Tuesday, August 12

Wake Up Paul. Don't Believe You're All Alone.

There’s nothing like the tail end of summer. The beastly heat that torments us through July and most of August begins to subside. Some of the trees start shedding their leaves. And at long last, football season is just days away. For some of us, we’ve known this feeling ever since our fathers took us to those first games – back when we paid as much attention to the hot dogs and marching bands as we did the touchdowns. For others, we didn’t catch the bug until we arrived on campus and fully embraced school spirit, forever connecting ourselves to our university. No matter how you came to adore college football, you know the feeling so well. While many Americans lament the end of summer and dread the autumn, concerned about winter lurking just around the corner, we feel differently. Though summer offers the opportunity to be outside and enjoy life, we keep one eye fixed on Labor Day weekend. The first kickoff can’t come fast enough.

Every year around this time, I always think back to my sophomore year of college. It was the welcome end of a summer spent back in the old bedroom at my parents’ house, working at a grocery store, finding myself living a life I thought I’d grown out of. I arrived back on campus with breeze pushing me. It was time to start living again. And the first kickoff of a new season was inherently intertwined in that feeling. It didn’t even matter that Boston College completed an 80 yard bomb on the first play of the game. Football reminded me what it was to be a Michigan student more quickly than any of the other endearing aspects in Ann Arbor. It was immediate.This past season I was privileged to experience college football in a way that nobody ever had before. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know all about it. I met so many incredible people across the country. I think I must have interviewed over 1000 fans. This was after most of those fans had fed me hand-crafted eats and more regional beers and bourbon-laden cocktails than I could possibly remember, particularly after some of those cocktails – you know what you did, Knoxville. Not that I’m complaining. But it wasn’t just crashing parties week after week. I got in touch with regional cultures and attitudes. I heard most of the great fight songs ever put to stepping. I made friends all across the country. For all of these things, I feel blessed. Over the last decade, I always claimed that going to college was the time of my life – that nothing will ever compare to it. The statement had always remained true until my trip last autumn. It was a journey I will always hold close to my heart. Lucky for me “going to college” is just ambiguous enough that I can say I wasn’t lying.The crazy thing is, as big a fan as I was before last season began (my friends who don’t follow the game naively assumed I was among the most extreme outliers), after the trip, I’m more obsessed than ever – more appreciative of the fact that there is no better game. And even though we all have our differences, there’s far more that binds us than separates us. From the first Notre Dame fans I talked to all the way through a sit-down with Lloyd Carr last week, every single person I met smiled with an eager sparkle when they started talking football. This game means a lot to us, and we can't help but get excited when we get the chance to explain as much.

On several occasions toward the end of last season, emotion struck me suddenly. Not just when the Michigan players raised Carr upon their shoulders in Orlando, but on the field at the Iron Bowl when I heard the fight songs and realized this was about to come to an end. When I hit Los Angeles, all alone and tired, but with the knowledge that I at least had one more day in the sun to meet, eat, and enjoy my last game. And of course when I got to see some new old friends at the Stagg Bowl. I can easily say I care more about this game than I ever have before. I don’t know if that’s supposed to happen at age 33 or not.So why am I so sentimentally reflective today? The season is nearly upon us. My team is starting a new era. Based on how unsure everyone seems about who’s #1, we could have every bit the exciting season we had last year. But unfortunately for me, it’s going to be a lot harder to follow. After spending ten years working the same job here in Chicago, I had the ultimate adventure last season. But I’m not done roaming. This week, I will be moving to Argentina. I’ll be living there for two years. Maybe longer. They are bonkers for futbol there, but I am told by my new coworkers that Futbol Americano de Universidad is extremely hard to come by. I am holding out hope that I can find a sports bar to serve as my Saturday home, a place where I can continue to mingle and debate with fans of all the schools across America. If that fails, perhaps the internet can be my savior, but watching alone will be especially difficult after last season.Senator John McCain has said on several occasions that he never really loved America until he was deprived of her company. While I’ve always considered myself a good citizen who cares about my homeland, I understand what he was saying, albeit in a slightly different way. I never truly loved the land until I got to see nearly the whole thing last fall. As much fun and excitement as the football season gave me, I often find myself thinking about bounding over rolling hills in western Idaho or following the Mississippi River to find my way home from Baton Rouge. I recall recharging my batteries in Charleston, South Carolina and a lazy, hung over afternoon in Sausalito. I go back to three brisk days in Manhattan or cruising across the Bonneville Salt Flats at dusk. Maybe I always loved America, but I never really appreciated it like I do today. And now I’m leaving. It’s a strange fate I've given myself.Of course, I couldn’t be more excited about the trip. My Spanish is improving daily and the job will be full of challenges and interesting work. Now is the time of year when we all start rationalizing our team’s prospects, convincing ourselves that the season will work out just fine after all. No matter the departure of experience or problems from the year before. Maybe the kids will grow or improve. With college football, you never know for sure. I've certainly been doing that with regards to Michigan. I have to since right now, we don’t even have a quarterback. But I may also be doing it with regards to this trip, too. There will be struggles, but for now, I still believe in BCS dreams (¿Buena Comunidad y Suerte?).No matter what happens, I plan to continue blogging this year. Obviously the topics and approach will change a bit, but I definitely want to keep this site a place for all the teams, not just mine. We’ll just have to see how well I can cover everything from the southern half of the globe. I’m not any less excited for the season, even if I end up going to 17 fewer games than last year. And if disaster strikes and Michigan has their worst season in history, at least it'll already be spring for me. Those autumn memories can remain pristine as ever.


Willy Mac said...

nice post man, if i can help fill the BA to USA gap this year let me know.

Anonymous said...

Andrew, you're a great American. And that closing photo is sweet. Mmmmm, Cottage Inn.

Anonymous said...

Good luck with and enjoy the challenges ahead my friend. And try not to shed too many tears when Notre Dame kicks Michigan's ass this year!

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