Category Archives: One CFB Road Trip to rule them all

The Approach to Ann Arbor

My life for the past year or so has been essentially summarized by a Scotsman.

For those of you who are not familiar: I drove more than 17,000 miles across 30 states for 90 consecutive days to watch 25 live college football games in 2007. I’ve explained this bit to many people. It’s become an easy way for my friends to introduce me to others: “He went on this crazy college football road trip last year. He got arrested in Texas. He dropped a bit of acid in New Orleans. Barbeque was involved. Etc.,” but it is rare that anything is actually communicated. Most nod and acquiesce to the vaguely epic feel of the tale; very few grab my hand a second time and shake firmly. Those who do have a certain look in their eyes.

The plot is as follows: a man, the incredulous and fugitive student whom we already know, falls among people of the vilest class and adjusts himself to them, in a kind of contest of infamy. All at once – with the miraculous consternation of Robinson Crusoe faced with the human footprint in the sand – he perceives some mitigation in this infamy: a tenderness, an exaltation, a silence in one of the abhorrent men. “It was as if a more complex interlocutor had joined the dialogue.” He knows that the vile man conversing with him is incapable of this momentaneous decorum; from this fact he concludes that the other, for the moment, is the reflection of a friend, or of the friend of a friend. Rethinking the problem he arrives at a mysterious conviction: some place in the world there is a man from whom this clarity emanates; some place in the world there is a man who is this clarity. The student resolves to dedicate his life to finding him.

The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim (1936), Jorge Luis Borges

I’m not Al-Mu’tasim, the origin of clarity and beauty. I’m not even his direct antecedent, who is in fact a fat and happy Parisian bookseller. I’m pretty far down the rung, but probably somewhere above Trev Alberts. I’ve seen more live college football games in one season than anyone, I think, and the kind of people who find that important light up when they hear about my travels. It must be, for them, like a cross between meeting Charlie Lindbergh and the Bearded Lady and her Lobster Lad. Both parties represent something extraordinary in humanity, the very limits of our physical and spiritual expectations. They dwell in opposite ends of fame: one a hero and the others freaks. By comparing ourselves to these examples of distortion and improbability we reach conclusions about what is normal and what is acceptable – but in some mysterious way, just by knowing of these people, we still extend into that otherworldly realm where weird shit happens that shouldn’t, and thus the boundaries are pushed back a little more.

Which is to say: if you plan on living in your car for three straight months, bring a fan with an independent energy source. Only a freak(ishly idiotic person) like me would realize that somewhere near Tennessee, and not, say, California.

I don’t think I need to tell Alex Massie, the Scotsman mentioned above, any of this. I’d probably only need to lay out the metrics – 17,000, 30, 25, 90 – and he’d get that look in his eye and shake my hand again, firmly. Read his article. He calls American sports teams “sides”, which is amusing to someone who had to call tenderloins “fillets” for several years, and he didn’t mention anything about the dark, monstrous emotions lifelong college football fans know as their blood type – it’s only a matter of time, certainly not perseverance – but he strikes the nail and he strikes it true: there is no other sport in America as American as college football.

One can sense this Scotsman is a searcher. Like me, and like the law student in the fictional book Borges “reviews” above, he senses there must be some central source of divinity that has left its mark on others, who in turn have passed on their share and created a whole nation of people endowed with a shard of the immutable properties of the universe, i.e. the 4th quarter comeback. He need only ask Colorado fans who remember 1994, or Boston College fans who remember 1984, or college football fans who remember 2007, and he will have met someone who also believes that this game offers a view into something highly Other. He probably wonders what the hell Conference USA is, and is likely intrigued by this East Carolina University prodigy despite its evident abnormality. He is undoubtedly very sensitive to the tidal change in Ann Arbor and, if he were a student of the classics, would compare it to Zeus and his war with Cronus, except that would also mean imagining Rich Rod killing Lloyd Carr in a necessary act of patricide. As a foreigner he might sense the terrifying, absolute beauty of this game, and reading anything intimating such is unreasonably gratifying for me.

I have no doubt that college football will continue to be the epitome of American sports, but it’s nice to have new converts. Clarity implies the seer and the seen, after all, so one more crazy fan is always welcome.

(HT: MGoBlog)

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After 90 consecutive days of travel I am, at last, typing this from Temple City, California.  There’s one more regular season game left, and then the bowls. I suppose now’s a good time to mention that I’m going to some bowl games. I figure I can stick to California and see at least three, but I won’t mention which three because JINX.

After that comes the whole writing a book thing, which many people have asked about. I hedged, mainly, when I wasn’t avoiding the subject or circumnavigating the question or shouting “OHMYGOD Joe Paterno!” and then running away – but there ought to be a book, unless I can competently fake my death. I should probably fake my death anyway and drive up interest.

The many people who wanted to know about the book also asked about a possible title. Title? I haven’t even written a single word yet. Title. C’mon.

Well, here it is: Moby-Dick.

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The Drumstick of Fear

There’s no way I can come up with a worse post title.

At the end of today I hope to be eating from one of those mutant birds you only ever see at a Lions’ Thanksgiving Day game: a Frankenfood monstrosity sporting six legs and the gleaming brown formica carapace of turkey skin baked to crispy recondite invulnerability, and somewhere in the background Matt Millen is crying. Because only winners get to eat from the Six Legged Beast of Famine and Doom and Thanks, and Matt Millen is no winner.

Victory, in other words. I want it with a side of gravy.

Even if victory doesn’t come, though, I have to be pretty grateful I’m even in Tempe to watch USC take on Arizona State and its gang of mercenaries, of which there is only one member and he is named Dennis Erickson. I could still be in Brazos County, or decomposing in a swamp in Louisiana, or frozen to a flagpole in Kalamazoo, or chalking up the buildings of Morgantown with the fine white residue of my ashes. Instead I am here in Arizona celebrating Thanksgiving with my family and the usual complement of contentedly sedate looking USC fans.

Thank you to everyone who has: sheltered me, fed me, got me drunk, given me directions, helped me financially, provided a ticket, waved an angry fist in my defense, told others that “he’s cool, don’t punch him”, introduced me to a female acquaintance, shown me around town, driven me anywhere, picked me up from a number of places, asked about the condition of my car and my psyche, offered life and/or college football advice, striven to dispel local stereotypes, fully confirmed local stereotypes, let me play my first game of Halo 3, waved me off with only a warning to not speed in the state of Kansas or Ohio, pointed me towards the best watering hole in the county, not arrested me and thrown me into County, been, generally speaking, a decent human being unaffected by the miasma and cynicism of life in 2007 America and thus willing to take a chance on a strange guy from California who just wants to know if there’s anything to do in town on a Tuesday night besides go to the library, and, hey, why don’t you just crash at my place? Just don’t kill me or steal my XBox 360.

Which is a request I got quite often. So, hey!: I didn’t kill you or steal your XBox 360, and you didn’t harvest my organs.

Thanksgiving!

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How could I have forgotten?!

Many thanks to Sunday Morning Quarterback of Sunday Morning Quarterback, who showed me around downtown Austin and got me drunk and let me sleep on his couch and, generally, acted as a universal solvent to the intractable problem of, “Hey, idiot. You just got arrested in Texas. What the fuck are you still doing in Texas now that you’re out?”

SMQ was much quieter than I expected. The key to that sentence, however, is the word was. SMQ got quiet vocal once alcohol was introduced into the equation. SMQ eventually got around to waxing poetic on the Falstaffian-level of comedy represented by Cincinnati and South Florida eclipsing Southern Miss, the categorical imperative that Kant really meant to talk about which is “Drink the beer before you, and do not complain”, the vagaries of ESPN’s Greatest 25 College Football Players of All Time (Ali: “Of all time!”), the bland meh-ness of Kirk Herbstreit and the awesome “Wow, he really wants to hit someone”-ness of Chris Spielman, Stewart Mandel and Dennis Dodd’s punchability, sushi and its almost diametrical opposite the Chick-fil-A sandwich (but the fried sandwiches, none of that grilled shit), blogging, journalism, beards, women, television, movies, the geopolitics of Mississippi, good, evil, and the truly awesome Spectacle of Bruins Nation and its ilk, which, though he never verbally agreed, is exactly like watching a wounded carnivore devour its own young: which is to say horrific, but entertainingly horrific, and the question afterwards still remains, “So. Now what?”

SMQ also described his blog as somewhat disappointing to himself, noting that he didn’t really do any film analysis – he described it as “essential” to any good football blog, which rules out pretty much everyone except Brian – and that his stuff was based almost entirely on stats. True. But to say that sundaymorningqb.com is just a bunch of stats is like saying War and Peace is just a bunch of names. Whoa! Whoawhoawhoa, I know. Jimmy Carter, before his 1976 miracle run to the presidency, gave a speech at Georgia’s school of law in which he talked about reading Tolstoy’s novel as a young man and its impact on him, and he said that War and Peace isn’t really about Napoleon or the generals of either army or the Tsar of Russia… it’s about the peasants and the students and the soldiers and the farmers and the women, about the grand tide of humanity whose collective will was made manifest through the actions of the individual, but, like, lots of them. And much more important than guys with medals and big fuck off hats. Except Carter said it a lot better, and without using the word fuck. So, basically: It isn’t simply big quotes about history and momentum and destiny and gap blocking… it’s the numbers, man, from one to 120, which is the number of teams SMQ foolishly set out to preview this season and will probably foolishly set out to preview next season, and, shit, when does Western Kentucky become official? Only peanut farmers and guys like SMQ would be able to tell you that, and I saw WKU play.

I’m not sure how to tie all that together now, except to say that if ever there was a guy I wanted coordinating the analysis of the aftermath of the defense of Napoleonic Russia, it’s SMQ.

So thanks again man.

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The 13th Man

The Texas A&M Aggies are famous for many things: Friday night yell practice, the yell fish, kissing your girl after a score, kissing someone else’s girl after a score, Dat Nguyen, remarkably high ranking collies, so forth. A&M’s most famous aspect might be the idea of the 12th Man: an entire stadium standing at attention, just in case someone’s injured and a student (or reasonably non-flabby being) is called upon to descend from the stands, shed his work-a-day garb and don the maroon and white uniform of an Aggie to shuffle around on the field and not get in the game which is, basically, how the tradition started. It’s noble in ideal and, because the original 12th man E. King Gill never got to actually play, certainly noble in practice. This is Division I-A college football (!!!), and it’s scary enough letting walk-ons miss tackles against Allen Patrick. Still: 12th Man. It’s pretty cool.

There is a 13th Man at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field. That Man is named the University Police Department. I was arrested by the 13th Man sometime around 12:30 a.m. on the morning (or night) of Monday, November 19th, for hopping a fence and walking into the stadium and taking pictures and, generally, being the incaculably foolish fan that I am. But I did get some pictures, one of which was taken by the security guard who called in the four police cars that eventually showed up. He was a decent human being who took pity on a poor schmuck about to be hauled off into the awful waiting game of Dial-a-Bondsman.

So now I’ve got a charge of criminal trespass, a Class B Misdemeanor. I also spent 12 hours in the Brazos County Jail. My arresting officer – a reasonably decent Panamanian named Dalton – answered my question, posed from the back of a squad car because I was after all arrested, concerning the relative excitement of the morning shift at Texas A&M University by saying, very prophetically: “Well, you get your typical student dumb shits. Drunk, partying, dope [author's note: I haven't heard the term "dope" outside of interviews with guys like H.S.T. and Muhammad Ali and Lyndon Baines Johnson], that kind of thing. Then you have [the town of] Bryan, which isn’t too nice.”

Me: “Lots of crime?”

Dalton: “Oh, yeah. You know those lists they put together at newspapers or U.S. World News and Report or whatever?”

Me: “Yeah, you mean like ‘Nation’s Safest City’?”

Dalton: “Yeah. Except Brazos County ain’t on that list.”

My holding cell mates when I left were: a chunky white man about 34 years old with an $11,000 bail – accrued, anecdotally, through things like fraud and other less glamorously violent charges – and no hope of posting after being there since Saturday and who was well versed at using a roll of toilet paper for a pillow and his jacket as a blanket/night-simulator; a mid-twenties black man transferring from Sandy Creek prison named Chris, who’s served 3-and-a-half years on an 16 year term for aggravated assault which, as he explained to me, “ain’t no small shit. You don’t even sniff parole until year eight man, ya dig me? Thass why I’m here paying it off, man, you got-ta pay it off else you’ll be in this motherfucker forever,” with “paying it off” a catch-all phrase for coming to terms with whatever shit you’ve got yourself in, a kind of karmic koan to help concentrate the necessarily fickle idiot winds of human consciousness into a relatively efficient force capable of dealing with court appointed lawyers and the ugly realities of the Brazos County Jail baloney sandwiches, and let me emphasize that Chris, with his rolling bass thunder of a voice and his impossible to understand pitch-oscillation, was a helluva pro bono adviser because he gave me an absolutely sterling mental tour of the surrounding incarceration industries; a Guatamalan man picked up for hitting another car and being Guatamalan, which is to say illegal immigrant – a fact confirmed for us by the Gautamalan whose only English words seemed to be “free?” while pointing at the collect call phone, “taxi driver” in explanation of his (illegal) occupation, and “deportation” in reference to his fate. The Gautamalan slept like a baby most of the time, a man deeply in touch with his destiny and completely serene with whatever was going to happen to him in the terribly strange country we call America.

I was bailed out by a Mr. David Hargrave, whom I’ve never met. David is the brother of Daniel Hargrave, a family friend for many years, a staunch Texan and one of the best human beings I’ve ever eaten In ‘n Out with (there are literally thousands of human beings I’ve eaten In ‘n Out with, and Daniel is in the .001 percentile which, due to my math skills, might actually make him into a fractional person but whatever). The loose network of support I call my Mobile Ozone Layer began to branch out into the dark corners of the bail bond universe and, from all the way by LAX in Los Angeles, a spark was set forth that would eventually become the all-mighty raging inferno of a miracle personified by David when he drove, from Houston on the way to Fort Worth, to pick my ass up from County.

Also: my mom rocks.

So I now have a $1015 bail bond fee and a $143 towing charge to add to the growing list of horrors I call a budget.

Am I bitter? Certainly. But I am also realisitc. Every officer of the peace I met told me, “Yeah, it sucks, but it’s our job. If you had done this any other time besides the Texas game you probably would’ve been fine.” This last part rotated in with things like “before 9/11″ and “the whole Bush library thing”.

So it appears that once again the unholy trinity of the Texas Longhorns, George Herbert Walker Bush and Osama bin Laden have conspired to make my life painfully, painfully interesting.

Finally: 5’8″?!? That’s bullshit. I’m 5’9″. That’s just egregious misrepresentation of the facts. I demand a lawyer.

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Random picture

Me and the Hulkster, Southern Miss vs. UCF.

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Remarkable stuff

Western Michigan and Central Michigan combined for 17 points through 45:05 of play. In the last 14:55 the two MAC West rivals combined for 48 points, 24 of them in the final four minutes of regulation. The Broncos looked dominating in the first few series. Then the game got boring. Then Central went ahead and looked like it would never relinquish the lead. Then Western scored two straight touchdowns within 33 seconds of each other. Then All-MAC sophomore QB Dan LaFevour (“FEVER!”) threw a 39 yard pass to Bryan Anderson and suddenly, with the game on the line, the Chippewas were on the 1-yard line with less than a minute to go. It took them three tries, one review and a possible fumble to get the touchdown.

And it was snowing. To a Californian this was like playing golf on the moon.

I’m not sure what I expected out of CMU-WMU. Certainly not what I found: a massive apartment complex house party that would’ve done UCSB proud, a student body that prides itself on being “Wastern Michigan”, the best looking girls I’d seen since I left the South behind, an unbelievable game that ended on…

… because I have to mention it…

… a 38 yard scramble with 12 seconds left to play, as the Broncos lateraled the kickoff at least five times before the ball went out of bounds somewhere near the CMU 35-yard line. The recap doesn’t even fucking mention this, which goes to prove my theorem once again: it is always worth going to a college football game, because relying on ESPN or the AP to be your eyes and ears is inadvisable. How could they ever describe snowflakes swirling through a two-minute drill? Or the absolute dead silence following a ref’s announcement that the ruling on the field would stand, and Western would lose? Or the giddy sugar high of The Play gone wrong, or at least short? They can’t, which is why you ought to stop lying to yourself about enjoying the game more at home.

I have to admit it: I did not expect a good game, or even a close one. I thought CMU would handle Western. I also thought I was going to go to 14 games this season. I’m on track for 25 games. I’ve visited 23 stadiums already. I’ve been to 27 states and the District of Columbia so far. The 10,000 miles I alloted myself way back when I first dreamt up this idea came and went somewhere near Bowling Green, Ohio – which is where I was attracted to a stadium lit up at night. Turns out the BGSU Falcons were practicing. I got to watch them run gassers, fight amongst themselves (literally), drill, and scrimmage, and all because my automatic reaction whenever I see stadium lights is to now wonder if I can get in somehow.

Another thing I’ve learned: don’t take acid in New Orleans and then drive to Baton Rouge that same night.

All in all, these past 70 days have been, as mentioned above, remarkable.

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