Monday, September 24, 2012

Hoping Winter Never Comes

I have developed a crush on a football player. Well, a former football player. It was purely a function of a single tweet.

I only knew vaguely who he was, as I follow several former and current players from LSU on the Twits. It wasn’t ‘til I delved a little deeper that I realized he was one of the guys suspended last year for the bar fight. Which is moot, really. Mostly it was his utter late night disappointment at not being involved in football anymore made me just want to give him the biggest hug. I get that. I get that unmoored from what you know feeling.

It also doesn’t hurt that he’s good looking, in that totally jocky way. Though I got all “Awwww” before I bothered to embiggen his profile pic.

In fairness, I wanted to hug everyone last night. Every tweet from every football player, following our very narrow win, made me want to wrap these adorable boys up in my arms and let them know it was all gonna be okay. Mostly our punter who had a bad punt and our kicker who missed a field goal and subsequently tweeted about those failings. Two adorable barely legal kids taking on a lot of responsibility for their off night. Which is a far cry from when I used to be all “Pshaw. Kickers. Not even a real part of the team.” I used to be an idiot. (Used to. AHAHAHA.)

I only wanted to hug them after they came out on the other side with a win though.

LSU beat an unranked Auburn team by 2. By 2. That is not an impressive outing. And as an irrational fan, which I completely am, and have admitted to being, I can’t see past the “We should have beat the crap out of them and didn’t and 2 turnovers and fumbles and horrible special teams (miss you Tyrann!)! AHHH! How are we ever gonna win anything meaningful?!”

Then you have to take a step back and say, “Look. First road game of the season. First conference game of the season. At night. Against a team motivated to beat you to prove things. It’s not a complete effing disaster. Though it sure felt close. Oh and btw, this is how Les Miles teams usually win. Last season’s domination? Kind of a fluke in the grand scheme of things. Remember all those heart attacks you had the rest of the time? Yeah. That’s the norm.”

But what really drives the anxiety is that you, as a knowledgeable fan, understand that success in the arena of college football is finite. You can’t dominate forever. It’s an impossibility. At some point you will lose. And then maybe you’ll lose a couple games in a season. It happens. It just does. It’s not always a matter of personnel or coaching. It can be flukey. It can be lack of preparation or underestimating an opponent and sleep walking through a day game that sneaks up on you. Ask current Wisconsin how it happens. It’s not always the firing of a head coach to send you into a tailspin. (See: Notre Dame, Michigan, OSU.) It doesn’t have to be precipitated by a culture shift generally and NCAA sanctions. (See: The U, Penn State.) There is a chance you can bounce back quickly (USC), or you can perennially underachieve (UGA). There are a thousand different ways to lose. But you can go from being Nebraska of the 80s and 90s to the Nebraska of now. Which is what we all fear.

LSU’s been winning for a long time. A very long time. We were almost perfect last year. We have gone to not insignificant bowl games for the past decade straight. We haven’t been outside the top twenty-five in the rankings for...I don’t even want to know how long for fear of jinxing it.

If you want to know how fleeting it can all be, Minnesota and Northwestern currently sit atop the Big 10 standings. Ask anyone at the beginning of the season if they thought those would be the powerhouses out of that conference. If they say yes, they’re totally lying. It’s belly laugh inducing to think of those two schools leading in anything except ineptitude.

Basically: victory is fleeting. You have to love the wins while they roll in and fear the second the tide turns because it could lead to a complete tailspin that may take years to recover from. And you have to fight and claw and do whatever you can to get to the top. And then you have to fight doubly hard to stay there, where a 2 point win isn't an overwhelmingly convincing indication that you can.

Writing about it now gives me a sudden understanding of the clans of Westeros (yeah, sorry, I made that reference) and why they seem to be grasping so incomprehensibly for this fleeting thing called “power” that doesn’t seem all that great to have. (I have often thought, “Lady, just take your dragons and make a life across the sea. What the hell is your problem? No one really wants to go rule that other place. People will just try to kill you.”)

I mean, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a football game. 60 minutes, a series of downs. A win or a loss doesn’t change the tilt of the earth on it’s axis. (Though a large enough SEC crowd and any deviation in that, we would take credit for.) But, and I know I’ve said this before, it MATTERS. So I suddenly get why clans battle for something as vague a concept as power. Winning feels good. Winning means happy fans and better recruits. But also means better ticket sales with better TV revenue that translate into scholarship dollars for the school and higher rankings in US News for your university, attracting a better caliber of student and professor and national acclaim all around. It has tangible ripples, as good leadership often does. King’s Landing falls on hard times with Joffrey in charge. People are starving and angry and crime rises. A more sympathetic, understanding king and perhaps that doesn’t happen. Same goes for football. You get Les Miles, and for all his wackiness, your kingdom flourishes. You get Rich Rodriguez and it all goes to hell. Not that a despot can’t also bring prosperity. *cough Nick Saban cough*

So we seek wins on the field because it feels good to win, we like being on top for reasons we can't truly explain other than it's nice to be better than that school over there. My guys are knights in shining armor. Your guys are the enemy to be vanquished. We always want to be on the side of good. But also because of the tangible effects that the good of winning has over the bad of losing.

This desire to watch my team keep winning is why every college football Saturday is so completely fraught for me.

I am likely even more anxious and superstitious as LSU fans go because my fandom started under the less than sterling era of coach Gerry DiNardo. I remember Josh Booty as quarterback. I know when we had losing seasons. That is when LSU was imprinted on my brain. I sat through those seven straight losses in college. I remember being freezing, as a cold rain pounded down, the sidelines turned to slop and Steve Spurrier did Steve Spurrier things, when he was still head coach at Florida, to us. I remember dashing home to my Tigerland apartment after that game, chilled to the bone. Your brain never really recovers from that being the start of your fandom.

I remember what winter was like. I don’t want it to return.

(I really hate myself for this extended Game of Thrones reference.) 

All the above reasons is why I become a basketcase on Saturdays. I stayed home to watch the Auburn game. Next weekend is the big huge annual beach house party so I was conserving my resources, limited as they are in my old age, for that. But then I remembered I'm not good being home watching games either. 

I was home alone with the dogs for the first quarter. Who have not been exposed to much me screaming at the television. The little one did not enjoy it and got riled up every time I yelled. So that then she wanted to play while I wanted to watch football. Which is fine, I can chase her around the TV room at the same time as I watch the game. Probably good for me anyway since I skipped the gym on Saturday. 

But they were relentless to the point that I found myself getting annoyed and frustrated with them as my team struggled. Somehow their inability to behave while I watched sports was responsible for the on field failings. 

My parents arrived home which then led to a whole ten minute conversation with them. In the middle of an LSU turnover and Auburn touchdown. I wanted to scream, 'GAH! We go through this every year! These four hours a Saturday? Leave me alone! Talk to me about this later! Don't ask me how my team is doing until the game is over!' 

Even as I recognize it as not a rational response, even as the conscious part of my brain kicks in and is like, "Geezus, calm down," I can't help but get upset about these teeny tiny things.

I nearly turned into a crying puddle when the single 20 oz Dr Pepper I asked my mom to pick up for me while she was out, because I was taking a sober weekend and falling asleep on the couch earlier in the day after a restless nights sleep and some intense nightmares, she instead took it upon herself to be "helpful" and get a six pack. It's so dumb. Like incomprehensibly dumb that her doing something nice would upset me. But it's like this stupid conflation of absurdity in my brain and I just stop functioning like normal. And all I could think was "I only wanted one because I will drink the rest because I have zero willpower and then hate myself and arghbarghargh!" 

I hate my brain. This is the most non-problem one could have, and here I am about to freak out about it.

LSU continued to play in a questionable manner, I continued to swear at the TV, things were looking grim.

Ultimately we won. By 2. And my brain reverted to something resembling normal. I had conversations that weren't my head just going "!@#$%^&*(!@#$%^&*!@#$%^&" I took the dog out and told her I was sorry for yelling at her. I watched more football, in a much more relaxed manner because the outcome didn't matter to me. 

It was all rainbows and puppy dogs and hugs. Hugs for everyone. Hugs hugs hugs hugs. 

Football season makes you manic. 

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