This is Luke, everyone. Luke’s the son of a good friend of mine from high school, and he lives in my photos folder like the refrigerator magnet you bring back from your vacation to Oahu or the Grand Canyon. We all need the reminders, crammed into the corners of our daily business, that it’s not all offseason drudgery; if we wait long enough, stay busy enough, eventually we’ll look up and we’ll be watching the pier recede in the blue distance from the deck of a cruise ship, one day we’ll go to sleep in an Auburn shirt because we’re going to watch our mascot soar and our team run onto the field and our players play football in their orange-and-blue uniforms the very next day.
There are times when it feels like it’s never going to happen. But Luke reminds me that it will, that it will always be worth the wait. And now even though he’s a long way away and it’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other, I know we’re both in the same car of the same roller coaster. We’re just about to the top of the hill. Trust me, buddy, my hands are in the air, too.
There’s two dozen moments you could pick out of any game at Jordan-Hare Stadium as your favorite, not even including the moments that happen when Auburn does something momentous on the field. That’s why it’s college football.
But most of the time, the one I’d pick out as mine–even ahead of the eagle’s flight–is those beautiful slow seconds right when you’ve walked out of the tunnel under your section, when you finally get a good look at the field you’ve caught little glimpses of as you walk around the concourse.
The field! The first thing is how shockingly, stunningly green it is, like a golf course on special hormones, just this side (the oh-so-right side) of unnatural. Then there’s the players, just warming up at this point, both teams going through their separate drills at any number of separate points; it’s like looking at one of those old harvest-time farm paintings, where there’s something different happening in every corner of the canvas and you feel like you’ll have to stare at it all day to see everything. Then there’s the field again, really, absurd in its lushness and all the more so by being framed by so much steel and concrete. (Wonderful steel and concrete, but still.)
This green and wide-eyed moment is my favorite because it’s the one where I feel most intensely the joy of football for football’s sake. Once I settle down in my seat and start getting a better look at the opposition, start looking over a program roster or discussing with the seat next to me the possible final, it’s not about football any more; it’s about winning, and that’s great, too, because if you stretched out that moment for the entire game, it would be boring. But I also love that for just a second or two, I can put aside the worry and stress and nerves and potential disaster of Auburn football and soak in the fact that it’s Auburn football. Right there, right in front of us, on that green field. We are all so lucky.
Since the Mrs. WBE and I moved out of Alabama four years ago, I’ve only experienced that moment firsthand once, laid my own eyes on Pat Dye Field in all its glory just the one time. (There are tentative plans to make the Georgia game this season; I’m all but praying about it.) So days like today, nights like tonight, mornings like tomorrow morning: it’s as close as I can get these days. There’s going to be Auburn football. Soon.
So I’m doing my best to enjoy it, yes. It can’t last all season. But it’s better than anything other than victory, and in some ways even better, and that’s pretty damned good.
We’re having a baby, the Mrs. WBE and I. A little girl, we’ve been told, due in late October. Her name is Tessa. But my father joked that if I’m WBE and the Mrs. is Mrs. WBE, then isn’t the baby the WarBlogEaglet?, and that made me laugh.
I’ve been thinking for months–about seven of them–about how to introduce the news in this space, most of them variations on her birth as a metaphor for the start of football season. Eventually I gave up, because there’s not one that makes sense. It’s comparing apples to spaceships.
But the giddiness of these last few hours before kickoff overlapping with the giddiness of the last few weeks before her arrival does, at least, help me understand why college football seems to travel in bloodlines, why its fandom has more to do with the roots of family trees and less with the temporary tendrils of geography-based professional sports fanhood.
It’s because of change. When she’s born, everything about my life will change. By the time she’s 10, everything will have changed again. By the time she’s going off to college, everything about the world will have changed, in ways both amazing and terrifying. It is like casting off into a wild, azure sea on a sunny-but-blustery day, not on a cruise ship but a small sailboat, exhilarated and sure above all we’ll reach the other side somehow, but wary of all that swells and troughs that lay between.
But we’re bringing a few anchors, too. And one of them is Auburn football. The giddiness of today will be there again next year at this time. Pat Dye Field will still be immaculate the year after that. The helmets are still going to have the same A-and-U logo the year after that. The year after that very season of autumn itself will still begin with the first kickoff, rise with the skirmishes against the likes of LSU or the Gators, finally climax with the battle against the Tide, and hand the baton off to winter when the last stragglers have left Jordan-Hare of Bryant-Denny.
These things, they’re not going to change. By the end of October, everything else will. But they will not. And as thrilling as opening up our sails and leaving behind the shore of our old lives may be, to hold their old weight in my hands is a very reassuring thing.
I’ve tried so many times, to so many people–girlfriends, Europeans, academics–why I care so much about Auburn football. Why anyone would care so much about any college football team. I’ve hauled out all the old hoary socio-psychological explanations–it’s a way of displaying regional/geographical pride and superiority without combat, it’s a safe outlet for pent-up emotions it’s not proper (especially for men) to express otherwise, it’s a substitute for the personal competition we crave since “everyday life” doesn’t give have winners and losers–but the people I’ve offered those explanations to have thought they’re pretty much bunk and I’ve come to think they’re pretty much bunk, too.
The best explanation is the one Nick Hornby offers in Fever Pitch, when he’s leaving yet another Arsenal defeat, one in a series of them, alongside his significant other:
A different version of the world. Yes. It’s that simple. A version that may be a little drab around the edges from mid-January through the end of August (with the exception of this blinding, bewildering flash of color in March, in my personal version, anyway), but then explodes into hypercolor edition of the world that leaves the pulse always on the edge of quickening, and offers an outright fireworks show every single Saturday. It’s not so bad. I think it’s better than what some other people have, quite honestly.
I don’t know if my daughter is going to share this world with me or not. She’ll have her own worlds to discover, her own anchors for her own adventures. But I can’t wait to offer her the invitation. I’m already counting down the days until I can hold her hand as we walk down a Jordan-Hare tunnel on a crisp September afternoon, come out into the sunlight, point towards that riot of green, and say: Look at that.
Of course, it’s easy to be excited about football when you are an Auburn fan and the calender says “2010.” Our team is loaded with exciting and likable players*; our coaches are charismatic and intelligent, and are recruiting new exciting and likable players all the time; the misery and trauma of 2008 and its subsequent coaching transition seem like they are the full two years behind us they just about are. We can do more than idly wish for big, delirious wins, since it seems so likely we’ll get a few of them. We can almost expect them.
But that’s not really why I wish I could wrap the feeling I’ll get when the alarm goes off tomorrow around me like a blanket and wear it all winter long. We’re past that point. Now it’s just about the football, the crack of pads, the fight song you sing without noticing you’re singing, the smell of that grass even if you’re too far away to smell it.
And that’s enough. Auburn football kicks off tomorrow. So raise your hands, little ones, point ’em towards the orange sun and blue sky and say together the thing I say when I am most happy, when the day is today, when everything good and green is stretched out before us, just waiting, and don’t worry, your Mom won’t mind the swear:
WAR DAMN EAGLE!
*A note that the “5 to root for” series will conclude next week; this is the final post for today. I don’t think I’m giving too much away by spoiling the ending here, am I?