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Day 77: An (Inescapable) Day With Football

October 24, 2010

Saturday was impossible; the polar opposite of this site’s intention.  A total disaster on the primary front.

But it was nice to see the other side of the world again.

Melissa and I started with a drive to pick up her grandmother on our way to the city of Taft’s 100th anniversary parade.  Caught former Boston Herald and current ESPN writer Howard Bryant on NPR’s “Weekend Edition” previewing an upcoming article where he claims that football will see its demise not because of steroid use but due to the lack of progress in preventing serious head and spinal injuries.  Bryant’s abstract statement with host Scott Simon was extremely intriguing:

Mr. BRYANT: Well, you’ve got this collision – no pun intended – between whether people would watch this sport when you take the violence out of it. The sport has lost its moral legitimacy right now because you’ve got critical mass. This sport – you cannot name another sport where paralysis is a routine risk.

It’s not a question of whether or not the players are taking the risk on their own. It’s simply the fact that we know that this sport is unsafe. We know that driving a car without a seatbelt – we know the risk involved, but that doesn’t mean that you’re allowed to do it.

This sport is in a lot of trouble. And we all thought it was be performance-enhancing drugs that did it. It’s actually safety and concussions that are bringing this sport to a real confrontation with itself. And I’m sure Congress will get involved very soon.

We arrived in Taft, met with Melissa’s parents and grandparents, and walked to our vantage point for the parade.  The small-town Main Street parade conjures all of the best and worst reflections of rural Americana.  First, a convoy of classic cars from the 40s and 50s.  Next, an oil-derrick themed float manned by a class of 1st graders celebrating the city’s industrial heritage.  Then came the football floats…the high school cheer squad…the junior college booster club…the pandering unopposed Republican congressman…I held my entertainment by anticipating which group would march through the fresh pile left behind by the Pony Express re-enactors.

We headed back to Melissa’s parents’ house and I stayed behind with Melissa’s father while the ladies visited the craft fair.  It was still late in the morning, so it would be a while before the first pitch of NLCS Game 6.  All that remained within the vast wasteland of television programming…was college football.

Melissa’s father has been wonderfully courteous during our encounters during the Year Without Football and I had felt guilty; I didn’t want my project to interfere with his enjoyment of the game.  He leaned over and added persuasively, “Y’know…you don’t REALLY have to not watch…it’s not like anyone will know about it.”  I politely declined in the interest of self-discipline but made it clear that if he flipped to a channel that had a game, I wouldn’t storm out of the room or rudely separate myself from the situation.

He flipped to CBS’ coverage of Auburn/LSU.  As we watched, I slid right back into spectator mode without missing a beat.  I noted Verne Lundquist’s subtle yet noticable disdain for his color commentator.  We commented on Auburn’s stylistic similarity to the run-favoring teams of the 50s and 60s.  We noted Navy’s recent successes over Notre Dame and I related the hair-pulling stress induced by attempting to provide play-by-play when the Midshipmen ran the triple option back in the mid-2000s.  I was surprised to learn that news of Oklahoma’s demise were greatly exaggerated (until later that night, apparently).  I related my frustration that the only teams that are seriously considered for the BCS title are Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas, Florida, Alabama and USC (when they’re eligible).

The conversation was relevant and collaborative; it was also the most blatant betrayal of the project to this point.  Until later that night…

Melissa and I were invited to a quasi-reunion with some high school friends following an alumni game between Taft and Bakersfield.  I was an obvious outsider due to my East Coast transplant status AND as an alumnus of a high school which didn’t offer football.  I declined to mentioned my project after subtle urging from Melissa and because of my interest to observe the high school players “in their native setting.”

We were one of the first couples to arrive only because one of the invitees needed to be taken to the hospital after suffering a knee injury during the game.  The mood was somber yet jovial as the attendees reveled in their chance to reconnect with their high school glories.  What amazed me was how in tune each of these gentlemen was with their inner geek.  First, a recount of a visit to this weekend’s BlizzCon in Anaheim.  Then, a discussion of preferred and obscure adult beverages including a recommendation and testimonial appreciation of the work of Zane Lamprey.  Later, the cell phones lit as we sought the results of the NLCS and the Brock Lesnar fight.  Near the end, the injured player joined the festivities in battered but good spirits.  He propped his newly-stabilized leg (sans connections via patella tendon or quadricep muscles), opened one of my donated Sam Adams and joined in the festivities none the worse for emotional wear.

It’s a great feeling when the days go by exactly as you planned.  It’s even better when they exceed your expectations.  That’s the impression I walked away with after my first fully-immersed day with no escape since the start of Year Without Football.



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