracles of Google’s search algorithms, which allowed him to track me down via the posting of my schedule and, in particular, the MTSU-Western Kentucky game. John extended an offer of tailgating, a spot in his box and a view of Blue Raider football; since then I’ve had more offers, but nothing as generous and earnest as that first. I was horrified.

Let me explain: internet users aren’t all pale, pock marked and fat/or twiggy. That’s just ignorance. And they’re certainly not all schizophrenic freaks mouth breathin’ their way through porn and World of Warcraft potion queues as fast as their right hand can scroll a mousewheel. That is also ignorance, and also maybe a bit of fun at the expense of people who like porn (who doesn’t?) and MMORPGs (might as well make fun of heroin addicts, the poor things). But internet college football fans? The kind who frequent message boards? You can take whatever preconceivied slander you have about internet “eccentrics” and throw out the quotation marks and also the word “eccentrics”, because bat shit crazy motherfuckers who don’t even understand the basic concept of pass protection but nonetheless like to criticize Orlando Pace simply because he was a Buckeye find themselves scared to death when in the presence of your Unrelentingly Awful Internet College Football Fan, and eccentric might as well be a compliment. Have you ever met a komodo dragon? Their saliva produces a virulent bacteria that will almost surely kill you if untreated after a bite, and it looks like they drool blood, and they eat lots of carrion. Komodo dragons would run screaming – at a twelve and a half mile per hour clip – into the warm Indonesian night if they ever came across some of the characters I have interacted with in my three or four years of internet-based college football discussion. And I have met the faces behind some of that interaction, and often times it is a process that leaves me white faced and shaking. This is the result of that internet-old fascination with holding get togethers to put faces to name and other, equally atrocious, behavior that most adults should know better than to partake in.

To put it bluntly, Unrelentingly Awful College Football Fans rule the night. And the day. And, sadly, large swaths of the internet. Particularly in Louisiana. So it was with a good deal of trepidation that I showed up to the Coconut Bay bar off of the Old Fort Parkway in good ol’ M’boro to meet John on Monday night to watch the Redskins lose to the Eagles, or vice versa. (No one present knows who won the game as it was so achingly boring the only consolation we had was that we weren’t paying attention.)

He didn’t arrive for a good twenty or thirty minutes, which gave me plenty of time to eye anyone with a bad haircut, false teeth or questionable genetics and wonder if I’d made a bad choice in casting my lot with Dr. Moreau’s bulletin board children.

John, some thirty minutes into our conversation: Can I be honest with you, Jon? And don’t take this the wrong way: I’m kinda relieved you’re normal.

By the time Chris, John’s compatriot in MTSU message boarding, arrived we were well into discussions of everything that happened to be interesting, which were: the 2007 college football season, past college football seasons, college football recruiting, college football politics, college football in the deep South, women, whiskey, oysters, tailgating, beer, the unsatisfying hole that is pro sports, drunk dialing, white trash jokes, Asian jokes and, during one memorable exchange, the proper way to respond to a text message involving a female proclaiming herself wetter than the hot tub she was in. By the time I left the state of Alabama on Sunday I had met a number of Internet College Football Fans and, without a single exception, they all proved to be exceptionally good at not being serial killers, pathological arsonists, closet playwrights, etc.

Some excerpts from our conversation:

John: You ever been to Woodbury [here pronounced “Wood-BURH”]? That’s country down there. You don’t wanna go there.

Chris: Yeah, that’s Deliverance country. They passed a town ordinance last week. It says divorcees can legally remain brother and sister.

And:

John: You better learn how to pronounce things around here.

Chris: Yeah. How would you pronounce the word L-a-f-a-y-e-t-t-e?

Me: Lafayette?

Chris: Around here it’s La-FEY-it. And Shelbyville. We shorten that [quick slashing motion with both hands to indicate large to small, plus emphatic woosh! noise] to Shelville. Try it.

Me: Shelville.

[Mild but good natured applause.]

John: And Knoxville, we shorten that to Assholes.

And:

Chris, relating a story about the legendary MTSU coach James “Boots” Donnelly (140-87-1 in 20 years in Murfreesboro), after I had described my experience in Lincoln watching USC play the Huskers: We were up in Nebraska one year to, y’know, collect a paycheck: come in, get our butts kicked for the home crowd, go home and use that money. Well our coach Boots shows up on Friday for walkthroughs at the stadium at whatever time it was, probably four in the afternoon. He and the players wanted to get a good look at Memorial Stadium. Except [Tom] Osborne and Nebraska are already there. So Boots goes up to Osborne and says, “I’m real sorry, coach. There must’ve been a mix up. I didn’t know you’d be here at the same time practicin’ to play us.” And Osborne goes, “Don’t even worry about it. We were actually practicing for Missouri next week.” (Note: The only time MTSU and Nebraska have ever played was in 1992 [Nebraska beat the Blue Raiders 48-7], the week before the Huskers lost to Washington’s post-national championship squad in Seattle. This does nothing to diminish the awesomeness of the above story.)

Between the two of them they relate some amusing anecdotes, like the time MTSU beat the pants off of a Roger Staubach led Navy team – Pensacola Navy, that is, four years after the former Cowboy great won the Heisman and just months after a stint in Vietnam. Apparently John’s great uncle or grandfather or someone sacked Staubach, “and he wouldn’t stop talking about it.” Douglas S. Malan does an outstanding job documenting the game here.

John and Chris also segued from a discussion of game day tailgating fare into an explanation of Goat ala WKU, based on a story about a Hilltopper fraternity invaded by police who found a malnourished goat in the chapter’s house. What was the goat for?

“I dunno,” Chris said with the kind of defensive shrug that means Not only do I know, I revel in the knowledge because it is at the expense of my arch-nemesis. “They found, like, used condoms in the closet the goat was in.”

John chimed in: “They brought the goat to the vet and they diagnosed him – are we even sure it was a ‘him’? – they diagnosed him with anal bruising.” After my apparently obvious disbelief, he followed with, “That’s a fact. It’s on the internet.”

Well, so it is.

So, as Chris put it, “half our jokes involve goat fucking. You’re gonna meet a coupla Western Kentucky guys on Thursday, so don’t be surprised if we start baaaahing at them. I’m gonna cook a goat. They’ll eat it, too.”

John: “They better. You ever had goat? It’s damn good if you cook it right. No goat fucker can resist a properly cooked goat.”

The end of that night was a microcosm of my stay in Murfreesboro: after explaining that I spend most nights in my car, Chris did not hesitate to offer his home and the guest bedroom. He was even kind enough to lead me down a back route away from the main police patrolled streets because, as he mentioned, “I think we’ve both had a few beers.” (Hiccup.)

During the rest of my time in Murfreesboro it seemed there was a roving pack of ninjas whose sole purpose, as far as I could tell, was to wait until I had to move my bowels or leave a table or bar or whatever and, when I was gone, deploy shuriken, smoke bombs and grappling hooks to make my bill or tab disappear. I do not exaggerate when I say this happened to me at least once a day for four days, with some days seeing so many ninjas in the periphery of my vision I had to blink and wonder, momentarily, if I was The Tick.

I think much of the kindness was reinforced by the uniqueness of my story. More so than any other place I had been to, people were genuinely amazed and appreciative of what I was doing. They murmured with their appreciation, and it seemed as if they were constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop when I inevitably realized MTSU-WKU would be a waste of my time, and why not just spend a few nights in Knoxville with that checkered endzone, Rocky Top and all that? Locals found it hard to believe that I had picked MTSU, of all teams, to go see a football game. At one point I wished that it wasn’t a Thursday game, because inevitably I had to explain that it fit my schedule to be in Murfreesboro as opposed to an outright pilgrimmage to one of the great college football venues. This sort of made me feel like a prick, but they still threw hamburgers, beer, ribs, whiskey and the like at me for something like eight hours straight on game day. The surreal nature of our meeting – me, in my first southern state of the trip, them, confused and maybe a little bit happy that I had chosen Murfreesboro – culminated in my being interviewed by a live sports talk station and being featured in The Daily News Journal. It’s a good thing I wasn’t drinking whiskey at the time because a) I didn’t realize it was a live interview and b) whiskey makes me cuss/pee in public/injure my knuckles/etc.

I cannot explain how weird it was to be followed around by a cameraman. At one point I found myself genuinely interested in helping a kid play NCAA ’07 (as MTSU vs WKU, naturally) on a Playstation set up at our tailgate. He just wanted to mash buttons. I wanted him to go through his progressions and always check down to the safe throw if necessary. He was probably three. I nonetheless explained down and distance theory to him. Then I caught sight of the cameraman snapping photos and I wondered if this was indeed a good photo-op, but wouldn’t it look weird if I’m shot manipulating the kid’s hands while he has the controller in his lap, and do they take implied paedophilia as seriously as the British do?, and what the hell, why would you call a draw on 3rd-and-26?! Gimme that controller.

At that point the alcohol was probably peaking in my blood stream.

Next: Sororities, sundresses, and… ‘Bama.

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Filed under One CFB Road Trip to rule them all, SBC, SEC

The South

… is awesome.

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O-W: That boy was our last hope. Y: No. There is another.

I was born in 1983, but for those who were old enough to go see Star Wars Episode V (1980) when it first came out the revelation of Darth Vader’s paternity probably represents some kind of Joseph Campbellian watershed moment, the most iconic representation of all of our father-son relationships cinema might have ever delivered: in the end, aren’t all of our dads really just black plate armor wearing manifestations of archetypical Dread? And, when you were seven, didn’t they all sound like James Earl Jones?

Few pop culture enthusiasts seem to remember the other startling moment from that movie, though – or at least they remember it with far less clarity:

[as Luke leaves before completing his training]
Yoda: Told you I did. Reckless is he. Now, matters are worse.
Obi-Wan: That boy was our last hope.
Yoda: No. There is another.

WTF? Another Skywalker?

Here he is. His name is Andrew Reed. He is driving across America in search of College Football, which is very much like driving across College Football in search of America. We will be in Columbus and Los Angeles for the same games. It appears we missed each other in Nebraska. That we are doing this in the same season is mind boggling. That we are both driving is testament to the infinite stupidity of the human mind, and to the boundless realms of hope in the human soul, which, as my odometer can attest, is very often found napping while the mind draws up the itinerary.

Reed and I are different in that Reed is being paid by SI.com’s On Campus to report on tailgates. I am being paid by Negative Debit Card Transactions.com to use my bank account to further the economies of two dozen college towns throughout our fine nation. Which one of us will come out ahead? If I were a betting man I’d say me, but then again I am a betting man and I managed, in just forty five minutes of dealer’s choice, to get fleeced by the residents of Murfreesboro, TN in a game of tailgate poker. They made up for it by cooking me goat. The goat was symbolic of Western Kentucky’s preferred copular (from the Latin copula: “to link, via prophylactics, fraternity rushees to four legged creatures”) partners, and it’s also a symbol of why you shouldn’t bet on me. I eat tailgating food based on goat fucking jokes.

And let me say this: the goat was actually kinda tasty.

Anyway, more on that next week. For now, try not to think of any Luke-Leia analogies to further the Star Wars opening because I really don’t want to recreate Episode I with Andrew.

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Week three: USC 49, Nebraska 31, European tapestry, a centaur, Wilson

I arrived in Lincoln on Monday. I didn’t see my first USC fan until Wednesday night. The game was on Saturday. In the intervening time, to anyone who would listen, I explained my presence with an emphatic repetition of the first sentence above: “I’ve been here since Monday.” Judging by local reactions it was an effective way to evoke just how long this trip is going to be. One guy mock saluted me, bought me a beer and said “You’re gonna need this. Most people get here Friday and run out of things to do that night.”

He is wrong. He is right in that I spent a goodly amount of time Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday driving between the Barnes and Noble on O Street (where I read, among other things: Friday Night Lights, It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium, Saturday Rules and Johnny Cash’s autobiography Cash, by Johnny Cash) and the University of Nebraska’s library for want of anything to do, a state exacerbated by my at least theoretical presence in College Football Town, USA and the coming shadow of Lee Corso, whose eyes are the blank gray temples of atavism seen only in the better class of Conan the Barbarian-esque novellas.

His eyes may actually be blue, but that pitiless gaze is the same color as the stone used by the acolytes of Set when they built their blood stained ziggurats in Stygia-by-the-sea.

Saturday – game day – was an Event. The sky dawned a bold blood orange slammed beneath a marble slab of clouds so uniformly flat it looked like a parking lot suspended, upside down, thousands of feet above the ground. Apocalypse was in the air, as was Marlboro light. I shotgunned beverages called Beer 30 at 7:35 AM. I beheld a sign proclaiming, in words bold and proud, “John David Booty, which of course in German means a whale’s vagina” and watched it confiscated by the Gameday crew only to be regained by an elite task force assembled from the spare and sober parts of a formless, shapeless mass of writhing drunk Husker undergrads and ferried, Victor Laszlo-like, from the Vichy controlled underlings of college football’s flagship show to the bright American dawn of the southwest stands where red clad lovables popped the sign up again and again to the cheers of more than 13,000 fans alternatively screaming, between subtle Allied-Axis clashes in North Africa and the fenced in perimeter that was Home Depot’s designated spotlight area, “Hide the sign! Hide the sign!” and “Give it back! Give it back!”, and nary a sound was heard from Louis about all of this as he grinned his French grin and palmed bribes. I played Polish horseshoes, which is not, as the name suggests, a form of water polo. I was blamed for the aromatic assault left by the female ahead of me in the bathroom line at a house party near Lincoln Memorial Stadium, which prompted me to point at her and say “That’s her poop particles floating into your nose, not mine. I only had to pee,” and not feeling bad about it as she, in typical female fashion, cut ahead of me with nothing but a I’ll-be-sooooo-fast. I saw my family for ten minutes, then left by shouting “I’ll see you in South Bend!”, which, as you will agree, is pretty hardcore given that Notre Dame’s obliteration lay five weeks in the future. I gained an early head start on the Rapture when USC led 42-10. I had an alright time.

None of that was apparent on Thursday evening though, when I was sitting at Iguana’s minding my own longneck and wondering when the hell this town was gonna start being Lincoln. Three and a half days of niceness:

Me, to myself and to others but, really, to myself and with a lot more strained desperation than indicated: Nice people around here. Nice little campus you have here. Nice, that’s a sweet Husker Power wallet. Oh, that’s a nice deal on buffalo wings (10 cents per on Wednesdays at Brother’s). Nice offer of nachos, too (free on Tuesdays at Iguana’s). Yeah, Southern California is a nice place to live but it sure is nice here, too. Hey, does that movie theater serve beer and pizza? Nice. Shoot me, please, then time warp my body to Saturday where they have revivification and football.

One thing that was not nice – nice, here, indicating all that is lovely but un-Apocalyptically college football – was/is Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium. As explained before, my first experience with Memorial on Monday was religious in tone and, much like Paul of Tarsus, I jumped the barbed wire at the southwest corner of the facility to get a look at what was, during large parts of the 1990s, college football’s Jerusalem. Unlike Paul I was not arrested and did not die languishing in a prison in Rome; instead, I roamed the innards of the facility and looked at the floodlights, the grass, the big N and the burning bush at the center of the field from which there came a voice:

Let there be football. And it will not be nice. Now get ye to Knickerboxer’s on Thursday for taco night.

(In my universe the Judeo-Christian overbeing is concerned with happy hour appetizer specials as well as the fate of your child, family, nation, team, etc.)

Being in a stadium by yourself is one of my favorite things about sports. The happier sort of accident made possible by evolution allows your brain – normally an epically badass device developed over millions of years to allow you, the byproduct of an unfathomably cruel and protracted and, worst of all, necessary game of Hungry Hungry Hippos, to do amazing things like recall and write the English alphabet and drink potable water from a glass and fly airplanes and such – to seize upon itself in a moment of glorious mendacity and tell you – aka, You, the nominal leader of your nervous ganglia which are at that moment revolting or at least demanding benefits commensurate with similar industries – things which aren’t true but, let’s face it, might as well be. You can imagine these untruths without batting an eye (which is a hell of a thing to do, as both actions involve that epically badass device you call a brain). You can see the empty stands full, serried ranks of humanity stretching into ovals, ellipses, geoids, horseshoes, oblongs, wearing colors primordial and sub-cortical. You can hear it because the silence magnifies what takes place on Saturdays and suddenly there you are, deafened by ghost explosions. Most of all you can feel the presence of the thousands of others who have come before and it makes the empty stadium, of all things, claustrophobic. You can also be blissfully unaware of cameras and security which, as Steve Ryan of BigRedReport.com told me over beers four days after I snuck into Memorial, must’ve been too amused by my awww-shucks awe to arrest me like they should’ve. And if you strain hard enough, you can catch the faintest whiff of iron tang mixed with photosynthesis pleated and formed into twenty-two rectangles, one for every angel and devil; the sundry smell of athletic tape so like vanilla smeared into glue; animal sweat; dry heaving fear the color of red clay; the scent of ozone almost visible where a receiver ran wild through the atmosphere just a year ago. I am reminded of Pynchon:

Now there grows among all the rooms, replacing the night’s old smoke, alcohol, and sweat, the fragile musaceous odor of Breakfast; flowery, permeating, surprising, more than the color of winter sunlight, taking over not so much through any brute pungency or volume as by the high intricacy of the weaving of its molecules, sharing the conjuror’s secret by which — though it is not often Death is told clearly to fuck off — the living genetic chains prove even labyrinthine enough to preserve some human face down ten or twenty generations… so the same assertion-through-structure allows this warm morning’s banana fragrance to meander, repossess, prevail. Is there any reason not to open every window, and let the kind scent blanket all Chelsea? As a spell, against falling objects…

My visit to Memorial filled me with the Spirit, and I set upon Lincoln-Damascus with a fervor and a little bit of the Fear: talking with everyone I met, explaining my mission, seeking the color red in its every form, drinking with an abandon that laughed in the face of my meticulously updated-and-then-ignored budget, searching for a glimpse of that gorgeous stadium beneath the full Moon of Floodlights somewhere else even if it was at the bottom of a pint of Blue Moon… anything to find what what I was looking for, even if it was a jar of ether.

What did I find? A bunch of nice people, but this is Lincoln, Nebraska: a nice little town. Nothing that told me, on Saturday, the entire state would work itself into a blood frenzy and by 7:13 PM Central the third largest gathering of human beings in the state of Nebraska would find themselves all standing, watching USC’s David Buehler kick it short to Andre Jones at the Nebraska 18 and there he goes, 16 yards and here comes Sam Keller….

So there I was on Thursday night sipping my beer and attempting to not mind my own business. That’s when I met Brad and Cole. One of them probably still thinks I’m from Bolivia, because mojitos come from Cuba which is nowhere near Brazil which begins with a B and is in South America and is right next to Bolivia. This happy confusion is emblematic of the larger happy confusion of my being in Nebraska at the same time as them, which, as Brad’s girlfriend Anna put it when I left on Sunday morning, “is something out of a movie”. The next 60 hours or so of my life, except for a number of sixty minutes spent with fellow USC fans aching to know whether freshman receiver Brandon Carswell would redshirt and similar Freemasonish secrets only raving USC lunatics want to know, would be directed by the motley cast below…

The Adopt-a-Bolivian campaign has really come out swinging.

Brad and Cole and I met over mojitos, which is indeed very much like a movie but the kind that involves a slumming John Cusack and Diane Lane/Meg Ryan/etc. I derided their drinks, which were made with a single mint leaf and plenty of Rose’s lime juice. That’s not how you make mojitos. This is how you make mojitos.

knifey spoony

I see you’ve played barstool-bartender before.

Eventually I came to be known as “the dude from Bolivia” because, as drunks all know, mojitos originated in Bolivia and velveeta tastes good. Later on when cultures clashed and the Nebraskans couldn’t understand something particularly Californian or at least non-Nebraskan (“You’re cold? WTF?”) we consoled ourselves by laughing at the differences between Lincoln and Bolivia, which is how the USSR and Reagan-era America should’ve done it. Brad and Cole offered to show me around Lincoln, which meant getting pitchers of an orange-ish concoction at Sandy’s, heading to Main Street (the bar) to take tequila shots to the dome and ending the night at a place I can’t remember the name of where I danced with a number of females, all of them black, all of them amused and all of them deigning to allow me to gyrate arhythmically next to them with nary a punch to my face, though perhaps they were a bit violent after all because my upper arms were sore the next morning when I awoke on B&C’s couch but, now that I think about it, it’s possible the fleshy bruising above my triceps was due to the amusing and inevitable wrestling match B&C engaged in once back at the house after, before and between shotgunning Beer 30, waking up their female housemate and demanding that I avail myself of all of their amenities including the shower, which I hadn’t used in four or five days at that point but would need shortly due to my attempting to keep B from powerbombing C which, as you doubtless do not need me to tell you, is a no no. If a man wants to powerbomb another man that is his prerogative, and let no man rent asunder the union of two men grappling, one about to hurl the other from four to five feet high unto the floor, because it is good.

This violence, so long hidden during the days of Mon-, Tues- and Wednes-, cropped up every now and then and validated everything I wanted to know about Nebraska, Nebraska football, and the sucking maw of suck that was Big Red post-1997. The state has less than two million residents, but the dominance it exuded from 1994 to Tom Osborne’s final year was, for anyone who wasn’t in a cave during the nineties, the kind of absolute manifestation of supremacy over land, water, air and especially fire the Americans demonstrated with Little Boy and Fat Man in 1945. We were, all of us who did not cheer for Big Red, awed at this terrible display of power; and every now and then, as I was gamely welcomed by everyone wearing that same primordial red, I would get this sense as I gazed up into the eyes of a 6’4″ corn-fed Heartlander that, if he really wanted to, he could pick me up and snap me in twain and use the rounder half in a power back formation where he would, after running most of the way, pitch demi-me to Mike Rozier for the touchdown and the glory because that was the kind of program Nebraska had, baby, and here, let me buy you a drink. Welcome to Nebraska! Try the prime rib at Misty’s!

Make no mistake about confidence: Bill Callahan has managed, in a scant three and one quarter seasons, to reduce Nebraskans’ expectations of their team to the point where almost no one – and that includes the Husker football student manager I talked to for several hours – would predict anything but a loss. There were many signs around town with prophecies of 21-20 Nebraska or 13-10 Nebraska, etc., but all of them were last second fantasies produced by the more naive set of residents. This state knows its football and they knew Nebraska would lose – but to hell with that, California boy, we’ll show you how we do it in Nebraska! I was reminded of To Kill a Mockingbird:

I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.

Now that’s cheesy. But it’s also true – or else why show up thirteen thousand strong and still counting at eight in the morning?

Do not antagonize Nebraska fans. Don’t believe me? Click on the above and look at the white sign at the bottom left corner.

For those of you too lazy to click on the above, let me summarize that sign for you:

MARK MAY KNOWS FOOTBALL LIKE I KNOW EUROPEAN TAPESTRY

So let me now contribute this addendum to Harper Lee’s memorable book: courage isn’t a man with a gun in his hand – it’s a man with a sign that reads “MARK MAY KNOWS FOOTBALL LIKE I KNOW EUROPEAN TAPESTRY”.

Courage can also be defined as a sign combining aspects of Stewart Bradley, Nebraska’s stand out linebacker who was drafted by the Eagles in the third round of the 2007 draft, with the body and legs of a horse to produce a centaur, a kind of visual play on words given the Trojan Horse. Why is this courageous? Because the intrepid man who performed this feat of strength never knew Bradley. The idea for it came up over a period of years during which the creator and a number of friends had repeated run-ins with Bradley – none of them direct and certainly none of them violent – and were wowed, again and again, by his “almost animal” look and the understanding that, if this were Hiyao Miyazaki’s world, Bradley would’ve been born the magical, mythical creature that is a centaur. Said creator found his picture of Bradley – wearing the black shirt signifying a starter on Nebraska’s defense – during a party at a football player’s house and gamely swiped it; after several months with that poster and additional pictures he intended to use to make this centaur come alive he began to worry that, some day, another footballer would come to his house during a party and wonder, not without reason, why there appeared to be a shrine of some sort to Stewart Bradley. And that would beget violence. As Bradley’s collegiate playing days neared an end and the dream of creating a centaur poster out of him began to pick up, one cohort explained shakily:

“Me and [Bradley] were in the same class last year and he kept looking at me. It freaked me out. I kept thinking, “Shit. Shit. What if he knows? What if he knows we think he looks like a centaur? And that we’ve been thinking this for years? And that we’re gonna turn him into a sign? What if he knows?” Because centaurs can sense that kind of thing. But he just stared through me in that Stewart Bradley way.”

I am waiting for an email with a picture to explain, but make no doubt about it: my coming unto Memorial Stadium the second of three times was heralded by no less than a centaur named Stewart Bradley straight out of Narnia, and the rest of the day took on the surreal tint of fantasy with one flick of a Kinko-enlarged horse tail.

Waiting no longer… thank you to Anna of Omaha for the picture. And the DD’ing. And the Georgia peach. And….

I cannot tell you in all honesty what took place Saturday. It was a day of wonders. I assaulted myself with alcohol, tobacco and narcotics. A star fell from the sky in the West, and we took it for an omen. I think Atlantis rose again. Somewhere in there, a game was played. Some of it was honorable; some of it was a farce; and somehow, USC kicked off the first half and the second half with… kickoffs? But from 7:35 AM to two in the morning, the kind of energy that was lacking for the first half of my stay in Lincoln manifested itself at last and everywhere there was fire and wind and floodlights. It felt like the End of the World, and I had a Ticket to Section 20. Lincoln was, at long last, something more than just nice: it was, once again, after so long and for at least a few moments, College Football Town, USA.

The next day I drove to Marion, Illinois. Why? Because a guy named blemblam (not his real name, which is much more ridiculous) has shepherded me from day one and provided tickets, encouragement and, in this case, an actual hotel room in Marion. He is emblematic of the kindness I’ve seen on the road, though he does not represent the unexpected kindnesses that have been so wonderful and satisfying because his was wholly expected: he is good people. Whatever else I’ve learned while traveling – and there have been many lessons, mainly involving what to do after getting robbed – always bows to this one final dictum: when you least expect it, people will go out of their way to help you. And when you do expect it though you shouldn’t because nothing is ever certain, they come through in ways that are unimaginable even if you have, like me, an imagination that doesn’t need the aid of hallucinogens.

Benefactor extraordinaire.

So what else was I to do when, leaving Nebraska and on my way to Marion, I spotted a guy holding a hitchhiking thumb up on an on-ramp for US 29 South near the Nebraska-Iowa border? His sign said “St. Joseph, 90 miles”. I pulled over, and he got in.

Wilson is 53. I found this out haphazardly as I found out most things about him. He rambled on in an admirable way, switching quickly to new subjects with a zest to make them his own in the manner of incorrigibly unsettling strangers who colonize conversation topics the way the conquistadors did the Americas: with the brute force of blunt ideology and the septic casualness that comes from a lifetime of marginal living and smallpox immunity.

Physically Wilson is dessicated, burnt skin, unshaven and surrounded by that deep down smell you only get by not showering or washing your clothes for more than ten days. Except for the dessication I know it all very well. My first indication that it would be an interesting ride was when, not two miles from where I picked him up, we passed another hitchhiker with a sign that said “St. Joseph”. I asked Wilson if we should stop for him, though I added it’d be a tight fit given that my backseat is actually a bed filled with belongings.

“Fuck ‘im,” he said, and I drove on. Right about then I thought several things: 1) This is going to make good copy. 2) If he knifes me in the throat while I’m driving then we both die, so it would behoove me to not pull over again. 3) I wonder what he thinks about Florida pantsing Tennessee?

Turns out Wilson don’t give a fuck about Tennessee. In fact, they’re all a bunch of liars down there. Florida ain’t so bad. Good weather, nice looking titties. If they did beat the living shit outta Tennessee then good on them.

(“This really is going to make good copy,” I thought to myself, but quietly, because I’ve read/seen enough Stephen King to know that hitchhikers have a good fifty percent chance of being telepathic.)

We talk for a good hour on the way to St. Joseph. Wilson worked a lot of construction, did odd jobs on the Gulf Coast and ended up in Shreveport, Louisiana six or seven years before Katrina. This prompts me to ask him if he ever saw Evangel Christian HS play, because USC’s starting quarterback John David Booty played for ECHS and was the first high schooler to skip his senior year entirely and wasn’t that something?

“I ain’t a Christian,” Wilson replies. Thus ended one string of our conversation.

Wilson drops in these conversation enders every now and then, but for the most part he converses freely about old jobs, women, politics (all of Louisiana is corrupt and will fall into a pit soon enough), food, culture, old TV shows, Dick Butkus (“He was meaner than Hell and that’s the only way you ought to play”), the uselessness of basketball, hockey, soccer, golf, etc. compared to baseball and football, cars, and Merle Haggard.

(I resist the temptation to instantly blurt out “Merle Haggard haggard!”)

Wilson is, if not exactly enthusiastic, supportive of my road trip: “You’ve got to get out and see the world. If I had stayed in Texas it woulda been shit.”

On the subject of traveling: “I get treated like shit a lot. You’d be surprised how many people out there’d kill you as soon as look at you. Being poor is a crime in America.”

On kindness on the road: “Sometimes you find it. But more often than not it’s just cops hassling you and people asking you to leave. When all I wanna do is sleep it can be hell. Just so much shit to deal with just to sleep, you know? Hitchhiking ain’t what it used to be.”

On Baton Rouge: “Don’t go there. Stay away.”

On college football: “Oklahoma. Oklahoma’s my team. Fuck Texas. Nothing good ever happened to me there.”

As we get closer to St. Joseph I ask Wilson what’s there, to which he replies, “My daughter.” It’s as emphatic a conversation ender as he’s uttered, and I step away from the gaping abyss with a deft shuffle that would make any corner proud. I let him off near an exchange leading to St. Joseph and he thanks me then turns around without even a wave and walks off.

And now I’m in Murfreesboro, Tennessee to watch Western Kentucky play Middle Tennessee State. And after that Alabama. Let me say this for the south so far: no one’s allowed me to pay for a meal or a drink yet.

States visited: California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee.
Miles traveled: 3,400ish.
Times towed: Once. But I walked two miles to get my car back, so there.
Games watched (at least partially): West Virginia/Maryland, Oklahoma State/Troy, Pittsburgh/Michigan State, Notre Dame/Michigan, Nebraska/USC
Family members seen: Two.
Duration of family time: Ten minutes, because no one wants to miss kickoff.
USC Panic-Meter: Low. Too low. Oh my god. Something bad’s going to happen, isn’t it?

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Filed under Big XII, European tapestry, One CFB Road Trip to rule them all, USC

This is one of the reasons I am driving half the circumference of the Earth

Or perhaps “These are six of the reasons I am driving half the circumference of the Earth”?

Or, if you’re that kind of person, “These are twelve of the reasons I am driving half the circumference of the Earth”.

Also: Notre Dame has -6 rushing yards on the season. UCLA lost by 38. Wheeeeee.

EDIT: Uploaded the rest of the pics here.

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Filed under One CFB Road Trip to rule them all