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Friday, September 10, 2004

its back

Its back. Football. As much as we all hate to see summer with its glorious sunny days,we now in the air mixing with the banana tropic suntan lotion and shrimp on the barbie is the odor of fall….fresh pigskin and brats roasting on open fires.I love football. Growing where I did , in the house I did it was inevitable. Sunday morning mass, a morning of visiting with the divine deity, then rushing home in time to see the Immortal Beloveds, Led by St John of Unitas stride forth to rid the world of the evil caused by the packers of Green bay and Bay Starr or the Cleveland Browns Of Jim “holy s** cant anybody tackle that guy?” Brown.. We needed a new TV after Super bowl 3, the old one being rendered useless by the careful and timely insertion of my stepfathers foot mid screen when Johnny U’s last pass fluttered on broken wings to the ground with less than a minute to go…..Time stood still when the Baltimore Colts took the field and I have many memories of brisk fall and winter days watching the mighty horseshoes while Mom burnt that weekends roast into some form of barely edible leather( I love her but the woman simply cannot cook)./And really..whats not to love about football. I like all versions of the game. The carefully orchestrated operatic orgy of violence, sex and point spreads put on by the NFL each week is like crack cocaine to a self professed would be member of the decadent depraved set( I d love to be a full time member but true depravity would seem to take more time and money that I can devote to the cause).Where else can one watch a fellow human being knock the living dog snot of another followed by a close up camera shot of 22 belly button flashing in synchronized harmony? And get free whiskey for six months from friends who are seemingly clues to the machinations of the point spread? Is this a great country or what? The game itself with the basic 3 yards in a cloud of blood and spit filled dust, followed by moments of deep threat exhilaration, bad bounces,shanks,lucky tips and seemingly impossible plays is not a bad metaphor for trading and the market, but I wrote that piece last year….

I like college ball even more. To have OUR band of genetic misfits, impossible large,faster than nature intended,capable of hurling a piece of inflated pork hide sixty yards on a perfect spiral and trajectory march onto the field on Saturday afternoon to pummel YOUR bunch of equally mutated youngsters for the honor of the school, the state and God his own self if Notre Dame is playing? I know all the things wrong with college athletics and that it has become very much a big money sport..but the vast majority of the kids you see on the field will never make it beyond the NFL scouting combines and are playing for a love of the game, and for a dream. No hot dogs getting 77 bazillion dollars to miss a tackle here. For the most part they play with heart and the higher level of the college game every snap, every play is an audition for the riches of being drafted. The fans are deeply loyal (to say nothing of completely blotto on the cheapest beer available), enthusiastic to a fault ,the bands are usually awful and the only boobs in the half time show are on the fat guy from delta house who stripped when it started snowing……

Now, I usually watch the games from home. The concept of sitting outside, in the cold later in the season in the midst of 50000 stone drunks, wearing a good portion of the guy behind mess 18 dollar beer, taking out a mortgage for a hot dog and standing in ankle deep puddles to avail oneself of the facilities is just not that high on my overall list of really fun stuff to do. I could not afford at a stadium my usual course of football fare, large hunks of flame roasted cow, oysters on the grill until they steam in their own salty juices, chili with my super double top secret sneak up and kick you in the @@@ blend of death peppers…. and a glass of dancing bull zinfandel (hereby recommended for red wine drinkers. not only is it a very good reasonably priced red, the bottle and name are perfect for us speculative types) or slight tipple of famous grouse sprinkled softly over ice cubes would cost more than my car at one of the modern corporate edifices in which our gladiators ply their trade…to say nothing of puddle free restrooms, instant replay and the ability to change the climate on a whim…Football, food and the couch go together well in my mind…For this reason alone Thanksgiving remains my favorite Holiday.No presnts to buy, ungodly amounts of food and non stop football. I always cook, not because I wanted my relatives to come by. I get no familial satisfaction out watching people I am associated with by the accident of birth gobbling all my food and drinking themselves into a coma on expensive booze they are too cheap to have ever purchased themselves…No, its so I and I alone control the leftover supply.3 days of frenetic pigskin bacchanalia, leaving the couch only to prepare the holy of holies for post turkey day football. the Kentucky hot brown There are fancier ways to make it but the recipe I learned was pretty simple,,,slice of bread,turkey,gravy, topped with a mixture of parmesan and mozzarella cheese into an bubbling pile of ooey gooey gastronomic delight. I have long forgotten the women who taught me this dish..although I seem to recall a very sexy little gap in her smile and long legs that climbed up to..but I digress.Her name has long escaped me but the memory of the soft southern drawl and the recipe for football feast nirvana has long stayed with me.Football,couch,Tim. They go together like mickey and Minnie,beans and rice, scotch and..well scotch.

Once in awhile, early in the season I, when the weather is still warm and the possibility of frostbite doesn’t enter the equation, will go to a college game. There is something special about attending a college game and you get to experience the carnival atmosphere of big time college football. Where else can you witness that amazing almost eerie perfect coordination of tens of thousands of Maryland fans chanting obscenities in perfect unison grown men In NC State red and white doing wolf howls on public streets with no fear of imminent arrest? Or a Notre Dame game where bright students, steely haired alumni and somber men of the cloth all spending the afternoon praying to touchdown Jesus and the evening to the porcelain god?So, when the touchdown club here in Annapolis had a tailgate party at the navy home opener last Saturday, given the glorious mid 70’s temperature I rousted myself from other activities and attended.

College football is great. Navy football is special to me and always has been. When I was younger we lived near the stadium. The local newspaper ran a contest every week giving a way tickets to deserving students. My mothers then second husband worked for the paper and saw it a s a perfect way to get a couple of kids out of his house every Saturday. ergo my older sister and I always won without ever filling out an entry. I sent a lot of afternoons watching the mids of the late 60s and early 70s get pummeled by the likes of penn state ( the team of lydell Mitchell and franco harris beat them 70-6..both backs had over 100 the half, Notre Dame, Michigan et al. They almost never won but that didn’t stop us from cheering for them.Theres pomp and circumstance all served up in military fashion.The march on of the brigade, f-15 flyovers, more brass and braid than a san diego consignment shop,the drum and bugle corp. The football is special as well. These are true student athletes. No special courses for athletes, no exemption for mandatory intramural sports, not break from PT..they take the same rigorous engineering, physics, econ and military classes the rest of the brigade takes..and they have to pass them. To flunk out after the start of junior year means your service requirement if fulfilled as an enlisted rank.Same military discipline,same curfews and regulations as every other mid. No genetic mutants here either. The academy has upper limits on height and weight. Watching the mismatch of one of navys 250 guards try to block another schools 350 behemoth is a sight to see…it took years for Navy to find a coach who could design a game plan to take advantage of Navys better physical condition overall and use speed and complexity to allow the team to win..The current coach Paul Johnson seems to have done that and navy football now has a bonus…they can actually win a few games.

As I sat in the touchdown club tent last Saturday munching on a burger cooked to post nuclear holocaust consistency (no chez tim level cuisine here) the brigade marched right by us. As I watched this flow of approximately 4500 young men and women come up the road towards the stadium entrance I was struck by one overwhelming thought. They seemed so young, so carefree, tossing the traditional candy to youngsters along the street, laughing joking, looking forward to an afternoon of football and fun…this years graduating class were all plebes on sept 11, 2001. They passed the mid point of last day of sophomore year, the drop dead point to leave with no service obligation, and stayed knowing they would be joining a war time military when they finally pinned on the bars of a navy ensign or marine corp 2nd lt. The other three classes?..They entered the academy post 9/11. These kids are the best of the best academically; you have to be to get into a service academy. They could have gone anywhere..Harvard, Stanford,4 years of partying at florida or Miami. They entered Annapolis knowing that their 34 years would be followed by 5 years minimum serving in the armed services of a nation at war. True, it’s a great education and no cost in terms of dollars. But their tuition is 4 years of military discipline, rigorous demanding schedules, a severe limit on typical university parties and hijinks followed by 5 years of their lives, and possibly their life itself in the service of their country.They knew it going in, from the minute their hair disappeared into the enormous pile of horn locks on plebe day. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the young men and women who make up our service academies and was somewhat in awe of the sacrifice they made upon choosing to attend.On this last weekend of august I watched them as they passed, forming into tight orchestrated brigades to enter the stadium knowing that the next wave of marine officers, navy pilots and military leaders who would be sent into harms way t defend our nation passed before enjoying the afternoon of football but aware of the duty that loomed. I was impressed to say the least.
As a topper to the day, my tickets ended up being dead center in a section full of the class of 1954 celebrating their 50th reunion. I looked around at a group of men , all retired now but most with the bearing still of lifelong naval officers. Up in the stands they had served..Korea, Vietnam, the cold war, many of the battles that are emblazoned on the stadium walls. They , along with serving officers on ships around the world, military bases in god forsaken places, stood at kickoff to cheer those who would serve soon. Soon the torch would pass..for now they play football, they cheer on the blue and gold, the plebes do push-ups in the end zone for every navy point scored..its game day and time for football.

I love football. Go Navy

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