List item #287 that can now be checked off: attending a bigtime college football game.
Not that that’s a huge deal in and of itself, especially for those of you that went to a school with an athletic team. I, however, have never been a huge sports fan (excluding soccer, but even that’s more a playing thing than a viewing thing for me), and went to Montevallo, whose baseball and basketball teams saw smaller attendance than jazz band recitals and theater productions.* That, and Montevallo and UAB (where I finally got my degrees) can’t hold a candle to the size or success that a lot of schools have with their teams.
In the past, I’ve been to a few Braves games, one Cubs game, the ’96 Olympics soccer matches that were held in Birmingham, and a few semi-pro (minor leagues and USFL) hockey and football games (did you know that Birmingham, Alabama, had a long running hockey team? Crazy, yeah?). I don’t really feel like I’ve missed out on much, but this weekend, when presented with the opportunity to go see the Alabama/Ole Miss game, it occured to me that I shouldn’t pass up the chance.
Let me clarify up front that the primary reason I went was to hang out with one of my oldest friends (26 years and running) who I don’t get to see as often as I’d like these days. But still, it was a major thing, different from anything I’ve ever seen. In fact, I think I may have remarked over ten times that I have no frame of reference for anything like what I experienced yesterday – the closest would be the pre-show ritual for some of the big-name concerts I’ve attended, and really that’s not even close.
Alabama is a huge school with a tremendously strong football program, past and present. If you’re not from Alabama (mid-state, especially), then you may not understand the emphasis that people put on college football (especially, obviously, the SEC), but it’s comparable to the fan base of big cities with hometown teams like the Yankees, the Cowboys, etc. To can these people fans, some of them, reminds you of the source of that term — fanatic. I’ve seen, over the years, relationships bonded and torn apart by football, fights and riots started by football… For someone who doesn’t live and breathe sports, who doesn’t have a connection to a specific team**, who really doesn’t like extremes, it’s an alien atmosphere.
I have a picture in my head of tailgating, and game day on campus is like that times ten, crossed with a carnival and a really weird family reunion. I guess it’s like this at other big campuses; again, no point of reference. And goofy me wearing his Georgia ball cap (to protect the head from sunburn, I swear). Food stands, merchandise tables everywhere, people walking seemingly aimlessly attempting to buy or sell tickets***… You’d never know that the economy is depressed. Tickets to the game are upwards of $50 a piece (face value), plus street fair-priced food, t-shirts, hats; it’s unreal, a step outside of the world I live in every day. The tailgaters — actually, tent people, hanging out with their grills under mini-carports covering the quads — have brought their 50 inch plasma screens so they can watch other games as the morning passes.
And this happens every weekend for the fall.
The game itself is sort of unremarkable, as experiences go. I’m familiar enough with football to know that Alabama will run up the score in the first half, almost lose in the second. If football followed the periods of hockey, I suspect that the Crimson Tide would never make the top ten in the polls, because that third period would kill them every time. The fans are as irritating to me as those I attend concerts with — they’re too loud, blocking my view by standing up in front of me when the watchable moments happen, too attached to something that is peripheral to the real world. But it’s a good enough game, and a fun time with my friend.
I add that either stadium seats need to be spaced a little wider on the bleachers, or people that weigh over 300 pounds should be required to buy an extra seat. And if you wave those godawful pompoms they hand out, keep them the fuck out of my ears if you’re behind me, please.
I really don’t see how people can do that every weekend. It’s too tiring. And too expensive. Wonder how UA can afford to pay Nick Saban four million dollars a year? Multiplying ticket cost by attendance and then adding in merch and TV revenues, and you realize pretty quickly: they’ve gotten quite the bargain.
Next up: the Grand Canyon, or hang-gliding. At least those won’t be as loud.
* Probably not true, but having never gone to a game at UM, I can only speculate.
** When I was a kid, I thought my dad had gotten his undergrad from Georgia, since he was from Atlanta. Turns out he went to Emory, and (ironically) got his Masters at Georgia Tech. Oops. Still, the red and black thing sticks with me.
*** Want to recover from the stock market crash? Buy Alabama home game tickets in pairs, then show up on campus on game day. Name your price. Drive home and eat steak. Holy Christ, scalpers at concerts don’t have a clue!