How a lapsed college football fan traveled to the Rose Bowl for the BCS National Championship and was born again through the joy of tailgating, face-painting, and screaming his lungs out with 94,000 fellow believers who wanted nothing more than their team to win.
At the 2010 Rose Bowl, Tuba players, Cheerleaders, Obligatory Face-painting.
Lauren Greenfield | Institute

Tuesday, January 5, 7:05 a.m.: Austin-Bergstrom International Airport at the crack of dawn is typically a quiet place, but not so today. Two full days before the Longhorns play for the BCS National Championship, in the Rose Bowl, the scene at the curbside check-in looks like a fall Saturday turnstile at Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium. Everywhere is burnt orange. Burnt-orange button-downs, sweatshirts, dresses, and pants. Burnt-orange backpacks, garment bags, duffels, and rollers. I’ve arrived an hour and a half before my flight. The last time that happened I was holding my mom’s hand and knocking my ear against her kneecaps. But an hour and a half today is looking like an insufficient cushion. I rub my eyes for a moment, then open them.

The lines are already longer. Already more orange.

I step inside, cross my fingers, then marvel at the genius of Mack Brown. I went to UT in the lean years of the late eighties and early nineties, and I haven’t sat in the stands at a Longhorns game since 1995. Back then you wouldn’t have found this much orange in the entire stadium. Brown not only retooled the product, but he also did a brilliant job of marketing. “Come early. Be loud. Stay late. Wear orange.” The travelers at the airport all have that mantra branded on their brains, to the point that there’s a real chance that I’m going to miss my flight. And if I do, there will be no use fussing with standby. I’ll have to drive to California.

I’m the second-to-last passenger to board Flight 340, a nonstop to LAX. Surveying the plane for one of the two remaining open seats, all I see are burnt-orange ball caps. A chartered flight headed to an assistant coaches’ reunion wouldn’t look much different. I finally sit down but still don’t feel completely at ease. And it’s not because I don’t have a ticket for the game yet. That can be fixed. But apparently I’m the only person in Austin who doesn’t own a single stitch of orange.

4:15 p.m.: After making it to Los Angeles, I pass the afternoon on the phone at a friend’s place in Venice, trying to find Wednesday night’s best party and a ride to Thursday’s game. Both are fairly easy. Lyle Lovett is playing a party at the Skybar in West Hollywood’s Mondrian Hotel, where I booked a room just yesterday. It was the last in a block of 75 reserved in August by a man named Craig, a fraternity brother of a guy I sat by for a semester of college Spanish. Craig also rented a bus to take sixty people to the game, as did a number of other friends of friends I’ve found.

It occurs to me just how much this

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