Sunday, September 21, 2008

Just a Game

It's just a game..., or is it?

Halfway through the first quarter of my Rebels' SEC opener against Vanderbilt last night, #2 son turned to me and commented that it was the most exciting game he'd seen in a long time. Turned out he was partially right--there was a lot of football yet to be played, and the rest of the game wasn't so exciting for Rebel fans. The first quarter was a barn-burner in which the boys in red and blue jumped out to a quick lead on the strength of some big defensive and special teams plays. Ole Miss moved the ball well on offensive the whole game--out-gaining Vandy 2 to 1 in total yards. But six, count 'em, six turnovers and three red zone zeroes let the Commodores stay in the game and come out on top.

As much as I have tried to not let the fortunes of Ole Miss Rebel football dictate my mood the last several seasons, this loss was particularly hard on me. After suffering through the last four miserably sub-mediocre seasons, I was trying hard not to get my hopes up too high for this year. But, a new coach and a team loaded with talent sucked me in...and let me down.

Miss Brenda broke the sullen silence on the drive back to the northern end of southern nowhere last night with the soft-spoken comment, "Ed, it's just a game."

I woke this morning with that comment in my head, and I've tried to wrap my mind around the concept as the caffeine sped up my higher brain functions. I've come to a much different conclusion, however. With apologies to Miss Brenda--she just doesn't get it.

College football is more than just a game--particularly for alumni. It's much more than just a bunch of hyper-muscled kids displaying superior hand-eye coordination and fancy footwork while gliding and colliding at unnatural speeds. It's not just a game about bragging rights and chest-thumping.

Football rekindles a fire in once fierce hearts now beating timidly in our coolly civil civilization. For a few hours on a crisp fall afternoon we who attend these contests crowd into stadiums that focus our attention and attitudes in a common cause. We add our voices to a collective violence-approving roar that transports our spirits back to a time before we suborned ourselves to the gentler norms necessary for the success of the congested communal living that is civilization.

College football, and, to a lesser extent, high school football, possesses an element that lifts the fervor of its fans above that of professional football. That element is the sense of belonging and elite self-identification that comes to many, if not most, true followers of their school's fielded forces. If you are an alumnus, particularly an undergrad alum, your school's mark is stamped indelibly on your heart in a way few other associations or citizenships can be.

Combine those two, collective primal roaring and elite clan identification, and you have a heart-gripping cocktail that addicts like no drug, lifting to the highest highs of ecstasy and dropping to the lowest lows of depression. And, even as the pain of this game-specific low slowly wanes, melding into a collection of general disappointments, I find myself beginning to think longingly about the next game--the next fix.

If this particular season's pain persists, however, I may just have to adopt Miss Brenda's philosophy.
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