… is awesome.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Norman, Oklahoma is, for lack of a better word, awesome. It is a word I do not use lightly. I am aware of the connotations.
Nonetheless I propose this descriptor in the hopes that those who come after me and my trailblazin’ ways do not ignore this part of Native America, as it’s put by the license plates, for fear of isolation or idolatry. Isolation? It weighs in at a respectable 102,827 residents as of July 2006. (Okay, perhaps that doesn’t shore up my argument.) Idolatry? You may have Norman there. I’ll spare you fatted calf analogies. Sooner football is The Alpha and The Omega here, and I specifically did not wear a pretty cool orange western shirt while in town simply out of respect for the local Levites. I’m not even sure if the orange could be categorized as “burnt”.
What was I expecting? I’m not sure. Provincialism, certainly. Cowboy hats. A distinct inferiority complex stemming from a rivalry with a state that is geographically four times larger, population-wise five times larger and, image wise, the size of the entirety of the United States of America – at least according to Europeans.
I found, instead, just another college town focused on the one thing college towns do best: channeling mom and dad’s hard earned cash into state revenue streams that emptied directly into a slush fund made entirely of Red Bull, triple sec and vodka. In this respect, at least, Norman is your average American (college) town.
I do not properly recall all of the roughly 120 hours I spent in Norman. Friday afternoon to Sunday morning is represented by that icon so endemic to Windows: the unknown file.
I can say with all certainty – after much deliberation, observation and concurrence from fellow observers, whose own conclusions matched mine to a degree nearing perfection once the minor aberrations common to such straw polling were eliminated, and indeed, ignored from the very start – that OU has attractive co-eds.
I had a number of interesting run-ins, conversations, moments of observation and points of confluence during my stay in Norman. A number of them occurred in Louie’s Too, a bar located on Campus Corner and the site of much of my haziness. I had to go to Oklahoma City, though, to land the big one.
On Friday, Sept. 30 I drove to a hotel near Oklahoma City’s airport to pick up a game ticket from a Miami fan. This fan was put into contact with me through the help of the indefatigable army of one that is a Georgia based USC fan who will go nameless. From here on in I will use fake names in order to shore up my guiltiness for writing about conversations the participants probably assumed were private. I will also, for no reason, switch to the present tense.
I pull into the hotel and the first person I spot once I get out of my hideously pinging Maxima is Williamson. Williamson is purposefully bald, short, squat, dressed in dark gray jean shorts, baggy white shirt, Euro trash shades and holding a frosted Miami Hurricanes beer glass. He is black and perhaps 35. He eyes me curiously, perhaps sifting, mentally, the odds of an Asian Sooner fan. Toby, the man I am here to meet, makes it clear that Sooner or not I am expected and temporarily welcome.
We exchange greetings, go down to the pool to drink beers and allow the two older men (Toby is in his early fifties, white, with a large bulbous nose the color and texture of an over ripe orange and the stoop and gait of a contented vulture, and I’m sorry to write this because he is a genuinely likable man and a Miami fan who travels with the team to every game) to stop sweating so profusely. It rains intermittently in anticipation of the next day’s weather, a collection of scudding clouds, pouring rain and roasting sunshine that can only be termed “extremely confused”.
Before I am even seated on a pool lounger with a frosty Shiner Bock in my hand (oh, to have the financial wherewithal to offer total strangers drinks! oh, to have the financial wherewithal to offer myself drinks in the plural!) Toby and Williamson are already discussing how the weather – hot, humid, incessant – will favor the ‘Canes. I listen politely, knowing as I do that homerism is no match for the kind of epic ineptitude represented by Miami’s offense of late. I have settled on prognosticating, amongst OU fans, a 14 point win and explaining to anyone from Coral Gables that Miami will lose by 6, but in the inner sanctum of my soul where the monkeys and their typewriters and the chains connecting one to another are located I have settled on a 9-10 point spread favoring the Sooners. The outcome (51-13 in favor of OU) does no one any good, except perhaps the 78,000 crimson clad in Gaylord Memorial.
Toby and Williamson are fascinating, engaging, well versed in team history and personally present for many of the infamous games in The U’s history. The two spend an easy forty minutes talking about both the 1987 Fiesta Bowl – known as the Camo Bowl to some because of the fatigues worn by Jerome Brown, Michael Irvin and the rest of that devastatingly self assured crew who churned out 445 yards to Penn State’s 162 yet still lost 14-10 – and the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, which needs no explanation except that these two consider it a win and refuse to see otherwise. It has been 20 and 4 years, respectively, since those bowl games and yet the ability to talk about the two most painful losses in Miami history is unflagging. I wonder how many times they’ve done it before. There is, suddenly, a stark vision of Williamson crouched, his face painted in the olive drab colors of army issued camouflage, a Bowie knife in his teeth and the endless furnaces of Hell’s rage shining, fluoroscopically, from eyes that focus on a dim window somewhere in the Heartland of America where Terry Porter sits in a recliner, completely unaware of what’s about to happen.
I also imagine that after the deed Williamson, covered in jugular blood, comes up making “The U” sign with his hands and doing a little dance.
This is in no way a reflection on Williamson. He is as likable as a fat kitten that claws everyone, which is to say “Oh my god, that kitten clawed the shit out of her. That’s pretty funny!” It is, instead, a glimpse into the arterial fury Miami fans bear Porter, the judge who threw the pass interference flag in Arizona, and, frankly, what self respecting ‘Cane hasn’t thought about creeping up to Porter’s house at least once in his life? If only to put up “The U” and run away?
It is a measure of these two’s obsession with college football that I jot down notes amounting to the above with no more than a shrug.
Toby and Williamson are also the first true recruitniks I have met on the road. (Williamson reveals his online handle at a Hurricane message board they both frequent, and Toby is delighted. It turns out Toby is a lurker. I am also a lurker there, and it saddens me – and makes me question my level of focus in my chosen field of obsession – that I recognize Williamson’s screen name.) The discussion turns easily to Miami’s latest recruiting class and the wonders new head coach Randy Shannon is working. As they range over who’s going where and what silent commitments are holding true or flaking, I am continuously and increasingly dismayed by the number of familiar names I hear. That I am aware of 17 and 18 year old high school football players in the Miami-Dade area is slightly disturbing, but that I can converse and, yes, argue about their fates with men twice my age is a fact that comes full circle later on in the conversation.
At one point Williamson interjects himself with a good deal of stuttering pomp (he does this a lot). It is vaguely like being silenced by a cheery howitzer that wants to know if you’ve got enough to drink, and, man, you really should try some of this cheesecake. It’s the bomb.
The meaty part:
Williamson: It honestly got to the point where I thought Larry Coker was genuinely retarded. And I got friends with retarded kids, you know? I don’t say that kinda shit lightly. But what he did with The U? The only explanation is mental retardation.
(Okay. The above is not the meaty part. But it’s so good I couldn’t leave it out. The meaty part, which occurs about five minutes later after a rambling discussion of a particular Miami-Dade recruit who will go unnamed:)
Williamson: Now I’m gonna say something and don’t take it outta context. I’m gonna say it and you two’ll think bad of me, but don’t take it out of context. It’s just gotta be said. You gotta understand where I am coming from. [Note: Williamson is originally from Tallahassee and is now living in Corpus Christi, Texas. Yes. A ‘Cane fan from Tallahassee.] There are seriously some niggers runnin’ around out there.
(Heavy pause to emphasize the phonological properties of the end of the word “niggers”, specifically consonant choice.)
Williamson [cont’d]: You see some of these kids these days and they act like they already own the place. You see ’em on TV announcing his commitment on national TV and he thinks he’s the shit, you know? And for all he know, he is the shit! He’s gettin’ out of the projects and going off to play D-I ball. Two years later he ain’t even on the team. He’s kicked off or he can’t make it because he can’t even read and then he’s somewhere else, some shit school where he transferred to and suddenly he ain’t anything but a washed up nigger. And he ain’t even 19 or 20. If his high school hada dropped football he would’ve stopped going to school in the first place, so maybe he’s lucky to’ve made it to 19 or 20 in school.
Toby: I’ll tell you what it is: these kids have been built up from childhood, everyone telling them how good they are. They are putting athletes up on a pedestal.
Williamson: Sure, sure. They’ve got moms and uncles and shit hangin’ all over ’em from Pop Warner on. They can smell it. It’s the money. People go crazy over it. And these kids come in and they can’t hang anymore. You look at someone like Willie Williams, he thought he was king of the world.
(Miscellaneous hoo-hahing about lobsters, limos and the like. It is utter black comedy, because behind it all you can sense the disappointment represented by Williams, who was expected to be a new Jonathan Vilma or D.J. Williams for Miami.)
Williamson [cont’d]: Now he can’t even start at Louisville. Louisville. [Note: this is after the Cardinals gave up 42 points to visiting Sun-Belt champ Middle Tennessee State.] And the coaches use that shit against us all the time. They use it in recruiting. Urban Meyer.
(This last is said with a contempt that doesn’t so much oscillate as it does crescendo, but crescendo is wrong because it implies a denouement. It is the wail of the banshee in the highest registers of hatred and it knows no end, and though natural human respiratory inertia demanded a terminus to the word “Meyer” the spirit of the thing rattles on and duly upward and, probably, Downward, and I am impressed. Toby snorts at the mention of Florida’s coach, crosses his arms and shakes his head exactly the way a Brahmin would while watching a leper attempt calculus.)
Williamson [cont’d]: They use that shit against us, the [Florida International] brawl, Bryan Pata, they say…
[Uptight white voice:]
“Oh, Miami, you don’t wanna go there. South Florida’ll ruin your career. Stay away from Miami.”
But let me ask you this [note: it’s unclear if he’s really asking me, or if he’s asking a Rhetorical Other, or perhaps the source of the uptight white voice, but it’s crystalline that he is serious, so I, too, attempt to look serious and not fidget and, say, scribble furiously in my notepad, which I have explained away by invoking the hallowed precepts of gas mileage and the financial calculations that go with it], okay? Do these niggers become niggers the minute they put on a Miami uniform? When do they become thugs? Do they start committing crimes once they put that helmet on. No. Niggers is niggers.
(At this point it should be noted that Williamson seems like a self made man: studious cell phone in a holder at his hip [the kind of holder, I might add, that screams “Call me anytime, here’s my card, I know a good window guy who’ll get you a deal, just call me, it’s always on, here’s my fax, too, so you can send me the itinerary for next week’s lunch and say hi to Brandy for me, willya?”], the finances to afford a hot ticket, a nice hotel room and the time to make it all work instead of, say, working. He’s also got that frosted “The U” glass which is infinitely annoying if I were wearing crimson and cream, but I’m not so it’s endearing and maybe even a little bit cool, because hey, now I want one with Traveler on it. He is, all in all, a very likable guy and a huge Miami fan. In another life Williamson would’ve made an excellent preacher, the kind that spat fire in church and delivered swooning women into, if not Heaven, then at least the earthly delights only a self believing minister with a burning hunk of love can bring to a mortal woman. His banter with the Hooter-ish girls at the sports bar we end up going to is priceless. They love him. I love him because he is the center of a floating orbit of cleavage.)
Williamson [cont’d]: But these same coaches always come back to South Florida because Miami-Dade is where the football is at. You can pick up the leftovers once Miami and Florida State and Florida are done and you still gonna have stars. They know it, the kids know it. These kids need to get out. They need to get outta there, and the coaches feel that. They’re just like those uncles and moms and everyone else. Instead of money these coaches smell desperation, and in the end what do they care if a couple a’ niggers don’t make the squad? They get to look tough by kickin’ ’em off, but the odds say some of these kids are gonna make it long enough to get drafted, and that means wins. You think Urban Meyer cares? You think he can relate? Shit, he’s whiter than a napkin, sorry Toby. That’s no disrespect to you. It’s just the truth. That’s why Randy Shannon is building something special…
Williamson goes on to recite, almost word for word and certainly a few sentences verbatim, an article by Gary Smith in the Sept. 10 issue of Sports Illustrated. After reading the article myself it’s hard not to root for Shannon, and hard to not scoff at Williamson’s claims that “Shannon is building a family. He’s building something special.”
Williamson and Toby are both fans of Miami, which is located in a state as racially diverse as any out there. Is this what allows them to discuss race so openly? Somewhat after the above, Toby says:
Toby: You know what Notre Dame’s problem is? They have trouble recruiting the black athlete.
There isn’t a single moment where any of us – not me, not Williamson and obviously not Toby – show a single sign of outrage or even disagreement. There is much agreement, and glee at the expense of Notre Dame, but no one bats a lash at Toby’s pronouncement. Notre Dame fans might counter with arguments regarding academic standards, which one could counter is in fact racist, and the argument can go on and on and on, but it remains that the same comment that got Fisher DeBerry fired after an absolutely stellar career at Air Force (he led the Falcons to 12 wins in 1985 and, at one point, a No. 4 ranking) can be uttered so casually and be taken so casually by three men sitting around a table, drinking beer, discussing football and accounting, between them, three separate racial categories.
I will note, however, that not thirty minutes after the following was said:
Toby: I’ll tell you what it is: these kids have been built up from childhood, everyone telling them how good they are. They are putting athletes up on a pedestal.
… the discussion turned rapidly to five star high school prospects Miami was eying, five star prospects that were no longer prospects in that they had committed to Miami (chest thumping, knowing nods and winks) or else to someone else (teeth gnashing, speculation on lack of skill, size, honesty, moral fortitude, humidity survival training, testes, good parenting, etc.), five stars along Miami’s defense and offense, five stars along Oklahoma’s defense and offense, why the ratios balanced favorably to produce an obvious two touchdown win for the ‘Canes, why those five stars would lead Miami undefeated through the rest of their slate to Nawlins where they would defeat USC, whose classes of five stars were overrated anyway and besides, Forston is coming to Coral Gables. C-A-N-E-S! CANES!
The irony is clearly not lost on me.
It also becomes clear, as Miami fans arrive throughout the week, that Norman is getting less white as game day draws closer.
The game itself is a laugher. Miami’s vaunted defense is occasionally great, more often just good and sometimes appearing mutinous as they glance at the ‘Cane offense sipping water on the sideline, perhaps deciding what floral arrangement worked best with the centerpiece. (Hint, Kirby: don’t go with the Lavender Rose.) Oklahoma has the curious habit of playing visiting team’s fight songs at the beginning of the game. Sam Bradford is efficient and though it seems, especially in warm ups, he doesn’t have the velocity a top D-IA QB should, he nonetheless makes the relatively rocket armed Kyle Wright and especially Kirby Freeman look like JV lambs pulled up for playoff slaughter. The specter of Friday night, where Miami fans consistently out cheered OU in Louie’s Too, particularly with their chants of “Boi-se Sta-ate!” (“Pea-each Bow-owl!” just doesn’t have the same kind of viciousness), is fading quickly. In fact there doesn’t really seem to be animosity at all. The student section is entirely too young to remember the span of time when Oklahoma’s Barry Switzer went 33-0 against the world and 0-3 against Miami, and, frankly, the contrast of the garishness of orange and green with the almost somnambulant earth tones of Oklahoma does nothing to incite blood rage between two fan bases that are, above all else, merely confused by each other. The game is over by the middle of the third quarter and the exodus begins as Miami flip flops back to Freeman. Oklahoma looks deceptively dominating, but there is a stretch in the second quarter where the offense can’t do anything and the defense is giving up ground to, of all things to happen in this game, the Miami offense. I would’ve been less surprised if Oklahoma’s defense found itself giving up ground to North Texas, which had been called in to spell the Hurricane attack. What could’ve been a close game (21-13) ends up being a disgrace for Miami fans, one of whom notes that he hasn’t “felt this embarassed since Syracuse in ’98” when the ‘Canes lost 66-13 to the Donovan McNabb led Orangemen. It is exactly like watching the fall of empire condensed into sixty minutes. I wonder where Williamson is, and if he’s as high on Shannon now as he was back at the hotel. How much does “building a family” count for if you get embarrassed on national television? Probably as much as anything Larry Coker said in 2006.
The coolest thing about the whole game? That it’s played on Oklahoma’s field, which is actually sloped to allow the old wing teams to get to the edge and cut upfield. The gradation is noticeable and, for lack of a better word, astounding. It’s like a giant rabbit burrowed in a straight line from one endzone to another. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I was in Nam.*
A word about shame. Enough days spent sleeping in your car will eradicate any and all sense of it. I have no compunction about getting up whenever the hell a trucker wakes me up in the middle of a Wal-Mart Supercenter parking lot (24 hour bathrooms), opening my door and hawking my lungs out the way your gramps used to do back when you were young and scared of things that sounded like Cobra Commander dying in a cage filled with pop rocks and Coca-Cola. I certainly have no objection to brushing my teeth and letting the by-product dribble onto the asphalt beneath the driver’s door. And, frankly, I never really cared very much about smelling vaguely French because I have lived in Paris and it eventually fades into olfactory white noise. There is one thing that bothers me, though: bat wings.
I am practically Bruce Wayne circa falling-down-that-hole-into-the-cave when it comes to my fear of bat wings. It is the bane of any long distance driver’s existence, and in a town as hot and humid as Norman was? I was at wit’s end. So, as much as you, the reader, might not want this advice I will offer it nonetheless: forget about scrubbing the armpits, the back of your ears, whatever… just eliminate the bat wings. Making that a part of the nightly pre-sleep routine is now tantamount to my survival.
So here I am in Lincoln. I will spare you the details of my getting here. It involved my trusty navigator, Henry, telling me to drive on freeways that were sometimes existant, sometimes closed down and, in one memorable instance, the shape, form and texture of Casper the Friendly Ghost, which is to say none because he’s ectoplasm and ectoplasm does nay have shape, form or texture.
Lincoln’s Memorial Stadium is a cathedral. There is no other way to describe it, though I do wish they’d stop naming stadiums “Memorial”. As I was walking around Oklahoma’s stadium the Tuesday before the game, I sat down and scribbled the following:
“This is a cathedral built for a religious people and a religious country.”
That sentence can be just as easily applied to the stadium here in Lincoln, but on Monday night? When I arrived at the stadium at two in morning? With the wind whipping around me and all sorts of priorities ahead of simply staring at a stadium, like perhaps finding a place to sleep? The way the southwest face of Memorial was lit up reminded me of Camelot, my favorite childhood story. The white stone edifice is etched with the following words: “NOT THE VICTORY BUT THE ACTION: NOT THE GOAL BUT THE GAME: IN THE DEED THE GLORY.”
If I thought Oklahoma football was religion, Nebraska football promises to be zealotry on a level unseen. There is literally nothing else in this state except Cornhusker football. They fired a coach who led them to 58 wins and 19 losses in six seasons. And their stadium?
It’s got another quote on it:
“Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice.” -William Jennings Bryan
This is going to be an amazing game.
No intro, let’s just dive in. I am currently sitting at the University of Oklahoma’s Bizzell Library wondering, in no particular order:
1) Why is the University of Oklahoma’s football team wearing helmets that say “OU”?
2) Where can I get mosquito proof mesh to line my car windows with?
3) How can I acquire my own Appalachian State t-shirt?
Each of these questions are linked, inextricably, with my current odyssey: a 14 week, 25 state (plus District of Columbia!), 22 game (or so) road trip that will take me to stadiums involving all six BCS conferences and a number of mid-majors – the first being Western Kentucky at Middle Tennessee State, where I will witness the awesome power that Satantic amounts of money will bring to the Miltonian conglomerate that is the SBC. I expect gold plated shitters. Anything less and I will head back to my yak farm in the heady tofu climes of California’s Central Valley.
Here is my schedule:
ALL TIMES EASTERN
Saturday, September 1st
Colorado State at Colorado (Denver, CO, Mile High Stadium); 10:00 AM
Saturday, September 8th
Miami (Fla) at Oklahoma (Norman, OK); 12:00 PM
Saturday, September 15th
USC at Nebraska (Lincoln, NE); 8:00 PM
Thursday, September 20th
Western Kentucky at Middle Tennessee State (Murfreesboro, TN); 7:00 PM
Saturday, September 22nd
Georgia at Alabama (Tuscaloosa, AL); TBA
Saturday, September 29th
Auburn at Florida (Gainesville, FL); TBA
Thursday, October 4
Kentucky at South Carolina (Columbia, SC); 7:30 PM
Saturday, October 6
Virginia Tech at Clemson, (Clemson, SC); TBA
Wednesday, October 10
Navy at Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA); 8:00 PM
Saturday, October 13
Wisconsin at Penn State (State College, PA); 3:30 PM
Saturday, October 20
USC at Notre Dame (South Bend, IN); 3:30 PM
Thursday, October 25
Boston College at Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, VA); 7:30 PM
Saturday, October 27
West Virginia at Rutgers (New Brunswick, NJ); TBA
South Carolina at Tennessee (Knoxville, TN); TBA
Saturday, November 3
Wisconsin at Ohio State (Columbus, OH); TBA
Tuesday, November 6
Central Michigan at Western Michigan (Kalamazoo, MI); 7:30 PM
Wednesday, November 7
Ohio at Akron (Akron, OH); 7:30 PM
Thursday, November 8
Louisville at West Virginia (Morgantown, WV); 7:30 PM
Saturday, November 10
Auburn at Georgia (Athens, GA); TBA
Florida State at Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, VA); TBA
Saturday, November 17
Ohio State at Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI); TBA
Thursday, November 22
USC at Arizona State (Tempe, AZ); 8:00 PM
Saturday, November 24
Notre Dame at Stanford (Palo Alto, CA); TBA
Saturday, December 1
UCLA at USC (Los Angeles, CA); 4:30 PM
Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington D.C., West Virginia
I revel in thy jealousy.
Don’t worry, th0ugh, because so far this trip has turned out exactly as I envisioned it: smelly, cramped, uncomfortably hovering around $3.00 per gallon, sustained only by CLIF Bars, my Nalgene bottle and no less than three Johnny Cash albums. I have a Garmin 330c GPS unit I have nicknamed Henry due to my summers spent in his seafaring base. (Will my Garmin unit eventually be surpassed by Spain, France and England in terms of world prestige? Yeah, probably. But it’ll still beat the Brits in penalty kicks.) My car is a 1996 Nissan Maxima that so far has no name but seems to be discussing, in closed sessions, the moniker “Joppy” as in, “Who the fuck would drive that jalopy? That thing doesn’t even deserve three syllables.” My bed is the back seat, or else both the driver’s seat and the back seat in a diagonal accomplished by lowering the former, or else an uncomfortable pea soup-like atmosphere in which my organic marginalia slowly dampen, ripen and wither away like so much paper based material brought to the not-un-wet tropics of the Philippines. I am missing toes and fingers here, people. As Neal Stephenson once wrote, I can feel the incipient malaria, and it is hot. Chicks dig my organic look, probably because women love the idea of fertility and there is nothing more fertile than having a week’s worth of grime caked into your pores because Joppy won’t lower its windows due to the thousands of mosquitoes swarming outside its already thoroughly compromised barriers, and is that wheat growing out of your collar?
Yes, it is. I’d make a fine hefeweizen, thank you. And this trip has already lived up to its promise in game one: Colorado 31, Colorado State 28. Overtime, baby. God, your check is in the mail. It’s postdated, so, like, call me before you cash. Actually, text me. I have a pay-as-you-go-phone.
I left Los Angeles at approximately 8:30 p.m. on Thursday. My goal was to arrive in Denver by 9 or 10 p.m the next day. I accomplished the 1,000 mile plus journey by compressing much of my trip into a two hour long nightmare session through the Rockies, racing down US-70 at a downhill grade of at least six percent, one hand on the steering wheel, one hand frantically texting the foolish female who would (once she picked up the phone) agree to house me, one (ghost) hand reaching back towards the trunk where, Grail like in its warm, life sustaining glow, a handle of Mr. Jack Daniel’s finest pulsed gently in the dark. Before I knew it I was in the Highland Park area of Denver drinking a dark bitter and trying not to look goofy as I adjusted to speaking at elevations in excess of pretty much everything else I’ve ever dealt with, aka, that hill on US-101 between Thousand Oaks and Camarillo, aka, Not Very High Up. I was a total failure at non-goofiness, but everyone seemed measurably stoned so it didn’t matter.
Game day: I normally make it my business to arrive at least two hours before kickoff. Kickoff was at 10 a.m. I didn’t go to sleep until 3 p.m. Do your own math.
I park and head to Invesco at approximately 9:15 a.m. It takes me thirty minutes to make it through the parking lots, which aren’t necessarily on the way but looked like a hell of a lot of fun. In that thirty minutes I was offered no fewer than four beer bongs contingent on my rooting for [insert team] or at least not rooting for [insert diametrically opposite team] and, in practice, amounted to me agreeing to high five people. I discuss this behavior with the local fauna and I discover that here, in Colorado, beer is a sentimentally favored drink that brings with it earthy aromas and rich, coppery tones that call to the hidden maniac within which, on this particular day, is not so much hidden as forcibly expectorated by the presence of the foulest, sweetest, most wonderful beer pooled money can buy. I bless them all with my censer (a copy of Phil Steele’s pre-season mag) and notice several Colorado shirts.
One of them is a golden rod yellow specimen bearing “It ain’t intramurals!” on the front and “It’s Division I football!” on the back. Already I am suffused with a mother’s instinct for its weak and vulnerable child, and I want to cradle Dan Hawkins and gently rock him to sleep. I suspect, suddenly, that four (plus?) beer bongs in thirty minutes will render me journalistically mute for at least the first half.
It does. I don’t have my notebook with me to verify, but I am constantly writing about direct snaps, CSU stiffening up, Hawkins the younger looking “steady”, the sun, the Rams fans around me, the sun, my poor choice of clothing (jeans), the sun, and, memorably, the nationally known phenomenon of key jangling. Here, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown, CSU fans do it during “key plays”. When no one’s key was out and noisome on a particularly important CU third and long, I question the Ram in front of me. “Oh, I guess we only do it during kickoffs,” and this rather sheepishly. Tradition has no logic.
The second half is much better thanks to the delightful Sonny Lubick and a fortuitous onside kick that has the ball rocket into the central wedge’s face/shoulder pad. I can only describe it as comical and am immediately reminded of the football specific idea of momentum: no other sport has such a palpable emotional pendulum, and you can literally feel the agricultural pride as thousands of “Staters” rise up against, in Colorado at least, their bourgeois rivals. Do I care that it was probably a squib kick and not an exquisitely aimed onside? Not in the least. Special teams play is the province of the foolish and the damned, and I am up to the task of both by not questioning and continuing to drink via a handy and neighborly flask proffered up by my suddenly jubilant green clad community. (I am sitting in the CSU rooting section, if you haven’t figured out by now.)
The second half is wonderful and ho-hum. CSU blows a lead and a hard fought game. The unforgivable crime of an interception during the first half of OT reminds me of Dante’s little known 26th circle of Hell, reserved entirely for quarterbacks-who-should-know-better, and idolaters. What strikes me most is the end of the game where Hawkins senior is presented with the Centennial Cup and, to an almost empty Invesco Stadium, yells, “This is for all the fans out there! We ain’t dead! Colorado is back! We’re back!” after an overtime win over what will probably be a middle of the pack Mountain West squad to a group of Colorado fans in the stands that can be termed, charitably, “in the teeming hundred”. Hawkins is visibly earnest and eager and hopeful and all in all very puppy-like, but, more than anything else, there is a sense of overwhelming desperation to return to the glories of the first half of the nineties. He wants it so badly it’s almost painful to listen to him Howard Dean his way through a polysyllabic “whooo!” so pure and boyish you can practically forget the overhanging specter of a 2-10 season. He wants his Camelot and his 2,000 yard rusher and his Big 12 North dominance and the type of program that churns out forgettable Rashaan Salaams like they were single mold Shrek dolls coming out of a Zhejiang factory.
I understand him. I suspect that the people wearing the numerous Kordell Stewart Hail Mary t-shirts understand him. There were a lot of older fans wearing these commemorative shirts, many of them reading “Where were you?” and each of them unsure as to the exact yardage Stewart threw on that last play to beat Michigan at home. (64? 73? Bazillion?) For Colorado fans that Hail Mary must occupy the same communal mental and spiritual space as the Battle of Agincourt does for the British. It is creation myth and national monument at the same time. It is the central fount from which Colorado-ness must necessarily stem, though in my opinion Colorado football at its best will always belong to the truly power teams of the Big XII in that the Buffs simply ran you over.
Henry V led England during the latter stages of the Hundred Years’ War (which lasted 116 years and is an early precedent for the Big Ten) at a time when Britain’s fortunes were waning. The two preeminent forces of Western Europe were locked over the fate of the western and northern coasts of Brittany. Henry, essentially, said “Fuck this” and marched on Harfleur, took it, and, wishing to up the ante with more bold forward thinking, marched on Calais with little thought to supply lines or even maneuvering. He and his army were forced into a fight with a French force outnumbering his own anywhere from 2-1 to 6-1 (5-1 is more likely). Improbably, Henry won – mainly due to the use of English longbowmen, whose vertigo inducing military parallax was similar to the introduction of semi-automatic weapons in the Civil War and World War I and the promulgation of encryption and decryption in World War II. To put it bluntly, Henry produced, from his ass, a victory of such monumental portions that the French noble fatalities were in triple figures, leaving the rest of Brittany ripe for England’s f/pl-ucking. He did so by utilizing missile weapons which could slay or irreparably maim foes from unheard of distances.
Kordell Stewart threw the ball 73 yards in Michigan Stadium. No. 7 Colorado beat No. 4 Michigan 27-26 on the last play of the game. If Colorado has a Westminster Abbey, you can be sure their version of Elizabeth I’s tomb is nice and grand and that whatever amounts to their World War II memorial and Poet’s Corner is up to par, but make no mistake: Kordell gets the Henry V treatment, which is to say, “Alle ye futyre Kingf of Englande, here sharl yew be crown’d”. There’s a reason why St. Edward’s Chair is located in a nave underneath Henry’s tomb: even kings know who is sovereign. In Colorado (and select parts of Pittsburgh) Kordell is king.
Now a few years later a little lady named Joan of Arc tore a red line through England’s maps and the world’s idea of feminism (which, in my opinion, would have been greatly helped by armor and swords – suffragettes thus armed could nay be refused), but does that dim the memories of England? No, because “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers” is the PR machine that does not end. Colorado’s sex scandal, Gary Barnett, 2-10, etc. have all come and gone and yet the warm glow of the memory of that day in Ann Arbor still fuels Buff fans. Out of pure despair they created a moment that, straight out of the Enûma Elish, gave birth to light, sound, water, forest and men. Everything before that Hail Mary might as well not have existed, including the 1990 championship season – and hell, that year was marred by the Fifth Down against Missouri. Everything after that Hail Mary is different, sub-atomically, and there’s no going back. As Heisenberg said, You cannot observe Michael Westbrook cradling the ball without being changed.
Hence: Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32. I didn’t see the game. Despite reading through the mangled 14 car pile up that is mgoblog’s defensive and offensive UFR, I’m not entirely sure what happened except “Aaaand Henne overthrows an open man” and cheetahs unleashed on Michigan’s deaf, dumb and blind defensive baby wildebeest formations. I will say this, though:
On the Monday afterwards I found myself in Boulder watching a band named Meniskus. I am high as a kite thanks to chocolate covered shrooms. My companions are all in the same boat, and we spend the time watching the band (which is very good) and the dancers, who are all of them quintessential Boulder folk, i.e. incapable of being anything other than long haired, elastic band waisted, Green voting, who-cares-if-my-boner-is-showing?-I’m-still-gonna-commune-with-the-forces-of-Dance, gentle souls who like to rhythmize themselves to the beautiful colors of song, and if you wanna laugh, man, why, you go ahead and laugh. Because they’re vibing. And as we watch this incredible scene it occurs to me that the manager of the band, alternatively taking pictures of his charges and laughing at the crowd, is wearing an Appalachian Football shirt. Turns out he played linebacker for the ‘Neers and went on to play for Deutschland in NFL Europa. Turns out he managed to watch the game. Turns out he went home, dug through his closet, and vowed to wear that same shirt for the next week. If I were him I would’ve said a month, at least – but who am I to criticize a man on St. Crispin’s Day?