On Barkley

A commentator on this blog once gave me sound advice amounting to this: “Your duty as a college football fan is to root for the non-starting quarterback.”

The quarterback competition in question was John David Booty, with an injured thumb, versus Mark Sanchez.

The above advice is unsound when applied to names like Tebow – who the hell is Florida’s backup, anyway? I think it might be the transfer from Texas John Might-Be-Named-Brantley, but this is shooting from the hip at best – and Leinart. It’s very unsound when you’re Washington State or Michigan. The former had to hold campus tryouts last season to flesh out the depth chart, and the latter attempted to suit up med school cadavers midway through the Big Ten slate.

Still, it’s sound advice. I was fine with Aaron Corp. More than fine, really. He shredded defenses at Orange Lutheran High and made a mockery of the CIF state championship game. He’s mobile, which is nice. (Correction: he’s mobile, which is fucking awesome in ways I can’t begin to explain but have something to do with a primordial fear of quarterbacks who can run and are from Houston and have the initials V.Y.) He avoided interceptions. That’s a big one, considering this season’s road schedule is going to hinge on turnover ratio. He’s put in his time, and who doesn’t want to see that rewarded?

Guilty as charged. I wanted Barkley to start. My bone marrow wanted Barkley to start. The bone marrow of my unborn great-grandchildren, who will one day tend to hydroponic soybean and hemp farms on Mars and probably make a killing off the neural stimulant black market in Pavonis Base Two, want Matt Barkley to start. I can accept this wholehearted devotion to potential even if its going to hurt a seemingly nice elite athlete like Aaron Corp, who must feel a bit bewildered right now.

I wonder at the Willy Pipp comparisons. Baseball is almost always a game about being still. Major league players all seek to find that magical line called statistical precedent and straddle it; I think if they were offered the opportunity to bat .700 for a single season or bat .350 for fifteen years they’d probably pick the latter. Perfect game, or twenty wins? Unassisted triple play in a call up game from Vasalia, or a career full of gold gloves? Aaron Corp is no Wally Pipp, because even one game can make a hero out of a college football player. Look at UCLA’s Patrick Cowan. Google his name and you’ll get to watch his gray matter ramify out his facial orifices as Rey Maualuga rearranges his cranium into something like a Mandelbrot set on acid, but UCLA fans will always remember him as the Guy Who Denied USC A Ticket To The Dance. Aaron Corp’s story so far is pure tragedy in a way Pipp’s never could’ve been. He was the starting quarterback at USC and he would’ve kept that job if he’d simply won. Gehrig was always going to be greater than Pipp, whether it was that day or some other day. Corp’s only chance was against Ohio State. We all knew it. It’s a shame he won’t get it, because even if Barkley flounders there’s no way the Golden One will ride the pine for the next two years. Pete Carroll is no gambler. He’s goofy and slightly retarded in that endearing vapid cheerleader kind of way, but he knows what’s up. Matt Barkley is his ticket to The Dance, which is incredibly odd to say because the starting quarterback for a championship team has been, very often over the last few years in both college and pro, the guy who doesn’t lose the game.

Corp was the respectable, dependable, sane choice. But Carroll – and I – want something grander, even if the only grandiose move right now is to build for next year. Ask me again after Ohio State and I might have a different answer, but for now I feel bad for Corp and holy fucking shit Matt Barkley is going to start on Saturday.

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Half past August

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.

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I had a dream last night

Tom Brady transferred to USC, allowing Matt Barkley to redshirt and, eventually, beat out the two-time Super Bowl MVP in fall camp of 2010.

(I am not making this up.)

The season is close. I can feel it.

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Total Media Coverage, subverted

I’m told that this coming Friday, which ought to be July 3 unless my calendar skills have regressed back to post-BCS championship game levels, I should not attempt to drive on U.S. highway 101. This is because there will be a viewing of Michael Jackson’s body at Neverland Ranch, and the type of people who would fly in from Germany or the Philippines to get a view of the King of Pop’s (presumably) preserved corpse are also not the type of people who are willing to carpool. Likely they are willing to carpool, but carpooling is probably not an option given the scale of the M.J. Experience, which is the name I have given to both the actual group and the phenomenon.

I got a hint of the power of this phenomenon when I made a joke about child molestation in front of a co-worker after she told me he had died. I have a tendency to say uncouth things in moments of great delicacy, and this was no exception. She reared up – this isn’t just idle metaphor: she really did rear up like an angry bear, or a horse that finally got tired of stupid humans – and told me off. It turns out there are many, many people who love(d) Jackson, and “Billie Jean” is enough to make them catatonic with pleasure if it wasn’t also invoking one of the pantheonic demigods of dance. I stuck by my guns because who doesn’t love a pederast joke in a time of duress? Still, it made me think. All these years I believed that Jackson probably did something bad with those kids, or maybe with one of those kids and the rest piled on (sorry, had to stick another one of those poor-tasters in there); either way, the guy creeped me out. He was never convicted, though. He just lost a number of trials-by-public.

This is a country that prides itself on things like the assumption that the accused are innocent until proven guilty. Have I been wrong all these years to assume Michael Jackson must’ve done something bad? Was he, in reality, just an eccentric person capable of immense genius and sensitivity? We’re all a bit weird, after all. I haven’t surgically altered my face to look more like white America, but I do clip my toe nails into the toilet occasionally. The truth is that I don’t really know anything that can’t be gleaned from Wikipedia or my poorly recalled experience with Moonwalker (the movie, the video game and the arcade machine), but my comment was enough to get a rise out of a normal person who felt involved in Jackson’s death in a way most people aren’t capable of expressing, but likely has something to do with a connection with someone you ought never to have connected with in the first place if our modes of communication were still in, say, a 17th century state, and maybe this is why people genuinely care about Jennifer Aniston’s love life.

Which brings me to Reggie Bush. It’s hard for me to watch New Orleans Saints games because of Bush. Sedrick Ellis helps, as does Billy Miller – and I never thought Miller would still be in the league in 2009 but I approve, you freckled spot-of-brightness from the nineties – but it’s so easy to focus on Bush for the obvious reasons of talent, speed and convulsion-inducing-impossibility. It makes me feel terrible inside because I know Reggie Bush is guilty of violating numerous NCAA rules during his time at USC.

Or do I? I thought I knew. I tell a lot of people he’s guilty. “He had a souped up Impala, man. The sheer stupidity of it, driving around in that thing as the star tailback of the most visible program in the nation!” as I writhe on the floor at the thought of such betrayal, showing off the stigmata. I talk about how proud I was watching the 2005 Heisman ceremony, how I was moved to tears when Reggie teared up and talked about his step-dad, and about how I felt when I read that LaMar Griffin was at the center of the accusations of cheating.

(Cheating? I suppose it would be, but to this day “cheating” doesn’t encapsulate everything. If Bush is guilty then he’d have been ineligible, which means his presence from the 2004 to 2005 seasons would be cheating, yes, but more than anything I feel the crime is actually greed and arrogance. Greed for taking that money and arrogance for thinking he could sweep a relationship with a guy named Michael Michaels under the table. Plus he pretty much disappointed in every bowl appearance he made.)

(That really is the kind of justification I make to myself while standing in line at the deli. I need help.)

I still feel betrayed. I remember the 2005 game at Washington. The poor, poor Huskies were several seasons away from the ultimate in futility, but they were still so crappy I had to justify my presence in Seattle with two rationalizations: the seafood, and Reggie Bush. Neither disappointed. Bush took a punt back using nothing but refraction and a pair of double jointed ankles. He made it look like he was running around a bunch of shades (the afterlife kind, not the venetian kind.) Every single Husky fan I talked to said the same thing: “We are going to lose, and lose big. I just hope Bush does something amazing.” They weren’t disappointed, which is odd since they’re technically rooting for the victims but still: the Chinese could appreciate the awesomeness of the Golden Horde even as it rolled over them. #5 wasn’t wearing a fur hat or launching plague-ridden corpses into European cities that day, but he r-and-p’ed the shit out of Husky Stadium. I’m not sure if Tyrone Willingham would’ve preferred facing Bush or Khan. I’d like to think Willingham was like me, and like those Husky fans: he was just happy to have a seat for the Best Show in College Football. Reggie was like that. He made everyone feel like they were watching history being made.

(So, yes, I guess it would be cheating having a paradigm-shifting non-eligible tailback on your team. Access to the Speed Force only heightens that distinction. I guess my love of USC football makes it seem like a technicality, which is the segue way into the next paragraph but how do I get out of this parenthetical?)

My love of USC football made the accusations of cheating seem like a technicality. But I was – am – convinced of Bush’s guilt. This has nothing to do with school pride and an attendant wish to visit swift, Old Testament justice to someone who’s besmirched the name of the university. It doesn’t even have to do with a desire to clear the university’s name. Neither of those are factors, particularly because I went to UC Santa Barbara.

I think it has something to do with the 2004 opener against Virginia Tech. USC was favored by a couple of touchdowns but the Hokies, true to their late season form, were performing admirably. Correction: they were being assholes by not giving up. I wasn’t at Fed-Ex Field. I was watching the game at my neighbors’, and everyone of course hated USC. (Understandable, and not in that smug way. The factors which led to my USC fandom were uncontrollable, and had they not aligned so I, too, would hate USC. It’s simple fractals.) They were all, rightly so, giving me shit for a terrible passing interference call that benefited the Trojans. I did not help anyone by being drunk and telling them to fuck themselves. Reggie Bush ignored us all and single handedly won the game. He made Frank Beamer’s brilliant game plan moot, he made senior Tech QB Bryan Randall’s heroics null, and he made 80,000 plus Hokie faithful sad. This made me so happy I held a bottle of bourbon to my heart and swore on the soul of Kentucky ricks everywhere (in Kentucky) that I would give anything to see USC play for the national championship that year.

Bush made all that happen. He went from promising freshman to savior of the world in one game. The play where he turned a slip screen into a demonstration of the presence of God in the Creation was the play I hung my hat, firmly, on the back of a stool in a bar called “Reggie Bush Will Lead Me To The Promised Land”, and if that’s too much religiosity in a sentence about the 2004 BCA Classic you clearly haven’t heard me talk about the 2005 Notre Dame game. I spent three plus years in that bar, which includes more than a year after he declared early because I think I believed, particularly after USC lost in Corvallis in 2006, He would come back despite NCAA regulations against such. Little did I know.

So on some level I invested at least a sliver of my spiritual well being into Reggie Bush. He was capable of rendering pleasure (see: mostly every play during the 2005 season) and pain (see: lateral) more readily than any sports figure I have ever encountered. It’s kind of grotesque how easily he made me happy just by being in a huddle.

Everything I’ve read makes me think he did something wrong during his last two years at USC. I want this investigation to be over already, but it’s not going to be over this season or any time soon. I could care less about Tim Floyd and the money-gobbling new Memphis Grizzly, because that is basketball. It does not matter. But Bush? He’s hurt me. I’m not sure if there’s a USC fan convinced of Bush’s innocence but  I can imagine their reactions to talk about guilt, lack of institutional control, etc.: reared up like an angry bear, or a horse that finally got tired of stupid UCLA fans. I can understand such USC fans. They might well have given their heart over to a supremely talented tailback. It happens if you’re lucky enough to be a fan when Bo or Herschel or Reggie carry the ball. There’s no shame in devoting a bit of your essence to that kind of hero worship because they make their qualifications for such worship so obvious with a simple off-tackle or sweep. It does leave you vulnerable, though.

There are going to be a lot of devoted Michael Jackson fans in Santa Barbara on Friday. Maybe they were moved by his music, or his gentleness, or the awesomeness that is “Smooth Criminal”. I never imagined there could be that much in common between us, but it took a poorly judged pedophile joke to bring the realization: they believe Jackson was innocent, I believe Bush is guilty, and it seems like neither the twain shall meet evidence to the contrary so long as death and the NCAA stay true. Love clouds all judgment. That’s why courtrooms never smell like perfume.

For the record, though: not even a returned Heisman, vacated wins or NCAA sanctions can take away the sweetness of the Bush Push. Not all cheating is wrong.

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It has become apparent I must be stopped, no matter the cost

The loss to Oregon State caused me to withdraw from the internet, television, newspapers and all forms of mass communication including but not limited to tin can-and-wire, shouting, smoke signals, imagined telepathy, real telepathy, gazing, ham radio, nostril flaring via elaborate mirror setups running along the beautiful oceanic stretch of Highway 1 from Cambria to Santa Cruz, the maritime code book, and talking. This is the first time I’ve been online since that terrible, terrible Thursday.

Apparently David Foster Wallace is dead.

This happened sometime around the fourth or fifth touchdown USC scored against poor, hapless, resurgent Ohio State, which was a week and a half before Oregon State, which means I am an idiot of elephantine proportions. Perhaps idiot isn’t the right word, but I do feel idiotic.

I like(d) DFW. “Genius” gets thrown around a lot these days, but he was a genius. More to the point of this blog, he was also an athlete who admired what athleticism represents, whatever that is (and DFW never claimed to know.) More than anyone else in the world he made me feel it was alright to ascribe awe, religiosity and mysticism to sports. He readily admitted, even after writing three essays about tennis and tennis players and an 1,100 page novel involving a tennis playing main character, he still couldn’t explain how Roger Federer does what he does. I have come to terms with the idea that I will never truly understand what happens on a college football field until I become a member of a Division I-A college football coaching staff and, in excruciating detail, review the tape. DFW, like Brian – whose own DFW obit I took, in absurdly monstrous dullness, as just a kind of “Hey, this guy is great. He’s not dead or anything. I simply wanted to explain how great he is,” further spiraling me into obtuse hell: I read most of it, glossing over some bits and recalling, very fondly, the beauty of footnote #17 from “Roger Federer as Religious Experience” but I still somehow missed the bit about suicide and, filing it in my internet cabinet of Things To Read And Do Later, assumed Brian was making a very accurate comparison between himself and DFW, and, yes, that’s all about as stupid as it gets – would very likely have been the kind of guy who’d break down game tape and watch it fully and comprehensively no matter the current situation, be that terminal illness, coitus or crippling spiritual agony due to a loss.

I can only imagine a DFW essay about college football. Very likely he would be funny, sardonic, baffled and intrigued. There is something about the suffocating, all-consuming coverage of college football he’d riff on, and in extremely humane and agreeable terms. He’d have done it recursively, and then doubt himself in that pathologically remarkable way that, for me, more than the footnotes, abbreviations and clauses, made DFW DFW. He also had an eye for detail that made its best effect in his essays, which were always fair to their subject and more often than not the kind of thing that made you think, “Holy shit, are all magazines full of this kind of stuff? What have I been missing out on after decades of not reading The Atlantic? Fuck fuck fuck,” but actually not that howlingly despairing because it’s a salve to the soul not reading more stuff by guys much, much smarter than you, but still: he was good, and you knew it the moment you read paragraph one, i.e. pages 1-6.

And it took me almost a month to find out DFW is dead. I suppose that’s the kind of detail he’d have included in an essay about college football: this guy is serious about the game, he obsesses about it, he doesn’t even know there’s a recession going on much less the fact that the author is dead by his own hand, etc.

So where does this leave me? This isn’t some promise to myself about being more involved with the world. I will continue to be obsessed with college football. And it’s completely absurd to think I won’t be devastated the next time USC loses.

I think I need to write more. That’s about it. I haven’t written much over the past year, so that’s a pretty solid hard fact to bang my head against. It’s been a pleasant nine months of stationary 40-hours-a-week life. I have money in my pockets and whiskey in my glass and a heavily monopolized daily routine of work, friends and ritual. Not traveling reminds me of the non-romantic bits they exclude on the Travel Channel: gas station showers, shitty cheap food, constant paranoia, 14-20 year old British citizens, etc. It really is nice to be in one place for an extended period of time without worrying about an expiring visa. But re-reading DFW’s essay on Roger Federer recalls the warm comfort I felt in my sternum, radiating outward with gauzy familiarity, after recognizing a fellow traveler in the well invested but rarely believable realm of Sport-As-Truth, Or-At-Least-A-Kind-Of-Truth. Some guys choose comic books or jazz or cars or porn as their personal cross to bear, a fetish they believe reflects the world in ways very few people realize. This kind of devotion to genre is admirable from within, occassionally repulsive and incomprehensible from without. Knowing everything there is to know about DC cosmology, or Charlie Parker, or 1967 the automotive year, or the shifting axis of power between central Europe and the San Fernando Valley: these things matter to devotees because they are the accumulations of Biblical or rabbinic or whatever-text knowledge, which is not itself understanding but at least one way towards understanding.

I firmly believe DFW and I can agree that sports matter. He was a giant who will be remembered for his words, and for killing himself and depriving the world of an intellect so radiant it literally hurt to read his work, a throbbing behind the eyes that came directly from those areas of your brain responsible for piecing together clauses and signalling, klaxon-like, the approach of someone so far above you it’d be better if you’d just bury your head in a pillow instead of continuing to read this wonderful but depressing thing. I don’t think a young DFW imagined he’d be remembered as a sportswriter, but I do think some of his most personal moments on paper came via sports. They were so very often relevatory, so very often the kind of thing I needed to read at 3 a.m. I crave that. I had, I think, forgotten I crave that after two or three months of monotonous sifting of beat reporters’ resigned repetition of each other’s words and the absurd and ill-conceived talking points of columnists and talking heads, from spring ball to the day before Oregon State.

Now I want to find my lost copy of Consider the Lobster, and maybe finally garrote the person who never returned A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. They both contain essays on sports, the kind I’ve been talking about: beautiful, meandering, a little bit sad, always authoritative but never dogmatic, occassionally miraculous, and very much willing to stand back and say, “That’s just grotesque.” He had the chops and the rep to write this kind of stuff and actually get it published, full formed, without tacking on the neat little coda all sports stories are required to have. It’s literally insane they let him do this kind of thing. It wasn’t like DFW was this physical force of nature like Hunter S. Thompson, who’d pull a gun on you rather than have a foul adjective edited into mere libel. He was a dove. But he wrote like a convict: deep in it, unafraid of censure, maybe even a little addled by the walls and the solitary but somehow still a bit sweet, like doing time is enough to make innocence seem more tangible. It’s amazing stuff, and, shit, it’s about tennis – but I crave it. Truth be told, though, I’d much rather write right now even though it’s obvious I’m not going to fully satisfy that craving by writing what I want to read because 1) I’m no DFW and 2) it’s a craving that cannot be fully satisfied. Still, it seems like the important thing is to write.

USC 41, ASU 16; but it’s gonna be a more interesting post if things don’t go smoothly so, just this once, for David Foster Wallace, maybe I’m hoping things don’t go that smoothly.

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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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A review of What Happened On The Sideline Between Stacey Dales And Chris Long

Nobody has written for the stage with as much power and verve as ABC/ESPN, and yet the venerable playwright has been for some time now regarded as a relic of the past. This seems only fitting given a recent output whose high water mark is Comin’ To Your Citay, or, A(n) (A)Moral Tale (2006), an odious play which still featured the signature rat-a-tat dialogue made so famous in years past.

“ABC/ESPN,” wrote David Mamet in a guest review of Citay in The Economist, “may be slumming it right now, but the rest of us could only wish we were so gloriously dilapidated. This may be bad, but it’s still viscera. It’s blood and guts. It’s bone marrow. I wanted to smash my own face in shame knowing that even in repose, even in winter, ABC/ESPN could put this on a stage. Some day the truth will flare out and expose us all for the hacks we are, but until then I will continue going to the theater because I have no choice: it’s either ABC/ESPN, or the ledge.”

Though Mamet was a bit effusive in his praise of a minor work, he struck the chord: we were wrong to ever doubt ABC/ESPN’s ability to again seize the stage. Witness What Happened On The Sideline Between Stacey Dales and Chris Long (Nederlander Theater, 208 W. 41st St., 212-921-8000), a return to form so stunning in scope and audacity, so replete with energy and abandon, so utterly ABC/ESPN it makes the entire preceding decade’s worth of theater gray and dull in comparison. This new work is nothing short of the finest piece of American drama since we lost Arthur Miller to Marilyn Monroe. It demands to be seen. Like all great drama, it insists.

At times its blatant sexuality is overpowering, a kind of unctuous musk that leaves the theater dim and ungraceful. But that is rare. For the most part ABC/ESPN handles the scenes between Dales and Long with a light hand, letting the tension build slowly until even the audience is practically gasping for release. It is a pleasure to watch and be a part of: a vision so audacious one wonders how a nation founded by Puritans could possibly countenance this kind of out-and-out carnality in a place the Greeks considered sacred. But don’t let the talk of angry protesters fool you: this is art, High Art, and we can only be grateful that at long last ABC/ESPN has returned.

An excerpt from What Happened On The Sideline Between Stacey Dales And Chris Long:

DRAMATIS PERSONAE, in order of appearance

BRAD NESSLER, a perfum’d Rasputin with the voice of Bacchus.

STACEY DALES, the golden haired Amazon of the sidelines and daughter to the king of the WNBA.

CHRIS LONG, the number two pick of the draft and herald to Teri Hatcher.

BOB GRIESE, deposed king of Florida and father to the son of Bob Griese.

PAUL MAGUIRE, a crazed pauper.

PRINCES, COUNCILMEN, BARONS, GUARDS, MEN-AT-ARMS, SOLDIERY, SQUIRES, CITIZENS, LAWYERS, MUSICIANS, FISHMONGERS, etc.

Act One, Scene One

A stirring war-like processional is sounded. A video montage lights the back of the stage, showing CHRIS LONG in sudden, shocking violence: decapitating a quarterback, bending iron to his will, holding aloft the skulls of his enemy. It is impossible to turn away from this spectacle. Enter BRAD NESSLER. He is wearing a purple chiffon bath robe, with the belt only halfway done. We can see his gleaming mahogany chest and his dark curling chest hair with ease, and he knows we can. NESSLER takes his time in lighting a long black cigarillo. The theater is filled with the smell of week old bananas and coco butter, and something darker and sinister underneath. He inhales and exhales luxuriously, watching the brutal footage of LONG. NESSLER seems to approve.

NESSLER: Well, Virginia lookin’ for stars like they had last year. In Chris Long they certainly had a super star last year. First team All-American. Number two draft choice in the NFL draft. He was Mr. Everything, Mr. Hustle. And he created havoc in a lot of ACC backfields last year as he led this team in sacks. And he’s here on the old stompin’ grounds with Stacey.

Enter STACEY DALES. She is impossibly tall. She wields a triangular mace with ease in one hand. At her back is a retinue of naked Amazonian HONOR GUARDS, their hair cropped short and their nakedness contrasted with the spears and shields they wield. They dance slowly behind her, a warrior dance: aggressive, dangerous, razor-sharp. DALES is unconcerned with their movements. She is focused.

DALES: Well Brad I’ve got Chris standing here with me. Now Chris, obviously you’re an integral part of this program. How has life changed though going into the NFL?

The center stage pit opens and, as Richard Strauss’ Thus Spake Zarathustra plays, CHRIS LONG emerges from beneath. LONG is wearing the half beard of a warrior gone to ground, unsure when his next respite may come. He is also, for some reason, wearing a backpack.

LONG: You know, it’s changed a lot. You know, I’m adjusting to it pretty well, uh, but having a weekend off and being able to come back here is really great.

DALES: What adjustments would you make with the defense right now, up 21 points for USC?

LONG, clearly irritated: Well you know, they’re doing their thing in there, running some zone plays. But, uh, I think the offense just has to get ‘em out of the hole a little bit. They’ll catch up.

DALES: Alright Chris, I have something. I always come bearing gifts. It even has a little grass in it.

Fire shoots up from the back, and the lighting focuses on DALES’ hand as her HONOR GUARD writhe like serpents, undulating and bowing to what she holds. It is a SANDWICH. It is glistening unhealthily. Enter BOB GRIESE and PAUL MAGUIRE. GRIESE absentmindedly kicks MAGUIRE whenever the latter gets too close. MAGUIRE is dressed in tatters, and is very obviously unhinged. They both stare at the SANDWICH and the HONOR GUARD hungrily. LONG is trying not to stare, but he can’t help it.

DALES: Now this is Little John’s Chris Long sandwich.

NESSLER chuckles. It is an unpleasant chuckle, and he makes it even more uncomfortable by undoing his bathrobe even more. Now there is only the tiniest of material between the audience and NESSLER’s flesh.

DALES: Yes, that’s right folks: he’s got his own sandwich, the twelve inch steaker.

Everyone freezes and stares at DALES. The light turns a voluptuous crimson and the music acquires a low bass rumble. From here on in everyone moves with a slow lushness, a knowing kind of half samba, half tango.

DALES: Um. Well first of all, do you want the sandwich?

LONG: Uh, uh, I don’t eat the sandwich before ten at night. It tastes better late at night.

NESSLER, MAGUIRE and GRIESE cackle, throwing their hands up in supplication and delight. A thudding basso drum is struck once, twice, three times.

DALES, slightly unbelieving: It tastes better late at night.

LONG grins and gyrates.

DALES: Now, what happens if I give it to you? Do you think a fan might want it?

LONG: I think I can find a fan. I mean there’s 60,000 people, somebody’s hungry. We’ll give ‘em a sandwich, yeah.

In the background is the low sussuration of 60,000 voices desirous of a sandwich, of the SANDWICH and all it represents. DALES cannot help but be affected. She moves in the trance state of the hunter and the hunted.

DALES: And lastly, did you choose the ingredients? Because I gotta be honest with you: I dunno if I’m eatin’ this.

LONG: I didn’t choose the ingredients, but hey Little John’s they make good sandwiches. Uh, you know a lotta people tell me it’s actually alright.

DALES: Alright, thanks for taking the time, Chris. Back to you Brad.

NESSLER bows to DALES. He swishes his bathrobe belt, and sticks his hip out to one side.

NESSLER: Somebody would probably want him to autograph the bun, if he took it out in the crowd.

MAGUIRE and GRIESE giggle uncontrollably. MAGUIRE begins scratching himself as if he’s covered in a thousand bugs, but GRIESE is there to slap him and return him to the present world. NESSLER turns to them as if to ask, “Do you want something you wretches?”

MAGUIRE and GRIESE: [Indecipherable mumbling.]

A beat.

MAGUIRE: Put, put some mayonnaise on that baby!

Exeunt all.

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