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.