I went to a football game, alone. It was second half of our local 13,000 student Stephen F. Austin State University football game. It was Parent’s Weekend, so literally half the people left after the 2nd quarter.
It was a stifling hot Texas evening, so I sat at the top of the stadium where there was virtually no one, but the team flags blew in the breeze. That breeze was nice!
I participated, without involvement. Was part of the crowd, yet not crowded. With people, but all by myself.
Plus, high in the stands you can see plays develop.
Our home team was failing. An accurate third down pass hit our receiver in his hands, slid through to his chest, and bounced clumsily to the ground.
The punting team comes on the field.
We’re going to lose, again.
The closest people in front of me were 13 rows down. Three guys wandered back up at the beginning of the second half and sat by three girls, all obviously college freshmen. One guy and girl sat close to each other, as if they were dating, while the other two girls were bored, talking, checking phones, completely ignoring the other two guys.
The two guys sat by their friend and were trying to gain the girl’s attention.
One was loud and cocky. He was, in fact, a lot of things, like obnoxious, but a football expert he wasn’t. Too bad he was the only one in the stands who didn’t know it. He’d jump up yelling, waving his arms at the ref for some imaginary infraction.
There was zero, complete goose egg attention from the girls.
His friend sitting by the girl said something. He bowed out his arms like he was a super tough he-man, then frogged his buddy in the arm like a Jr. High boy.
One girl turned her head to see, but immediately turned back to her friend, not only unimpressed, but thoroughly disliking he-man’s childish antics.
Two retired couples sat 25 feet away to my right. Thirty-five feet to my left was an extended family in town for Parent’s Weekend.
The retired couples were semi-disgusted with our team’s performance. On the other hand, they were totally enjoying the conversation among the four of them. They burst into laughter as one of the older men just shook his head like he had revealed an embarrassing secret.
The extended family was taking in the sites. It had to be their first football game, certainly first at this college stadium.
Without question though, the most influential person in the entire stadium was wearing white overalls with a purple t-shirt underneath. She was the drum major. She knew everything going on, both on, and off the field.
At every break in play, the band belted out short ditty songs, did cheers, and cadenced school chants with the student section banging their axe handles for the home town Lumberjacks.
When the referee was ready to resume play, she knew. She’d hold her hand high and make a fist to stop. The band always stopped, immediately, right on cue.
A middle age father walked up the long stairways carrying snack trays from the concession stand. One tray was full of cokes and popcorn to go around for the whole extended family in the other.
The obnoxious freshman guy was getting more animated still attempting to show out for the girls. His skinny arms and round belly answered any question whether he was actually tough or just full of hot air.
Hot air. Lots.
Still, he smacked the guy sitting by the girl in the arm again for some perceived insult. The girls didn’t even look his way.
The extended family grandmother chastised her toddler grandson not to eat any more popcorn that dropped on the aluminum stands and concrete steps. “That’s nasty!” as she watched the little boy chew.
Third and short. Hold ‘em defense!
Broken play. Their quarterback scampers for a first down, breaks up the middle, then runs for a touchdown.
Don’t get upset. You know our team is bad. Just enjoy the game for what it is.
The drum major senses the crowd’s defeating despair. She launches the band into a raucous version of Cannonball Express.
A man wearing bright red for the opposing team quietly walks to the top of the stadium with his two elementary age daughters. They stand by the team flags enjoying the breeze talking about what it would be like to roll down the grass on the back-side incline of the stadium.
The retired couples speak to the man. One of the ladies, who must’ve been a school teacher, smiles and starts talking to the girls. The dad nods his approval at the retired teacher before she hands both girls chewing gum.
Suddenly, the crowd roars. Long pass. He’s breaking open. The ball flutters into the receiver’s hands. We score! Only 5 points behind now in the 4th quarter.
Maybe, just maybe there’s hope.?
Our defense holds on third down. They punt, but it’s a shank. First and ten in their territory.
There is hope!
Three plays, including another dropped pass. 4th and one! We go for the first down! The game can swing here. Just make the first down!
Nope. Nothing doing. Ball goes over on downs.
Game’s basically over. You feel it.
The drum major feels it too, and leads the band in Cannonball Express again.
Obnoxious freshman stands up yelling at the sidelines, like our coach should’ve asked him for advice first.
All three girl’s legs point away from him, ignoring his obnoxious existence, looking away so they don’t even have to see him in their peripheral vision.
Extended family to the left is mindless of the game now. An uncle and nephew are flicking popcorn at each other.
The retired couples get up and stand behind the handrails. They’re ready to go. Besides, it’s past their bedtime.
The other team drives down the field and scores.
Obnoxious freshman frogs his friend’s arm as if expressing pent up anger.
I want to go tell the friend that it’s gonna get worse until he hits him back, or at least gets in his face. Go ahead, man! Whack him! Hard! He won’t stop till you whack him back!
Cheerleaders are on track in front of the band still yelling, “Axe ’em Jacks!”
They move into a chant with specific moves with half the band chanting with them and the other half playing music during a media time out. They’re determined to have fun regardless of the game.
Last gasp effort from our team. Fourth and ten deep in our own territory. We go for the first down.
Pass! Perfect throw to the receiver a yard past the first down marker. He drops it.
Silence. No chants. No axe handles hitting metal siding. No band song. Just hollers and high fives by the other team’s players.
More people leave.
Uncle pours remaining popcorn down back of nephew’s shirt.
Other team runs the ball burning up the clock.
Touchdown, for them.
If there was a flicker of hope, it’s gone.
Retired couples slowly descend to leave.
Freshman girls are gone too.
Then two freshman guys leave obnoxious guy alone before he meanders down in the escaping crowd.
It’s been fun, but I’ve seen enough.
I start toward the parking lot while my truck waits patiently for its key to return.
I went to a football game, but not alone, not at all.