Gosh, how I loved football games when I was a grad student at the University of Texas. I was the biggest football nut going. I lived for game day. I and the other supernerdettes residing in a co-op boarding house two blocks from campus counted the minutes until kickoff. Why? Because that’s when all the bellowing Burnt-Orange-heads would get the hell out of our neighborhood. Ah, bliss! For those few hours we could study, sing madrigals, and walk outside without being hailed by our football-loving frat neighbors with their signature greeting: “Hey, lesbo-dyke-whore!” (Seemed odd that the brothers would automatically assume that people of the same gender who all lived together and paddled one another and carried out secret nighttime rituals were homosexual. Yet they did. Oh, wait, I forgot. We didn’t do the paddling and the rituals.)
I grew up in a house in which men screamed at television sets. Week after week, month after month, football season after football season, this little cult never seemed to grasp that the tiny players in the magic picture box could not hear them, that their rage and insults had no effect whatsoever on the outcome of the game. I did everything I could to ensure that the family psychosis did not strike me, until an article in Seventeen advised that in order to “be interesting to boys” I had to “be interested in what boys are interested in.” Knowing that I couldn’t fake a passion for burning up ants with a magnifying glass, I asked my father to explain the rules of football to me. The words “first down,” “turnover,” and “end zone” went directly into my brain’s spam filter and lodged there forever, right next to “quadratic equation.” Boys would just have to be interested in me for my family fortune and smokin’ hot body.
And then I watched twenty minutes of football that changed everything—specifically, the final twenty minutes of last year’s Rose Bowl. What Vince Young did that confetti-filled evening can stand next to any of the greatest human achievements: Michelangelo’s David, E=mc2, the appletini. I vowed then and there that I would do what I had never done during the quarter of a century I’d lived in Austin: I would go to a Longhorns football game.
Before you could say “Horn ’em, Hookers!” I was one of 88,972 fans surging toward Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium for the UT—Iowa State game in late September. My trusty guide to all things gridiron was El Hubbo, pride of South Texas’s Gregory-Portland Wildcats, a football-playin’ fool with the knee surgeries to prove it. His expertise, fine-tuned during years of two-a-days on fields hot enough to smelt pig iron, was immediately brought to bear: “Uh, the kickoff is kind of important.” This insight was delivered after the sound of a distant roar reached us in the cafeteria of a mercifully air-conditioned UT dorm where I was having an IV of Diet Coke inserted. Reinvigorated by meth-addict levels of caffeine, we rejoined the Bataan Death March.
Memorial Stadium. Looks big from the outside, right? Optical illusion. They pack those fans in like rush hour on a Tokyo subway. Our neighbors in section 30, row 49, seats 1 through 39 were not amused when we arrived late and forced them to assume positions only recently legalized in the state of Texas as we wedged past on our way to seats 40 and 41. I apologized copiously. One old gent excused me, saying, “At least you don’t stink like that bongo-playing hippie who used to sit down there.”
As he pointed to a spot nearby, I checked for other signs of heatstroke.
“You know. That Hollywood guy. McCafferty.”
Okay! The personal hygiene habits of major stars—now this I could get interested in. Unfortunately, our other neighbors seemed to actually be trying to concentrate on the ants dressed in the color bronze that is called burnt orange on the field far below. Hostile glares cut my conversation about Mattie Mac short. I thought I’d better ingratiate myself with those whose feet I’d trodden upon. To show how much of a Hookers fan I was, I held my fingers up in a “Gig ’em” sign and screamed out, “Husk the Cornholers!”
“That’s Nebraska,” El Hubbo informed me. “And it’s Cornhuskers.”
“And you just did the ‘Hang Loose, Brah’ sign from Hawaii.”
“Do you want me to explain what’s happening?”
Since hellish, unimaginable heat had melted my lips shut, I shook my head no. I feared the words “offensive lineman” might inflict irreversible damage upon my poached brain. I slumped into a listless, torpid state, capable of fixating only on bright, highly animated objects. These would be the cheerleaders. I wondered idly what parallel universe they might exist in. On Planet Earth, I barely had enough energy to wipe away the tsunami of sweat pouring off of me. On frosty cold Planet Pep, the cheerleaders were bouncing around like howler monkeys on PCP.
This was so not like my cathartic Rose Bowl experience. What, besides Vince Young, was missing? Ah, yes, closeups. El Hubbo called my attention to the Godzillatron, which was in fact providing both CUs and replays. If only I’d had a quart of cookies ’n’ cream and my own personal air-conned house, I could have duplicated my special Vince moment.
El Hubbo made a good call: “Let’s go to the End Zone Club.”
End Zone Club? This sounded promising. With a name like that I was certain I’d witness another sort of athletic perfection: strippers working the pole. But no. The End Zone Club turned out to be just a giant tent with big TV sets. But it did have the one ingredient essential to the enjoyment of football: beer. We found a quiet table as far from the hubbub as possible, and if everyone in the baked-bean-colored garb would have piped down and let me read my novel, I could have really started to enjoy football.
Now, I’m not saying who is right and who is pathologically insane in regard to football. All I will say, though, is on that day many were praying for the Longhorns to win. A few were praying for the Cornholers. Me, I was just praying for the whole hideous ordeal to end. Then, in the third quarter, the heavens hurled bolts of lightning upon Memorial Stadium of such ferocity that, for the first time since 1996, a game was postponed because of weather.
Make of that what you will, but there’s no denying that my prayer was answered before 88,971 others.