In the early nineties the pop band Jesus Jones had a hit single that spoke to the changes that were taking place in the world around them. The chorus stated with wild-eyed fascination, “right here, right now, there is no other place I’d rather be.” While I was never particularly fond of the song, those words ring through my ears and mind at this time every year, nonetheless. That statement is completely and utterly true.
Right here in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and right now, the first week of the college football season I believe that I am the person I am truly intended to be. The first game is three days away and the first time that my beloved Crimson Tide takes the field is still some 129 hours away and yet, at 5:50 this morning I jumped out of bed with a start – ready to get the day begun in order that it may be done and I would be 24 hours closer to my treasure.
There is spring in Paris, or a bright winter’s morning somewhere in the Rockies, or a warm summer day in New England, or even a bright fall afternoon in the Smokies, and they are all wonderful. But, to me, the first week of football season in Tuscaloosa trumps them all. There is a viscous feeling in the air. A certain force that occupies that air, thicker as you approach the campus, that can best be described as electricity. Were I richer than imagination and the means to be anywhere in the world were at my disposal, I would choose to be in West-Central Alabama right now everyday of the week and twice on Sunday.
Anyone who has ever taken a retriever hunting and watched them perk up when the birds start flying, or been riding a horse near a cow that was bred to move livestock, or a new-born baby suckle it mother’s breast, or any other number of things that were just “meant to be” knows of what I speak. I feel as if I were created to be a small part of what goes on here at this time of the year. This is football season in the Deep South and it is a much a part of who I am as my brown hair or blue eyes.
I am also smart enough to know that both my feelings and this location are not unique. There are legion of you just like me in college towns and big cities all over this region and country, although I believe that the farther that you get from the South the more rapidly that number diminishes.
Yes, I love the entire football season, but there is something special about this particular week. I believe that it probably is the fact that the slate is clean. Every team and their hopes for perfection are unblemished. There is nothing but possibility. If hope springs eternal, then the First Week is a massive up-welling of promise and desire. Anything is possible right now. Anything.
Had you told me that Michigan would lose to Appalachian State, USC would lose to Stanford, LSU would lose to Kentucky, or even that Alabama would lose to Louisiana-Monroe last year at this time I would have told you your were an idiot. The next four months hold more suspense and gut-wrenching twists and turns than the best novel I have read or movie that I have seen. There will be joy and heartbreak by varying degree based on the way the season plays out. I know that I can be supremely elated as I was when Alabama sent the orange-clad devils that call themselves Volunteers back to Tennessee with their heads hung low or that I can hang my head low in misery, like when I turned off the television in late November and told my dad, “next year they’ll end that damn streak” before I went quiet for a long while. But as bad as the lows are, as bad as the taunting and crowing get, the highs and joys of special victories keep me coming back, wanting more.
This week it is all possible. Never mind what the pundits and owners of streaks say. There is nothing but opportunity. My team sits with the same record as your team. Everyone is at the starting line and they all have the chance, however improbable, to finish first. The truly magnificent thing is that sometimes, the improbable does happen. Sometimes the horse on the outside breaks ahead right at the end and most everybody sits there stunned and for the “fool” holding the ticket with the long odds there is pure joy. The sun shines bright but softly on his cheek and his steps are just a fraction of an inch above the ground. For a few fleeting moments he is not bound by the laws of physics and he moves in his own “perfect” world. I am convinced that people that don’t truly love sports never know this feeling – where else in this cruel world are our faiths in others so handsomely rewarded.
Anyone that knows me well has heard me talk about the best part of every football game. I’m not talking about winning, because no matter how good you are, you will not win every game. No there is a part of every game that happens no matter what – the game could not be played without that moment – and it is what I crave even more than the victories. For football fans, our world is lived during regulation football, between the snap and the whistle, when dreams are realized or shattered. This time only equates to the forty-plus hours a year that the 12-13 games are played. I normally get to attend at least seven of those and maybe one or two that are away from Tuscaloosa but there is a moment in those handful of home games that I replay over and over in my mind.
It’s approaching the stadium and feeling the constant, steady noise that comes from the bodies that occupy it. It’s being crowded into lines and making sure that my beer cup is empty and thrown away, that my flask is adequately hidden and my ticket is in hand. That feeling that I’m here, I’m in as I go through the ticket-checkers stand and start the climb up the ramp. It’s the slight bounce and hop I get as I climb higher and higher and “Sweet Home Alabama” rings from the PA. It’s making my way to may seat and smiling, nodding, speaking to familiar faces and shaking hands of the people that have set near me for years; I don’t know their names but I have watched their children grow and asked how things were the way neighbors do, I’ve given pats on the shoulders when it didn’t go our way and hugged them as if they were family when it did. It’s rising from my seat when a hero of our country is honored and placing my had to my heart and singing the National Anthem, not because my voice adds to the harmony but because I am privileged to be able to. It the hair standing on my neck as the band plays its pre-game routine and it’s the utter joy that I feel as the players fill the tunnel and come onto the field. Those moments are perfect. There is no won or lost, there is only the contest that is to come. The analysis and predictions are forgotten and the game is to be played.
This week is one long, slighlty less hyped pre-game. It come only once every 52 weeks. It is here that I am happy to be and here that I would long to be if I weren’t.
Let’s play some ball!