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At Home (Anywhere) Off the Field

Life Lessons in Watching Football from Afar


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LSU-Themed Russian Nesting Dolls

LSU-Themed Russian Nesting Dolls

Jeff said he’d do it, but I never saw him come through. It looked inevitable in the first thirty minutes. The Baltimore Ravens had simply murdered San Francisco. Jeff had spent the better part of the half taunting his mother: “Mom…mom…mom,” he’d repeat until she finally yielded to his beckoning. Then, he’d say, “Flacco”, holding his thumb out and rotating from up to down. She’d made the mistake of doubting the Raven’s quarterback, the same one who delivered three pretty convincing touchdowns early on.

Earlier that day, Jeff had vowed to pour a beer over his head if Baltimore won. When the second half opened with a 108-yard kickoff return, giving the Ravens a three-plus touchdown lead, the intensity seemed to drop. However, the lights of the Superdome malfunctioned, and after the delay, the 49ers came roaring back, Jeff and I (a converted Baltimore fan) grimaced the rest of the way through. Then, at the last minute, our boys stiffened up on defense and pulled it out. And, Flacco seemed the undeniably MVP, despite what mom said.

And, I…I was waiting to see that deluge of a beer, which Jeff had ordered, the 10Q ($1.25) special, Brahva Extra, just after the defense had made that goal line stance. Of course, hugs and high fives were in order first. It was almost as if a line formed to pat Jeff on the back. A collective sigh of relief released to see him so pleased. Slightly exhausted, elated, and hammered out of his mind. The stress had finally relented. Why waste a beer?

Now, I know how people, all those I’ve converted into Tiger fans through the years, feel watching an LSU game with me.

Football has been a part of my life since before I ever donned a set of shoulder pads. I remember noontime kickoffs as a child in Mandeville, hunkering down in front of the TV to watch the Saints, my mother and I erupting into living room end-zone dances when Dalton Hilliard or Eric Martin would break one loose. In those days, the Saints had a ferocious defense led by a quartet of show-stopping linebackers, and the city of New Orleans, the state of Louisiana, had the first stirrings of the “Who Dat?” nation.

In high school, I became a varsity player and developed a more visceral passion for the game, a way of imagining myself as Sam Mills, a linebacker like me, 5’9” like me. For three years, my school never won game: 0-33. By the time I went to university, I was obviously not Sam Mills and had played my last game, but like any purple-and-gold blooded boy from Baton Rouge, I became infected with the Tigers. Gerry Dinardo had brought the team back to prominence my freshman year, but over the next three, the team waned into below mediocrity.

In my last semester in the fall of 2000, a new coaching phenom named Nick Saban took over the Tigers, and a few years later, I was going to graduate school at University of Memphis, working in a restaurant called Paulette’s, and sneaking into the back service kitchen to watch LSU beat Oklahoma for the 2003 National Championship. When I finished my MFA, I left the United States, never to return, but for the life of me, I couldn’t abandon my fighting Tigers.

In Korea, around twelve hours ahead in time, I listened to the games on LSUsports.net broadcasts on Sunday morning, watching the stats click over on ESPN Gamecast a couple of moments later. In Guatemala City, I went to a bar named Cheers (a direct rip off of the TV show), where, when I walked in, the owner immediately began searching for the LSU game. In Russia, I woke up at four a.m. on Sunday mornings to struggle through streaming the games with an internet connection that cut off every couple of minutes.

This year, every game was internationally attended by a whole staff of Earth Lodgers, world travelers, and me, the dinner chef who was ignoring BBQ beans to see what was going on in Death Valley. They rejoiced in my elation, cringed at my pain (after the Alabama game especially), and in doing so, rallied around the team, even though no one besides me really gave two dusty farts about football. Passion—no matter how globally insignificant—is often irresistibly infectious.

Nobody Holds Us Back

Nobody Holds Us Back

This last Super Bowl Sunday is perhaps the most fun I’ve had watching a football game that didn’t involve LSU or the Saints. Baltimore native—Jeff, his parents, and one of his lifelong friends—were all in town, in country even, and representing hard in their purple-and-black. We’d met up hours before the game for presumptuous mimosas and cigars. Sitting in the courtyard of the Antigua mansion-like dwelling that his parents—Jim and Jean—have rented, we discussed in depth the intricacies of offensive and defensive systems, player skill sets, and what the Ravens needed to do.

Just before game time, we paraded across the city in a mix of sobriety, some of us with fresh beers in our hands. Jeff had called ahead to the bar, Travel Menu, which by US standards is less than a hole in the wall, but it is Jeff’s version of Cheers, where every knows his name and more importantly his team. He told the owner to clear the half-dozen or so tables because we were coming to fill them. Something about the trek reminded me of parading in New Orleans, the sun cooking the air, the drunkenness, the camaraderie.

It seems strange to travel the world searching for such moments, moments when the home and life purposefully left behind seem so clear and desirable and so far away. I remember leaving for Korea in 2005, convinced of the changes I needed to make within myself, one of which was my obsession with football. In part, the change did occur: Rather than filling my weekend with an endless blur of ESPN highlights, during the season, I now focus my attention on one game a week. Oddly enough, it took moving across the world to create a better LSU fan.

I’m not sure what will happen next year if Baltimore and New Orleans cross paths. I’m fairly happy, and Jeff will be very happy come next year when Sean Payton has the Who Dat boys thundering back with a vengeance, that our teams are in different divisions. Whatever the case, at the moment, I’m happy for him (Flacco—thumbs up), I’m happy to have learned something about myself (super fans are awesome), and most of all, I’m happy to have found a way (however distorted it may be) to make watching football a redeemable travel option.

Posted by jonathonengels 07:00 Archived in Guatemala

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It is our birthright, oh son of mine, to forever remain a Tiger/Saints fan. Every year when football season rolls around, I tell myself that logically I should not be watching/supporting such a violent display of testosterone, but alas, the pull of purple and gold or black and gold always triumphs. I too face the challenge, from my So Cal home, of trying to find the televised game and wondering why everyone around me is not equally as passionate about "the game". Now those moments when mother and son reunite to share a game have become precious. One might even say "golden". Love you - mom

by maggiebingham

I firmly believe that our passion for our teams makes victory sweeter (and defeat more devastating). The casual fan does not accept or understand, but we do. I love sharing this passion with you. I also love that you are doing your part to 'infect' all of the travelers that you encounter. We take all comers in south Louisiana. Join us. It's a great party!

by Ddbeeman

Joy is a welcome (and always overdue) relief from pain...so says the sportsman.

by jeffrey duncan

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