Friday, September 4, 2009

'Twas The Night Before Football

One of my favorite passages from the legendary Bob Ufer, he read the following prior to a Michigan game at California sometime in the mid 60s. It's a little dated, but the general themes still hold true to this day.

It's only September, but as we look down and daydream, we can't help but notice that the field is green, tinged with brown and a white chalk line laces it together. The athletes have been practicing gingerly, packed firmly in dashing uniforms where padding and muscle meet. The stands offer a stage for fashion. Men in short sleeves and colorful jackets, the ladies all lovely, a combination of soft curves and bright hats. There are the program hawkers, the deep-voiced peddler with his hot dogs, the soft drink boy making change, and the smiling cheerleaders. There are uniform men in striped shirts, and of course, a dog.
What is it? It's Football. Yes sir there are five seasons across this country every year, Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, and Football. Football season makes the barber cut hair just a little bit better, and it makes the butcher slice the steak a trifle thicker. The shoeshine boy pops the rag with more gusto, the landlord doesn't mention the overdue rent.
The pilgrimage is on. Old cars, new cars and motorbikes are jammed with riders wheeling for the stadium from North, East, South, and West and the back roads are jam filled. The gentleman steers with one arm, explaining a forward pass with the other. Ladies think about their figure, and men compromise that it will only be for one the weekend. So, stop the car get some hot dogs and drinks from the roadside stand.
On grassy lots and asphalt sidings, high school lawns and golf greens, the cars line up with the hood ornaments pointing towards the main gate. Trunk compartments fly up to supply sandwiches, sliced cake and pickles and a few pints after touchdowns, even though the game hasn't started yet. The insurance man waves and doesn't mention his newest policy, rather wants to know who's favored. Old friends are greeted, and new friends are introduced between bites. The old grad may look older, but he's beginning to feel younger than his freshman year. There's the band with the drum major, and maybe they have 76 trombones, and maybe they don't, but the music sound good, and if you're walking, the steps come quicker. The ex-halfback tells himself he could pull a helmet over that bald spot and look as good as any of those college boys, the bad knee feels like new.
There are folks seated on the 50 yard line, and they have that little edge in prestige, because there aren't many such seats available. They really can't see the game any better, but it's a symbol of success, and football games are social games as well. There are the loyal and the disloyal, and the fellow who really doesn't care who wins, but wants to see some action.
There's something in football for everyone. Some can cheer the players, some can second guess the coach. Some can listen to radios and see how wrong we radio announcers can be. While some just enjoy the ballet of young bulls in battle.
There's a beauty of sound in a punt, and a spine chill from the thud of a fullback being hit head on by a red-dogging linebacker. There's magic on the campus sprawling beyond the boundaries of the stadium. There's a pleasant emotional letdown after a game is over: a tired by happy feeling for the winner, a tired, but resolute challenge to avenge for the losers. The stands empty, and the fog of battle lifts, and there's a stillness, and a grandeur, and a look to the future.
No sir, there's nothing like college football, and it happens all over the country. It's happening here in Berkley this afternoon, it happened in little old Ann Arbor last Saturday, as once again small college towns across the country become part of the big collegiate football scene.