Quote of the Day:
“Time, as we age, is often damaging. But this was one of the Lord’s good days, resting for me forever in a kind of somnolent tenderness. I was thirteen and it was a golden, luminous November’s afternoon, my first Ole Miss-Mississippi State game in person.” —Willie Morris, from the essay linked here, published several times over the years by the Clarion Ledger
As a kid, there were only two seasons to TB, football and baseball. Basketball was ok as a mid term diversion, and year round driveway sport, but each year was truly separated by a single bright line between the diamond and the gridiron. Since the cancellation of the 1995 Major League World Series, along with the way the pastime has changed due to steroids and other factors, I’ve lost interest in baseball altogether. Now, as a sports fan at least, there are still only two seasons–football and emptiness. And finally, football is back.
I don’t know why I haven’t given up on football. I am a Mississippi State fan and I can’t shake it. It’s not easy pulling for the Bulldogs. And that’s all I got to say about that, for now. Sundays are little better. The Dolphins broke my heart for years coming close to greatness, but never achieving it, then plummeted to the bottom of the League and became all but irrelevant. And the Saints……hopeless. Yet for no rational reason, I always cling to hope for all of my teams.
My earliest memory of football is of an afternoon game between the Vikings and the Bills and snow on the field and brightly colored uniforms and OJ Simpson. The memory is only a grainy picture in my mind’s eye, one I can not even swear is true. But when I call that picture up, I feel the excitement and joy first experienced at probably two or three years of age. The memories of Super Bowls X and XI are a little more in focus. I can recall rooting for the doomed Cowboys but loving Lynn Swann and trying to recreate his famous reception from X in my front yard for days weeks years after. What I recall from XI is mainly that the pregame show seemed interminable. It probably went on for an hour.
I loved the uniforms from those games, and all games and still do. And as a small kid I recall choosing my team each game based on the jerseys, never pulling for the white shirts. Imagine young TB’s distress in having to choose between blue jerseyed UCLA or crimson Alabama in the 1976 Liberty Bowl. Thanks to the Google, I was actually able to confirm that hazy memory was true! Though the recollection doesn’t cover it, I have little doubt I liked the UCLA blue better and true to my football fandom lifetime, the blue fell to the red that night 36 to 6.
The first real college game I ever saw live was Mississippi State at Auburn in 1977 in Auburn. I recall very little about the game itself, only that the Bulldogs won but that it didn’t matter because they would have to forfeit for using an ineligible player. But the experience left an impression. It’s funny what I do recall from that day–learning about interstate mile markers, seeing Pat Sullivan’s Heisman trophy, walking on Auburn’s basketball floor, loving the way Auburn fans intoned “Warrrrr Eagle” for kickoffs and, tragicomically, firmly deciding I was a Bulldog fan, uniforms be damned.
Before and after that Auburn-State game, my exposure to college football came mainly from the Senior Bowl, played each January in Mobile, Alabama. Again, the things that stand out from these early trips are random and inexplicable. Stopping on the side of the road to eat cold sausage and biscuits left over from breakfast, burgers with only mustard, collecting a new pennant for my bedroom wall to go with those inherited from my brother from his trips as a little kid, freezing, brutal cold all come to mind. I learned at these games that southerners used college football to re-fight the Civil War. And far too often we lost again, at least it seemed so in those early years. On my first Senior Bowl trip, I remember crying when all hope was lost. And I recall that my Dad didn’t care for that at all.
As I complete this abbreviated tour with the ghost of football seasons past, I am confronted with a bitter truth. My love of football season is unrequited. Or is it? What stands out as I look over my recollections is that the scores are mostly forgotten. The excitement remains. The experience endures. And I still have hope. And a good 40 more chances, give or take, to see the Saints in the Super Bowl and dare I say, the Bulldogs in the Sug–nah, I daren’t.