Thursday, September 6, 2012

Stanford Football

I headed to the Stanford Football game last Friday night giddy like a kid on Christmas morning. I was going to see real live college football in any form for the first time since I was in Baton Rouge in 2010 when LSU played the Mountaineers. What's not to love? I will take any opportunity to sit outside and drink beer from the tailgate of my mom-car SUV and watch young men slam into each other. And maybe take the opportunity to flirt with age inappropriate future leaders of this country.

I have to admit to never having been to a football game at Stanford. Or any of the Bay Area colleges. Their football season, obviously, runs concurrent to LSU's football season and by the time I would remember to take a gander at their schedules, it'd be halfway through the season with no wiggle room to sacrifice watching an LSU game on TV in favor of a live one at a school I have no ties to. But when I randomly pulled up the Stanford schedule the other day to see if I could maybe actually go to a game this season, I discovered they were kicking off their season not on the traditional Saturday but on Friday night at 7:30. Say what now?! I can totally make that work. In fact, once I took a look at ticket prices, a laughably low $10 and still easily available, I knew I had to go, even if it meant going solo. (Spread your wings and flllyyyy!)

Another reason that is I have never partaken in the Bay's college teams is that my family are not college football fans. In fact they're not really "college" fans. My brother's oft quoted phrase is "College is an overrated waste of money." It pains me greatly that he's actually, in some regards, turned out to be right. The fact that no one in my family cares led to my first ever college football game being an accidental stumble into one on a trip to visit CU Boulder when I was a senior in college. The Mighty Buffs played...the Kansas Jayhawks. Your passing familiarity with college football lets you know that that is the opposite of amazing college football. Except that my dad, who was with me on that trip, and I both loved the environment of marching bands and rowdy college kids, even in the decidedly relaxed college football environment of Boulder. We just never made it a point to recreate the experience back home.

I emailed a couple friends to see if they were interested in joining me and god love Cheryl because she is always up for any wacky adventure I can come up with. She was in. Which meant I didn't actually have to go solo. Score!

I made the roughest outline of a plan: meet Cheryl around 2:30, head to Target and stock up on provisions, drive the 45-ish minutes down to Stanford's campus, tailgate, watch football. I didn't procure tickets ahead of time thinking the box office or some alumni with a couple extras would be able to help us out. I took a gander at their parking map and figured I'd head to one of those and see what happened.

Cheryl was running predictably late. But 45 minutes so. Which my anxiety to get down to Stanford and start tailgating made a little annoying. The ensuing cluster fuck after that though is entirely my fault. I'll gloss over it but basically: Sometimes my brain, despite all desire to the contrary, does not work the way I would like it to. I'll have an idea in my head of how things should go and I'll stay on that path despite evidence that I should adjust. Or to sum up: I should have just gone to Safeway the day before and gotten beer and snacks instead of dragging Cheryl with me to more than one store to get proper provisions, who then wanted "real" food, requiring another detour as I got anxious and just wanted to be settled and tailgating already.

About tailgating: I had completely and totally taken for granted that everyone knows generally what tailgating is. I didn't really know at 18 when I arrived in Baton Rouge, but I figured it out and life breeds lots of lessons so I just assumed most people at the very least have seen it on TV. This was faulty logic. My Asian American friend who was raised in L.A. and went to UCSB, a school famous for NOT having a football team (one of the few highlights of bar study was the kid who wore the "UCSB Football: Undefeated since 1990" shirt), had no idea what the hell tailgating entailed. She was shocked when we finally arrived at Stanford, easily, after a detour to the fancy mall to pick up sandwiches, and parked under a giant eucalyptus grove in a dirt parking lot, while groups of little kids threw footballs around and a few adults had grills going.

Cheryl has been to the LSU bar with me so she knows college fans are slightly unhinged. And she's been to Giants games with me so she knows live sports. But Giants games are a decidedly city thing. You take Muni right to the stadium and there are bars within feet of the entrance. I'm sure people do tailgate in the lots on the other side of the stadium, but we never have/generally aren't over there. Baseball isn't something you really need to be pumped up for the way you do with the 8 games a year college home schedule, where you are savoring every last second of glorious fall football. College football tailgating, at least in my experience, is some next level ish. Not that I expected Stanford fans to be my beloved Tiger fans.

Even before that, when Cheryl and I were at the store procuring beer and liquor for a flask, I looked at her and it dawned on me she didn't really know why. "Um, you know they don't sell beer inside college football stadiums, right?" (There are exceptions to this, apparently, but no college stadium I have ever been to is.) She did not. I further explained that though most college campuses are generally dry, as a rule, this is a law that's not enforced on game day, so long as you are of age. You still can't buy alcohol in the stadium. But, I continued, this rule is generally broken too, as a good portion of fun in my college experience, and beyond, is sneaking alcohol into the stadium. (Just read the comments here to get an idea of the lengths people will go. I fully employed my bra in my college days.)

"But...if it's a rule everyone breaks...why have the rule?" Cheryl queried. AHAHAHAH LOGIC! UR SO FUNNY! I honest to god don't have an answer for her and just wanted to be like, "Because that's the way it is." Tautology! I could have made up something about higher education and focus on academics and not wanting to encourage a mostly underage population to drink but fuck if I know. It just IS. And then you break the rule which makes it that much more fun. She might have a point. We might not give a fuck about sneaking alcohol into the stadium or even drinking if there weren't a rule but...who would want that?

As I bought Crown she marveled at the box it came in. "Why does that whiskey come in a box? Is it, like, fancier?" I told her it's in a velvet bag inside the box, but no, it's not really fancier. "Why's it in a bag inside the box?" Bitch, I don't know! Because! Because this is how Crown is sold individually and then we all use velvet bags to hold loose change or Mardi Grad doubloons or...whatever, really. (I don't even know why we drink Crown with such verve in Louisiana. The purple and gold packaging? But we do. Crown is to Louisiana what Jameson is to San Francisco.)

We finally park at Stanford. My preconceived notion of Stanford fans is that they sip white wine and eat brie before leisurely strolling into the stadium. I'm not that familiar with the school, just the really fancy shopping mall by the school. I've only ever been on campus proper when I went to a frat party there over one of my breaks when I was a freshman in college. So a lifetime ago. I don't even know many Stanford alumns.

Despite the white wine and brie stigma, if I was gonna show allegiance to a Bay Area school, it would be Stanford. When I was in high school I had aspirations of going there, before I figured out I had to be rich, connected, really really smart, work really really hard, or some combination of those things. I am none of those things. But I've owned a few Stanford sweatshirts in my life and in an ironic twist, for someone who hated the preppyness and privilege of my high school, I kinda like it in sprawling, idyllic college campuses. It's just that Stanford is far more my speed than the tree hugging hippies at Cal. (Fun with stereotypes!) I also love Stanford for educating my most favoritest college professor, even if he regularly picked on us weird Californians in class. (I once wrote him a 20 page paper comparing the personalities/psychological profiles of Nazi war criminals to the title of a spaghetti Western. I freaking miss undergrad, where that is considered an excellent use of my time. That was the final paper for me to finally get out of undergrad. I got an A. Wish I still had a copy of it.)

I wasn't really wrong about my notion of white wine and brie. Granted that it was a Friday and not a Saturday so presumably people weren't tailgating hours ahead of time because they were busy putting their fancy Stanford degrees to work. To my knowledge, Stanford has never made any "must tailgate there" lists so the low key atmosphere seemed about rights. To be further fair to the school, this was a game against SJSU, not USC, and the first time that Andrew Luck would not be qb-ing the team in several years.

Still. Tailgating was a mild affair. I had quickly thrown a couple of folding chairs in the back of my car with my insulated cooler backpack, and other tailgating essentials like a flask and a vegetable knife with snacks. For my lack of planning, I was about on par with all the other tailgaters.

I do have to give Cheryl credit for adapting quickly. She cursed me for not thinking to give her the Stanford sweatshirt I own to wear so she could blend in and wished we'd had a football to throw around. I was too busy pounding beers to think about these things, and have already admitted to the failings of my brain in prepping for this tailgating event, but in hindsight I appreciated her wanting to get into the vibe. I told her she could just join in throwing the football around with the kids, no one thinks twice about inserting themselves at others tailgates, but she didn't want to/isn't really that type of person. She did complain about being parked in the eucalyptus grove. "I didn't realize it would be, like, dirt! I would have worn boots! I don't want to get dirt in my Tom's." Like I said, having done enough tailgating at LSU, my car parked on the grass on Nicholson Drive, or in rain soaked lots near the Vet School, it hadn't occurred to me that people were unfamiliar with the fact that on college campuses, normally open green spaces are turned into tailgate parking on football days. Hell, ANY space is turned into an improvised picnic area. "Ohhh, you never woke up to people grilling boudin under your dorm room window. Huh. Weird."

But mostly she was a trooper and I was impressed. I calmed my "can we just get settled?!" nerves with cold Bud Light. (Last time I'll make apologies to fancy SF beer snob types: certain settings require ice cold, in cans, crappy American beer. Unless any of you folks want to ship me Abita in cans (or know where to get the cans), or have other cheap, easily drinkable suggestions, cold Bud Light it is.) I wasn't wearing the Stanford sweatshirt I own because I was rocking, as I usually do to sporting events, my LSU alumni sweatshirt. Which I was glad I had brought. I was expecting it to be warm at Stanford, its valley location South of SF usually warmer than my coastal abode, but the weather pretty much matched SF's. I was glad I'd chosen jeans over shorts, that's for sure. In SF my LSU sweatshirt barely garners a second look. At Stanford I got all sorts of odd looks and even a few comments. Most notably post game from a guy who walked by me and yelled, "Roll Tide!" Grrrrrr.

About a half an hour before kickoff, I let her know we should head to the stadium and get tickets. There were a few scalpers, who I usually don't like to deal with because they are shady and slightly intimidating but the line for the nearby ticket window was long and I hate lines more than I hate shady characters. I ask one guy what he's got, I'm just looking to get into the stadium, nothing fancy, and he shows me two tickets with a $30 face value. I tell him "$30? No thanks." and start to walk away. "Too much!? It's just $10 each," he says. Oh, well that I can do. I don't even try to negotiate. I just pay him $20 and take my two tickets, it seems like such an insane bargain for lower bowl tickets. I guess I'm so used to the face value on club level Giants tickets that this seems like a pittance. $10 is barely a beer at AT&T park. I feel like I'm getting over on something somehow. Of course I awkwardly drop all my cash on the ground and spill the beer I am walking with in the meantime to pay this guy but...whatever. Forever awkward.

Our tickets were in the end zone of Stanford Stadium, at a slight angle to the field, and firmly in the San Jose State section. I am fine with this. It gives me a rooting interest where I might otherwise not have had one. Even as I said I like Stanford, I'm easily swayable in a stadium filled with people, having no true allegiance. We are in spitting distance of what passes for a band at San Jose State. (Btw: how absurd is it that LSU's band has a pre-game pump up video? It's the BAND! The team getting one makes sense but there is literally a video to get fans pumped up about the band, which should pump you up for the team. It makes me giggle a little to ponder this.)

Being seated in this section gave me pause to think about a school I normally don't at all. SJSU, to my mind, is just one of dozens of schools in the Cal State system and I barely give it a second thought and don't really imagine having a lot of pride in attending a state school that is not THE state school, the way LSU is. But being surrounded by rabid SJSU fans, I was caught up a bit. The only, as far as I can recall, D1 football school of the Cal State system. (Which is totally wrong and my recall apparently sucks. Sorry Fresno!) Point remains: pumped up kids yelling for their Spartans, no differently than I did back as an undergrad at LSU, was inspiring, especially when they're playing against a school that is close in proximity but couldn't be much different than them in all other respects. Private, elite, well endowed SJSU is not. But they were having fun. And made a game out of it. I knew beforehand, through casual observation, that the spread was 24.5 in favor of Stanford. Stanford didn't even sniff the spread, SJSU eventually only losing by 3. Go Not Michigan State Spartans!

However, I will never get used to the fact that visiting a foreign stadium is a bit like visiting a foreign land. I felt this way at Verizon Center and at HP Pavilion and at Husky Stadium previously.

First off, I found their stadium adorable and miniature. Wiki tells me it holds 50k. Which is slightly more than half of what LSU's holds. Awww cute lil baby stadium. Maybe when it grows up it can be a real size stadium. I didn't really wander around it, just to our seats, concessions and the bathrooms. It seemed nice enough, nice greenery outside around the entrance once through the gates but I didn't explore. As a typical college stadium, I doubted it had anything significant to offer besides seating for a football game.

Remember when I got the Crown and made it a point to sneak liquor into the stadium in my flask? Yeah. They don't do that at Stanford. Before I even get to the liquor part though, I need a coke to mix with it. I head to their concessions and first notice that this is a Pepsi school and not a Coke school. Ugh. So I opt for Sierra Mist because I am not defiling my whiskey with Pepsi. Then I notice that they have paper cups. Paper! This is an affront to any good Southern educated person. For $4 at Tiger Stadium I can get a large coke in a plastic cup. $2 and I can get a small. It immediately reminded me of this "Differences Between Southern and Northern College Football" thing that made the rounds via AOL back when I was in undergrad. The pertinent part of which reads:

NORTH: Drinks served in a paper cup, filled to the top with soda.
SOUTH: Drinks served in a plastic cup, with the home team's mascot on it, filled less than half way with soda, to ensure enough room for bourbon.

YAIS. True facts.

I tried to explain to the kid working concessions not to fill it to the top, wink wink nudge nudge, and he just did not get it. Sigh.

The fans around me marveled that I had a flask and had planned. To me this is the most common of football practices (obvs, I spent 4 paragraphs above explaining it). Enough half time hangovers in a raucous stadium and you learn. Mostly impressed were the row of older gentlemen behind me who were pretty damn funny. At one point there was a girl walking around a lot. An SJSU coed. Ya know. That girl. The pretty, kind of drunk, overly flirty one in a mini skirt and tank top on at a chilly night game who won't sit down and watch the effing game, even though she's cheering vociferously, drawing attention to herself, because she's too busy socializing with every male in her sights. One of the guys behind me quipped, after obviously inappropriately ogling her, "Man, I wonder what her parents think." I turned around and said, "That they wish they'd had a son." I exchanged a few more barbs with them but nothing substantial and there was no inappropriate flirting with Stanford undergrads. Probably for the best.

And yet despite the fact that they don't have plastic cups, they had vendors walking around the stadium selling kettle corn and cotton candy. This is a complete anomaly, as far as I'm aware, for any college stadium. WHAT IS THIS WEIRD ALTERNATE LAND?!

Stanford's band is also notoriously wacky and nontraditional but I still have no idea what the hell happened at half time. I'm guessing this is partly because it wasn't their full band. Stanford runs on quarters and I don't think their students are actually back on campus yet for the start of the fall quarter so it would have been senior members of the band. This is, as I said, just a guess though and may have just been Stanford's band doing it's usual shtick. Which was completely nonsensical.

Despite the foreign feeling of it all, the football was good and we had a good time. The game was, as mentioned, close and enjoyable considering I had no vested interest in the winner. The college environment for a game is always fantastic, regardless if it's my team or not and the joy of drinking cold beer out of the back of my car and getting some laughably cheap entertainment in the Bay Area made it worth it. I'd definitely go back to a Stanford game again. (Someone said I now have to go to a Cal game. I dunno, man. Hippies, ya know?)

Cheryl and I stopped at In N Out on the way home, of course, and then called it a night. I was tucked into bed at 1 a.m.

But that whole parking in a dusty lot thing? My sinuses woke me up in a rage at 4:30 and after popping Claritin (magical little pills!) I still couldn't get back to sleep. I decided since I was up, I might as well watch that Notre Dame/Navy game starting at 6 a.m. local from Dublin. And after that I just kept watching. For the next 16 or so hours. College football season is BACK, you guys!

Note: I had to hard restart my computer at one point and blogger hadn't autosaved the couple hundred words I'd added since the intro. Super annoying, and not just getting fed up with, recreating whole sections of a post you'd already written once. That is the conclusion of "Today, in First World Problems" or "I'm an idiot who should save more often and should have learned this lesson several times over by this point but am apparently a stubborn jerk who has not".

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