Now that I’m back home, expect a string of boring travelogue posts over the next couple days talking about where I was and what I was doing over the weekend.
For one thing, I went to the third college football game of my life.
The first was in the fall of ’94. Boston University, which was not yet my alma mater, played James Madison. It rained. We lost.
The second was in maybe ’03 or ’04. The paper I worked for sent me to the Penn State-Iowa game to write a story about local people who tailgate at Penn State games. I got to sit up in the press box and write the story while the game was going on.
I have no memories except that the stadium seemed huge; I got lost looking for my car on the way out; and Penn State lost in overtime, by which point I had found my car and was on the highway home.
(I always disliked Penn State, even before the Jerry Sandusky child-abuse saga went public. It always seemed like Pennsylvania’s collective lips were pressed a little too firmly against Saint JoePa’s hinder.)
This time around, I decided small-college Division III action was the way to go.
So I drove east on the fog-choked Taconic Trail to get to Williams College, where the home-team Ephs took on the Bates College Bobcats against a backdrop that would have been remarkably scenic if it hadn’t been so overcast.
I got there early, had a beer and mingled with the Williams Classes of ’58 and ’63. (By “mingled” I mean “stood by myself within earshot of the tent where they were eating while I looked at their parked Saabs and Volvos.”)
Once the game got going, I ignored distant family ties to Williams and sat on the Bates side, along with a good, noisy crowd of burgundy-clad State-of-Mainers.
The two teams had at each other using the familiar tools employed by gentleman footballers since the dawn of time — an option here; a pitch to the running back there; plowing off-tackle runs everywhere; and at the end of each sequence, a good healthy punt.
Each team scraped across a laboriously earned rushing touchdown.
With three seconds left in the first half, Williams’ kicker — whom I’d watched nailing field goals pre-game — hit an especially long effort to give his team a 10-7 lead. (I learned later it was 46 yards, a school record. No wonder he was so happy afterward.)
And then, after a hard-fought 30 minutes of football, with the game very much up for grabs, I got up and left.
For one thing, Williams doesn’t sell tickets; anyone who shows up at Weston Field can watch for free. So I didn’t feel any great regret about walking out on my investment in a ticket.
Also, it had started to rain lightly, and I’d realized that the thick fogbank over my one route back to New York wasn’t going to lift. I had obligations on the other side of the fog, and I decided I’d rather drive through it earlier than later. So I got going.
Watching football close up also reminded me how much trouble I now have accepting the game’s inherent violence.
There weren’t that many injuries, really — not like some NFL games, where somebody seems to go down on every fifth play. And nobody got hurt at this game who couldn’t get up and walk off the field within two minutes.
Still, seeing a bunch of otherwise intelligent young men crash and sway and topple and bend in weird ways kinda lost its interest for me after a while.
I wondered whether it was worth it … whether creaky joints and punch-drunkenness later in life were a justifiable price to pay for stuffing a running play in the backfield on second and 8.
I fear that football, like federal politics, has lost my endorsement — even in the honorable, graft-free precincts.
And that’s a shame, because game day at a place like Williams College is still a great atmosphere, with pride, tradition, lovely scenery, and touches of low-budget ragtag to keep things from getting too fancy.
If I go to another college football game, it will be at someplace like Williams College.
I seem to be averaging one game a decade; I’ll have to re-examine my opinion on violence for sport’s sake in 2023 and see how I feel then.