It’s half past August. There are a lot of things I can write about half past August to explain the approach of the season – “I can feel it in the pit of my stomach,” or “My blood is too thick for summer; it’s the cool change of fall that fills me with delight, the full promise of a new year and, with it, the possibility of joy or despair and the clean demarcation between the two that so characterize college football,” or “Everything is gray until kickoff” – but all those sentences suck. They suck because, while true, they do not work. They don’t. I’ve been reading a lot of sentences that don’t work because beat writers are all stuck with the inescapable fact of twelve regular season games and, at most, two post-season. There’s a lot of buildup and, between, a lot of waiting. And if I’m to be honest with myself there’s not a lot of gray until kickoff. I think obsessives of my kind like to think our burden is singular. We are slow to acknowledge our communal experience because it really is difficult to imagine the slow painful ticks are as slow or as painful for others; but we all read the local papers, no matter how bad or repetitive, with equal parts fervor and trepidation. This is fall camp, after all. Injuries and failures here are now part of the season. This is the prologue. Prologues matter, even to those who’re so addicted they’ll read past something like “Call me Ishmael, who went 4-for-7 for 68 yards and one interception against the second team defense.” We’re all excited because it’s half past August and that means football at long last.
This is the time of year where I question my obsession. I don’t question it mid-season because why would you? It’s mid-season. That’s a given. Better off questioning the color of the sky or why velociraptors had to die off. One positive thing about my particular obsession is that the related joy or despair are good enough in of themselves: they need no introduction, require nothing in the way of justification and are entirely whole without any need for psychoanalysis, parental approval or any of the sloppy solipsistic reasoning that shoot wholly unmemorable articles to the top of time.com or newsweek.com’s most popular articles. I don’t need a news magazine to tell me my particular obsession is healthy or unhealthy or simply unavoidable. In this the season is pure: it just is. A 2-1 start can become a 12-1 season (see: last year) and any deeper emotional analysis between games one and thirteen are the equivalent of mental masturbation, i.e. entertaining and good enough for a couple of hours whiled away, but nothing of import has been accomplished.
At this point of the year I suck and I’m lucky and I’m human. Right now I’m thinking I’m lucky and I’m human but tomorrow I might question such a wholesale devotion of synapses to something so unimportant. And it is unimportant, really. I think the proper judge of these things is the sci-fi approach. If, tomorrow, an alien mothership were to appear above the capitol of one of our nations I’d probably shelve thoughts of Ohio State and turn instead to higher, more important questions: will they obliterate us? If they try, will I get to be the nominal hero and save my loved ones from particle beam destruction? Will that salvation be enough to overcome years of the petty betrayals and small disappointments we all inflict on the people most important in in our lives? Did I read enough? Have I seen enough Bruckheimer fare to recognize the moment when I seize mislaid alien technology and lay waste to dreams of intergalactic imperialism? And if I should be so lucky, will my victory be bittersweet when I find out that the real monsters are us?
(Aside: District 9 is pretty good. But it’s not why I started writing this post; more on that later.)
Another, more depressing test is the war in Iraq. It’s depressing because college football always loses. I’m not gonna say that the war in Iraq takes up more headspace than college football; that would be a lie. It’s depressing because I avoid reading stories about ambushes and improvised explosive devices because they are depressing, and on some level I know I should read them because American men and women are sacrificing their bodies and minds in a war I don’t believe in but the least I can do is read about it all and instead I just skip straight to the USC practice report. To even pretend that college football, on any level, is more important than what’s happening in the wire reports becoming from Baghdad is, as the late, great David Foster Wallace said, grotesque. But there it is, anyway: Gary Klein, Sam Farmer, Chris Defrense or any of the other beat writers are the guys I read. I can’t help it, and that’s a particularly depressing thing to say in an age of self-help.
I don’t want to be depressed, so I’ll get around to why I’m writing this post: my month-0ld nephew. He’s technically my cousin, but since he’ll be calling me Uncle Jon – and that is particularly weird for a family that hasn’t had a baby in thirteen years – I think of him as my nephew. I have a very small family. This is my first adult experience with a baby. (Wow, can that sentence be misconstrued. The fact that I even thought about that double-entendre means I’m probably not that grown-up.) I never thought I was immune to the baby effect, but it never occurred to me I’d be helpless against it. All I can think of now is the circle of life and gazelles bowing to the little guy. It’s kind of disturbing how one tiny little hand gripping your finger can turn you mushy.
So this is the thing: it’s half past August, and I’m excited for that fact without any additions but I am really excited at the thought of passing on this obsession to my nephew. Is this normal? Probably. I imagine if I was part of some ancient lineage of calligraphers or cheese makers I’d look forward to passing on my incredibly-boring-to-others heritage. I am no stranger to tradition. My father pissed standing up, my grandfathers pissed standing up and, by God, my nephew will piss standing up and be as grateful for this smug little satisfaction as I am. And he will go to USC games with me. It’s very possible my love of USC football will smother him and, along with the other gross deformities of character coursing through my system, turn him into a Notre Dame fan or, worst of all, turn him completely off of college football. For now, though, I am thinking back on my first game at the Coliseum with the clarity only a newborn can provide. Will Conquest and Tribute To Troy – two songs so militaristic they might as well be played by jackbooted goose-steppers – make him feel the same way I feel? I hope so. At the very least he’ll love that stupid, wonderful white horse until he realizes the Song Girls are more important.
By then, with any hope, he’ll be beyond the help of more reasonable men and be enthralled by a day like half past August.