Friday, August 31


Odometer: 0

This is how the game begins at Notre Dame. They do a similar thing at Michigan and various other Midwest schools. I have no idea if, say, the Clemson crowd participates in this kind of crescendo kickoff chorus. But I’m about to find out! The season is finally upon us, and all the planning finally comes to a head. For me and Pete Carroll. Today I depart for South Bend, Indiana and the big trip finally commences.

For months this day has merely been a number on a calendar. Something way off in the future which demanded attention, but only as a notion – a peek every so often. But now we’re off. On Wisconsin! I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am. It’s time to live for the moment. Finally. I honestly have no idea what awaits me. The only thing I’m certain of is that I am really going to see America. Time will tell what America chooses to show me. Roll Tide!

I’ve already had such a great response from the people I’ve met with. See the “Friends of the Program” on the right for a few kind souls who have provided me their time and expertise thus far. My biggest hope is that people continue to share in my excitement. While I already feel very fortunate, I have no reason to doubt this will continue. Fight On! I suppose I should be more confident about it – I’m want to meet people who love football and talk about football with them. Who’s not up for that? I guess my main point is, you’ve seen my itinerary in The Big Plan, and if I’m coming to your neck of the woods, give me a shout and let’s talk shop. Go Big Red!

It’s now quite clear that the very first step in this process should have been to book hotels. I am making arrangements quite late in the game, especially considering some of the major games I’ve chosen. For both Clemson and Nebraska, I had to make reservations about 20 miles outside of town. Hook ‘Em, Horns! For Notre Dame it's even farther – I almost decided to come back home on Friday night and get an early start Saturday as it’s only a couple hours from here. I am staying with friends along the way when I can, something I’m most excited about. R U Rah Rah! What a great excuse to see some old faces. Perhaps I’ll give couch surfing a go, though I don’t know how conducive that will be to reviewing notes and getting some writing done.

So it’s time to get started. Do I have what I need? Am I really ready? It doesn’t much matter. It is go time. Come on Gators, Get Up and Go! Whatever isn’t ready by now can wait. I’ve bought all I need to buy, reserved all I need to reserve, and hopefully made enough contacts to at least get me through the first set of games. OH…IO! Now it’s just time to make it all happen. If you find yourself on my path, let me know and let’s meet up. The road may prove to be a lonesome place, and I’m eagerly seeking any friendly faces. Kickoff in Notre Dame Stadium is at 3:30 tomorrow, but for me kickoff is right now. Go Blue!

And for good measure… Geaux Tigers! Boomer Sooner! Whoo Pig Sooie! Fight Tigers Fight Dammit Fight Fight Fight! War Eagle!

Friday, August 24

Third and Seven

In just seven days, I’ll climb into the Corolla, merge on to the Kennedy Expressway and leave Chicago behind me. A guy can do a lot in a week, but whooooo boy is there a lot to tackle (no pun intended). With each passing day, I feel like I’m accomplishing more and more. At the same time, I feel like there is more and more that’s not getting done. It’s hard to fall asleep these days because going to bed means that certain tasks that could be done are not being done. I’m being as efficient as I can, but there’s definitely a fear that unresolved issues will cause major problems down the road. Perhaps it’s time I finally got hooked on caffeine… If I get the major things completed, perhaps the rest will all fall into place – and I’m doing pretty well on the major things.

The knee is steadily improving. Today in physical therapy, there was a major breakthrough. Suddenly I can bend it farther than before with far less pain. Perhaps the swelling is finally subsiding, or maybe I just have that good a therapist. Either way, I’m pleased with the progress. It’s still painful at times and I’m not going to toss the football around at tailgates, but compared to a week ago, it’s worlds better. Furthermore, thanks to a tip from a friend, I found out that I can enroll in COBRA retroactively which will save me several thousand dollars in medical expenses. It’s like found money, or rather found not-as-much-debt. That may all have to be ironed out from the road, but I feel like I just won the lottery. Er - the scratch-n-win.

The car has been mechanic-approved and ready to take the pounding I’m about to give it. It’s only three years old, and for the last year as been spared the one hour each way commute that so brutalized the last Corolla. A laptop has been purchased, a real Toshiba – not just one with Toshiba Guts. I still need to set it up and get the proper programs installed. So far, I’ve only turned it on, but the screen is all bright and shiny. The digital voice recorder has been utilized once to great success (big thanks to my main man Marut for the hookup!). It’s going to get a serious workout over the next three months. Luckily, it can hold about 29 hours of data before it gets filled. The AAA batteries? That’s likely another story, but a very solvable issue.

Mainly what I have left are little things, but there are a lot of them. I won’t encumber you with the numerous details. The number one issue to address is finding fans at each school. But the first stop, Notre Dame, is locked and loaded. On Tuesday, I interviewed a man who has been to every Irish home game since the 1939 season. On Wednesday, I met two young men who just graduated from there this past spring. All of them had a lot to say and a wealth of passion for their university. Those meetings have me chomping at the bit to move this project ahead and encounter wonderful fans at each and every school.

Seven days isn’t a whole lot of time, and they’re going to fly by quickly. Kickoff looms. I’ll be as ready as I can be.

Monday, August 20

The Road Gets Longer

I knew it was bad. I knew it was bad the split-second before it happened. It was the last ultimate frisbee game of the season and the disc floated forever, faithfully drifting towards the sidelines. I changed direction and zoomed towards it, trying to haul that sucker in before it went out of bounds. It kept floating. I leapt with both arms outstretched, determined not to drop it this time. At the apex of my jump, I snagged the frisbee, prepared to turn downfield for the next throw. But as I fell back to earth, the ground didn’t arrive. In that extremely brief moment, I knew it was bad. Before I hit the ground, my leg was fully extended, wondering why it hadn’t landed yet. A hole. Something. I never really checked.

All that momentum had to go somewhere. When I hit, my knee buckled sideways and something popped or tore. I still don’t know if I heard it or felt it, but it was bad. I don’t remember collapsing. All I recall is stabbing pain. My face buried in the ground, teeth clenched on blades of grass. My first thoughts turned to the new catastrophic insurance policy with the gigantic deductible. I had to quit my job… A girl on my team called for an ambulance. “No ambulance,” I grunted. I can’t afford it. Dr. Rich, an orthopedic surgeon from the next field over checked me out – gave me the Lachman test. He asked me, “Have you ever torn your ACL?” “Nope.” “You have now.” I nodded and thanked him, accepting the sudden blow of fate.

After driving home and gimping up my stairs, my anxiety grew. I knew there was a decent chance that I would have to scrap all my plans for this fall. Were I to need immediate surgery, the chances of completing this book would be zero. While the physical pain was frustrating, it was of little concern compared to my future hanging in the balance. A doctor was procured. MRIs were taken. Appointments were scheduled. Every day felt like a week because every bit of new information carried such significance.

I received a call from my doctor’s assistant laden with mixed messages. “Andrew, we need you to get in here as quickly as possible because there’s a lot going on with your knee. You’ve got a ruptured ACL and cartilage damage at the least.” “Do I need immediate surgery???” “You’re going to have to meet with the doctor and he’ll decide.” An uneasy 24 hours later, I had my appointment. There are at least the two problems mentioned above and possibly more. I won’t know for sure until after the surgery. “Can we wait until I get back?” “We can wait, but you’ve got to start physical therapy now and keep it going up through the surgery.” Cue dramatic sigh of relief.

After three days, PT has done wonders. I can walk all right, with minimal pain. I’m off crutches and working on eliminating my limp. The only major problems occur when I forget when I’m injured and bend my knee too far too fast – usually in my sleep. Those moments are excruciating and take about five minutes to recover from. They’re like a leg cramp, but way more painful and debilitating.

This is an unfortunate episode featuring extremely unfortunate timing. But it’s not going to stop me from moving ahead. This book is going to happen, and I’m going to see this great nation of ours – up close and personal. The first game is less than two weeks away and I can’t wait. Sure I’m hobbled and certain things are going to take me longer than they should, but fate has allowed me to continue. It remains bad. A challenge for me to overcome. But the road continues. I’ll be seeing you soon.

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