After months of despondently pretending to care about tennis and golf and baseball while secretly watching reruns of the 1982 Peach Bowl on ESPN Classic, the drought is finally over. With August comes a return to all that is good with the world.
I love everything about football. College or NFL. Televised or live. I love the play calls, the pageantry, the speculation over coaching hires and recruiting. Most of all, I love being a fan. Since I was a little girl, I have loved my Giants and my Wahoos. But truthfully I will watch any game, any time, anywhere.
It is easier to be a Giants fan, having won four Super Bowls in my lifetime. Being a UVA fan is a much trickier business. The ups and downs (mostly downs these days) require nerves of steel and access to a good therapist.
This fall, we will return to Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Lucky Orange Pants and all. We will pull into our parking spot across from the main entrance and tailgate in style. Real tablecloths, flower arrangements, and a full bar. We’re not animals for Pete’s sake. We will pack up early in order to be in our seats when the horse leads the team down the field. We will hug all of our “neighbors” next to whom we’ve been sitting for 10 years and catch up on the off-season. We will look at the sea of orange and blue, of ties and sundresses, and feel that frisson of excitement that only the first game of the year provides.
Only this year, we will do it without my dad.
Saturdays in Charlottesville have been a part of our family tradition for almost two decades. Every year, my dad looked at the schedule and said with a wry smile: “This is the year. We’re going to run the tables.” We never did. But being a Virginia fan isn’t just about the game. Or the record on the field. Or whether we make a bowl game. Yes, all those things matter. But there’s so much more.
They tell the story of our unwavering, and potentially unhealthy, loyalty to our team. Of how we muddled through terrible seasons and rejoiced in good ones because it was just fun to be together in Charlottesville on a crisp October afternoon. Of how you can cheer so loudly that you lose your voice and care so deeply about players you don’t actually know that you cry on senior day.
They tell the story of my parents’ 44 year marriage, perfect in its imperfection. Of how my mother always audibly sucked in her breath as my father tried to back into our tailgating spot, coming perilously close to running someone over, and how he, in return, gave her a withering look and asked her to stop backseat driving. Every. Single. Game. Yet as soon as they got out of the car, they were holding hands and drinking bloody marys.
They tell the story of how my parents never met a person they didn’t immediately make a part of our family. We shared hundreds of Saturdays laughing and eating and drinking with old friends, new friends, classmates, family, and random people who stopped by after deciding we looked like a fun bunch (we are by the way). Stranger is not a word in my parents’ vocabulary.
They tell the story of my pregnancies. Of how I suffered through two seasons of “morning” sickness, attempting to navigate my 9 month pregnant body into a tiny bathroom stall to throw up alongside all the girls who had too much to drink. And of how the men in our family learned that the easiest way to smuggle airplane bottles of bourbon into Scott Stadium is in a diaper bag. You’re welcome.
They tell the story of how fans are created on the shoulders of their parents. Of how our babies slept on our laps even as the crowd roared. Of how they practiced walking up and down (and up and down and up and down) the stadium steps as toddlers. Of how they learned to sing “The Good Ol’ Song” before they knew their ABC’s. Of how they sat on my dad’s lap as boys, talking about the mechanics of the game, studying the game day roster and learning the perennial disappointment that comes with being a UVA fan.
But they also learned what Peter and I learned from Dad. That when you love a team, you love them no matter what. Through losing seasons, coaching changes, blown games, and come-from-behind thrillers. Yes, when you blindly love a team, the lows are low. But the highs are so much higher. That is what being in love is all about. That is what we are all about.
On Saturday, we will undoubtedly get shellacked by the 7th ranked team in the country. But it won’t matter. Because we’ll be together in Charlottesville, just like we’ve been for the last 15 years, cheering on our beloved Wahoos. It will be hard to be there without my Dad, without his silly predictions, his famous bloody marys, and his arm around my shoulder when we sing “The Good Ol’ Song.” But we wouldn’t be anywhere else.
Because these games are the story of us. And there’s still a lot of story to be told.
And who knows? Maybe this is the year we run the tables…
See Part II of the story here.