Sunday, January 10, 2016

Why I'm rooting for Clemson to beat Alabama

My line of vision was barely above his hips as I watched him move ahead of me through the crowd. In the distance you could hear the pre-game cheering and that seemed to only make everyone's gait even livelier. 

And Dad was certainly energized. As I tucked the rolled up program against the inside of my right elbow, effectively securing it from potential tacklers, I recalled the excitement in his voice when he told me we'd be going to Clemson on Saturday. His enthusiasm leading up to our departure that morning had let me know that something special was in store; something exciting.

The paw prints had led Dad's old blue Opel in from Seneca. We'd parked out by the lake and I'd been told to stay close. From there to the stadium I'd peak around his right hip and then switch to his left as I envisioned him as my lead blocker. The air was electrified by the amazing sights, sounds, and smells of college football. 

One sniff and I was hooked.

I remember this hanging in Dad's office, a
humorous reminder that he was in the minority.
(h/t Tbone)
Dad matriculated at Clemson University towards the end of Coach Howard's era. A stint in the Air Force and jobs from Raleigh, NC to Athens, GA had made it hard for him to catch many Clemson home games. But here we were at the end of Steve Fuller's celebrated career at quarterback with two tickets safely tucked somewhere in Dad's jeans. I extended my skinny right arm to lead him into another block. And to let him know I was staying close. 

In the distance the cheerleaders lead the early crowd...C L E M...S O N!!

As a big Georgia fan, I'm frequently asked what it was like to grow up in Athens during the 1980's. The truth is that, at least for me, it's a flood of memories such as these: hearing Larry Munson on the radio, which Dad probably had on so that he could get updates on the Clemson score as much as to hear how the Dawgs were doing; seeing billboards around town of Dooley's face or "How 'Bout Them Dawgs!!" in an effort to sell more cars, hardware, and restaurant visits; or simply the latest prank Dad's coworkers had played on him to fuel the office rivalry between Dawgs and Tigers.

The most fundamental truth however, is that it was a great time to grow up a college football fan. You weren't inundated with eternal instant access, televised regurgitations of network bias, or blatant solicitations towards their calculated agenda. It was just Saturdays, a burning a pile of leaves, and using the old swingset as a goalpost to kick game-winning field goals. It was as much imagination and folklore back then as it is instant highlights and propagandized drama today.

Maybe I just feel that way because I was ten years old back then, but it was pure innocence and wonder. It was hearing a highlight and going to the backyard to try and recreate it. It was hoping the D-cell batteries in the radio propped in the open window sill didn't give out before Rex Robinson kicked that field goal, or Perry Tuttle caught that touchdown pass.

A family heirloom
Having successfully negotiated our way through the crowd and the turnstiles, we climbed up the stadium to our seats. Dad pointed out specific players and key matchups to keep an eye on. They were as small as ants, but they were nothing near so insignificant. In fact, I was captivated by the spectacle of seeing a game live. Their movements and the corresponding roars that erupted from the crowd only intensified the excitement brewing inside my head.

I suddenly understood Dad's enthusiasm leading up to this trip. This was special. My eyes couldn't take in the sights any faster than my ears could soak up the sounds.

Of course it's a new age. More and more my favorite pastime is about the almighty dollar and winning at all costs. But for me, it's always been about relationships. It's about bringing people together to enjoy a Fall Saturday. Fellow alumni, friends, family, former classmates, neighbors, coworkers, loved ones. We find a spot and throw up a tent. We sit beside each other and join our voices as one.

I enjoy those moments like no other. I'll live out my days looking at the calendar towards the next time I get to sit inside Sanford Stadium. My heart swells whenever I hear my own kids yell Go Dawgs! It's eternally coursing through my veins.

Yes, Sanford is my home now. But as you now understand, I first understood the importance, the brilliance, and the majesty of college football back in 1979 sitting beside my dad at Clemson Memorial Stadium. I don't wear orange, but I'll happily yell Go Tigers! when Clemson and Alabama kick off tomorrow night.

I'm not a loyal SEC fan. And I'm certainly not your everyday Clemson fan. But I truly hope my Dad gets to see his team win another national championship tomorrow. After all, he was a great lead blocker back in the day.