Lions Win!!

30-27 Lions rule. That was a nail-biter, Roomie!

  

Lion Up.. Weekday Game and Old Times

Reporting tonight from Strawberry Stadium with my friend Gretchen.

  
I just choked down a Chik-fil-a boxed dinner which has my stomach rumbling in complaint. Not sure why I did that to myself. 

The Lions are behind the Cardinals at halftime 13-14 in a game that seems to be some kind of penalty-fest. It used to be that refs made calls – good or bad- and they stood. Now there’s replays, reviews and second-guessing that can change calls several times. The crowd hisses and boos with every change. It would almost seem that we should just all take a vote. 

When I was in college, I kept the official scorebook in the press box above my head. 

  
I never got to sit over with the students. Today’s students don’t turn out for the games. It’s sad. I would’ve given anything to be a fan in college. About this time of the night, I would’ve been passing out white bread ham sandwiches to the sportswriters in the box. There would be no visiting with friends in the stands. It would have to wait until I got to the bars afterwards. 

I look around and see my contemporaries, graying at the temples if they have any hair at all, and I remember their glory days when we were the stars of the show. Who would’ve ever thought we’d be the old farts up in the stands? A couple sitting below me went to school with me, and the husband was the amazing running back whose rushing yardage I tallied all night long. Now, they sit and play with their grandchild and support the home team. 

There’s something about being home that at once feels comforting and unnerving. We are so different than we were but we are all so much more ourselves after spending years     trying on different roles with varying measures of success.
 
My friend Ray who was always a talker- a self-identified social butterfly – is still a talker especially when primed with a few adult beverages.

“The cool breeze comes in reminding me of football season and the best times of my life,” Ray said when I asked what he was thinking of the evening.

It’s fall. It reminds me of Kenny’s song, and I’ll leave you with that. http://youtu.be/ryheU9sHUe4

We’re all Champions … and Glad to be Back!

Southland Conference Champion - Check out that ring!

Southland Conference Champion – Check out that ring!

Today was a magical day. I wasn’t expecting it. I had a 9-miler to run this morning. I knew the temps had dropped last night, so when I woke up and let Ashok out, I knew it was going to be nice for my run. I went round and round about whether or not I should take Ashok running with me. She had run a 7 miler the last time I ran long, and she did fine, but I wasn’t sure how she’d do with 9 miles. She’s run up to 20 miles with me in Memphis, but the really long ones were always in the winter, and we had plenty of stops along the way. I run/walk, so it’s not like she’s really running the whole way. We get lots of breaks, and it’s practically a fast walk for her. She was so excited when I started grabbing my running gear, I decided to give it a try.

We ran downtown. I started out in Spanish Town, ran around the capitol, headed up Lafayette Street to the Old State Capitol and hit the levee to run towards LSU. It was an absolutely beautiful sunny day with low humidity. The wind was pretty fierce, and, unfortunately, I had it to my back on the way out. I was working hard coming back with the wind pushing against me, and I was cold. Ashok did great. I could tell she was in the zone with me all the way to the end. I felt amazing when I was done. I haven’t felt that good after a run in a really long time. I wasn’t wrung out from trying to breathe water, and I had no hip pain.

I got dressed in my new pink top and headed over the Hammond for the Southeastern game. The 3 o’clock kickoff pitted my Lions against the Demons of Northwestern Louisiana. I’m not sure if I’d want to be on a team that had Demons as a mascot. The American Farmhouse Restaurant which is owned by a former Southeastern quarterback catered the tailgate party, and it was fabulous. It was a perfect day to stand around, share some good food with some old friends and go to a football game.

 

We were supposed to wear pink for Breast Cancer month. I went shopping on Thursday and got a tie-dyed pink shirt. I think the pink thing was  a bit of a bust because only about 20% of the crowd wore pink, but it was fun just the same. The players had pink socks and pink gloves. I thought it added a bit of fun to their uniforms. The first half of the game was really close, and Southeastern eeked out two field goals as they broke for halftime with score 6-0. A small fight broke out on the field before the teams went to their bunkers, and I think it may have sparked some extra energy for the second half. The last game I went to was Tulane, and my Lions had an off night. Nothing went right. Well, this afternoon, that all turned around. The Lions intercepted on the second play of the second half and ran it all the way back for a touchdown… and we were off and running. The second half had just about ever exciting element I can think of for a football game. Interceptions, fumbles, fights on the field, touchbacks called back for unsportsmanlike conduct, kickoffs run back to the 7 yard line and and blocked kicks kept me biting my nails the entire game. The Lions were up 30-8 at one point in third quarter, and, by the fourth quarter, the score was 30-22. OMG … the game was up for grabs. A lot of people left when we were up 30-8, and they missed a helluva ballgame after they went home. Lions win their first Southland Conference game 30-22.

The Game

The Lions looked like the champions they were last year. What I love about this team is they are so fun to watch. They aren’t perfect, but they have heart. You never know what is going to happen, and pretty much everything that can happen does. I’ve never been much of a football fan, but they make a Saturday night come to life. And, they are classy guys. After the games, they go over to the student section and the band plays the alma mater. Then, they all file by the home stand side and high-five the fans. It’s great to see their faces and tell them how great they played. It’s one of the coolest things about this smaller college game. I still think Southeastern Football in Strawberry Stadium is the best entertainment around. A friend of mine was telling me the other day that they don’t allow the regular ticket-holders at LSU to bring in or buy alcohol. Well, everybody drinks in Strawberry Stadium. They sell beer until the third quarter. There’s just all kinds of reasons to drive over to Hammond to catch the game.

Classy Team – After the Game

Today was a day to remember in my little neck of the woods. I’m back. Ashok’s back. The Lions are back. Gretchen is back. My run was so phenomenal, and I felt really happy today. To top it all off, my hair looked great. With low humidity and cooler temps, there was no frizz … only curl. If you don’t think that’s a big deal, then you don’t have a clue about curly hair. I’m just sayin’. It was a banner hair day. Ashok seemed to have no problem after her 9-miler, and she had a great nap during the game at Gretchen’s. Gretchen has been eating clean for 6 weeks, and she seemed to be in high spirits today. If there had been a fight on the field after the game, I know she’d have been out there in it. She was in rare form. The Lions win… and win in that beautiful fun way that yanked on my heart last year. I met one of the players wearing his conference ring before the game. Holy cow,.. or holy lion maybe … that ring is a weapon. I couldn’t believe how huge and glittery it was. I hope they all get another one this year. In fact, I wish me, Ashok and Gretchen got rings today, too. We’re all champions in our own little way!!

It was a great hair day!

It was a great hair day!

Speaking of coming back…. the next home game is Homecoming. If you are a former Lion or you just want to have a great family-friendly Saturday night, come on out on October 18. I can pretty much guarantee a fun time… especially if beer does anything for your mood. Lion Up, Y’all!

Are You Ready for some FOOTBALL??? Lion Up, Y’all!!

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My favorite pic of me and Gretchen

The relentless summer in the south feels like it never ends. I look at the calendar, and fall seems so far away. Fall may not come until early November depending on the weather gods that rain down sunshine here. The worst time is August. It’s the hottest month of the year unless July rallies and matches its intensity. The thought of more heat for more months is enough to get anybody down. The one thing that makes August bearable for any true southerner is what comes at the very end. It’s entrance onto the social calendar comes quietly, but once its launched, it is full scale party time down here. Are you ready for some football???!!!

When my second husband – a Chicago native – moved down south, he lamented the fact that people down here didn’t care about professional football. He could not understand why college football was such a big deal. “Why does anybody care about college football,” he asked incredulously. I looked at him with great concern and told him that he’d better not bring that up to anybody down here. I heard rumors that LSU starts their season this weekend against a northern team in a dome in Houston. My guess is those Yankees didn’t want to come down here in this brutal heat in August and play outside. I don’t blame them either. But, my focus is on the REAL game around here – Southeastern Louisiana University football. They won the Southland Conference last year and did pretty well in the playoffs. They are predicted to be even better this year if you listen to the hype. I – in my first ever commitment to the sport – purchased season tickets. I had so much fun last year that I couldn’t imagine not being at all of the games this season.

2014 SLU Football Season Hype

My partner-in-crime, Gretchen, and I are already discussing plans for Saturday. I didn’t get into the action last year until around October, so I missed some of the hotter games. Winter came on pretty quick after I started attending, and I remember sitting in the stands in the rain and the freezing cold watching football. My sister finds this wildly laughable. I have never been a football fan. In fact, I’ve never been much of a fan of any sport. For some reason, though, last season was really special. Part of it was getting to know old friends all over again after 30 years, but a lot of it was being a part of something magical. It has been a really long time since Southeastern had a championship team, and the small town school became the football sweetheart of the state. My most read blog ever … in the fabled history of Midlife Moments …. was the one where I chronicled their journey to glory. If you are interested, you can read it here. The season was pure magic. I, for one, cannot resist a dance with magic especially if it includes boys in tight pants.

So, I’m trying to decide what I’m going to wear to the game. Green and gold is the obvious color scheme. I’d love to do a real tailgate this year and even bring a dish like a good southern gal. Last year, I mooched off the Former Football Players’ Association’s offering. But, since I’m a season ticket holder, I think I need to step up to the plate – or the gridiron as the case may be. I hope that the momentum built last year in bringing old players back into the fold will pick up where it left off last year, and we’ll see lots of new faces in the upcoming months. It is the dream of the football coach and the former players association to build a robust community. What better time to get traction than in a winning season?

Last Year’s Runout Video for the Nicholl’s State Game – I just love this LION!!

This is what I love about SLU football games. Strawberry Stadium is a small stadium by big college standards, so it’s cozy. It’s easy to stand at the bottom of the bleachers and wave at your friends on the top row. Tailgating is inexpensive and easy. The alumni organization sets up a tent with food for all alumni and family. A few other groups have tents, but it’s mainly a large yard party in Friendship Circle under the shade of some amazingly beautiful live oak trees. If you don’t have SLU gear, you can walk 50 yards over the university bookstore and purchase what you need. An hour before the game starts, the marching band marches through the circle playing the fight song. They are sometimes accompanied by the team and maybe even some former players. It is reminiscent of quaint little scenes in movie scenes set in the south where living is small, people are simple and friendly and fun is what you make it. I’m already getting excited although I know there will be sweating … lots of sweating …this Saturday.

If you are in the area and have nothing to do this weekend, you should think about bringing your family for the cheapest family football experience around. I’m sure they have created an amazing ‘runout’ video to rally the excitement when the players hit the field, and you can count on some great popcorn and beer. Tickets are cheap, and there will be plenty to be had. If you want to buy your tickets online, you can buy them here. You can find me over by the Former Football Players tent in Friendship Circle when you get there. I know I’m not a former football player.. but… duh ... that’s where the boys are. LION UP, Y’all!!!

 

If You Build It, They Will Come: The Magic of SLU Football 2013

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I love the movie Field of Dreams. In it, the main character hears a recurring voice that keeps telling him, “If you build it, he will come.” He doesn’t really know much about what he’s doing or why, he just knows that something in the universe is insistent that he must build a baseball field in the middle of an Iowa cornfield. Indeed, when he lays the groundwork, he – Shoeless Joe Jackson – does come and so do many, many others. It is a fantasy film based on the magic of faith, hard work, help from beyond the veil and community. I’ve seen that movie a hundred times, and I can never walk away untouched.

I love magic. I believe in magic. I believe that there are times when an energy is created due to some circumstance or person or group of persons that snowballs into an energy that is unstoppable and changes everything in its wake. It takes on a life of its own, and, whoever is open to being changed will grasp onto it for the ride. I love to be changed. I love it when I feel old beliefs and desires disintegrate into a puff of air, and I come out with a fresh new perspective. I find the more I’m open to being changed, the more often it happens, and I find it happens most often through magic. And, like everything else in the world, I believe magic is produced through energy. The more energy that is attracted to it, the bigger and more expansive it gets. And, everything ….everything …. is changed in its wake.

My Favorite RunOut Video

I went to college at Southeastern Louisiana University from 1979 – 1984. I worked for the Sports Information Department and was the Sports Editor of our school newspaper, The Lion’s Roar. Football was big during my tenure at Southeastern, but in 1986, football was discontinued. A group of former football alumni worked feverishly to get football back to SLU, and they finally fielded a new team in 2002. There was another break in football at Southeastern for 3 years due to World War II. The inability to field a football team in 1985 and the ensuing years was a heartbreaker for alumni of Southeastern football. The field went quiet. No cheers. No hot dogs. No Saturday night game. No team. No magic.

My friend Gretchen invited me to the McNeese game toward the end of this year’s season. I went, thinking it would be fun. Before the game, they were talking about this being an “important game.” Now, I have never been a football fan. Football was a business to me. I worked in it. Daddy worked in it. My first husband worked in it. Football was an interruption to my life. I heard about the politics, the issues, the stories, the problems that the media reported. There was no magic for me. So, I never really understood the love of football like my fellow Baton Rouge friends. LSU is THE team here. I don’t like the glitz and the big time atmosphere of LSU football. I always love the underdog. I like the simple things in life. I like the small town heroes. I like the feeling of building something. I’m not the kind of gal whose attracted to energy – the magic – of something already famous. I’m attracted to the magic of miracle. I had no clue that Southeastern was nationally ranked that night I journeyed to McNeese, but I enjoyed the game … and we won. Most importantly, I felt the magic.

Lion Nation

Southeastern lost in the playoffs last night 20-17 to a New Hampshire team in Strawberry Stadium. The magic ended with 46 seconds left in the game when New Hampshire scored the winning touchdown. Our Lions tried their guts out to get it back, but for some reason this season was meant to end on Hammond turf. If they’d won, the next game would have been in North Dakota, and the National Championship would be played in Frisco, TX. Part of the magic of this season was that four of the last games were home games including the two playoff games. If you build it, THEY will come……

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I have often thought of coaches as magicians. As an athlete, I’ve seen how they take raw material and make something out of it. Coaches have the power to change hearts. Some years its just hard work with no sense of accomplishment. But, some seasons …those magical seasons  that we all live for… magic happens that brings together the right group of people with the right set of circumstances at the right time. That’s why I love playing sports. It CAN be fertile ground for magic. Southeastern’s coach Ron Roberts has been a magician. He’s a lover of community. I personally believe that magic ONLY happens in community. This was his second year, and people are already fearfully whispering that he might leave one day. With this season, his magic has produced a team that has helped to heal wounds that go deep in our football community because of the “gap.” College football is all about building continuing community to grow a team with funds, support, knowledge and magic. If you build it, they will come …..

Last night, Gretchen mentioned that the turf that we played on in Strawberry Stadium this year was the Saint’s turf. “Really,” I asked. I giggled and replied, “OMG, that’s where the magic comes from. It’s in the turf!” I was sort of making light of it, but, really, where does magic come from? Could it come from turf that laid under the feet of our beloved Saints’ in the Superdome across the swamp? I think all kinds of magic happened this year at Southeastern. I think we had a coach who had a vision and a love for people that created a fertile environment for change. An Oregon quarterback that needed a place to play his senior year had studied with Archie Manning, an iconic Saints’ hero, and used him as a sounding board on where to go. Football alumni that were hungry for their old community needed a reason to return. Magical energy snowballed and attracted long lost fans like me to come back and sizzle in the excitement of watching a miracle happen. And, it grew into a firestorm. If you build it, they will come…

I let the magic take hold of me. For the first time in years, I sat in a football stadium in the rain and cold to watch a team play. It never crossed my mind to miss it. I would have gone in a blizzard. I reconnected with old friends from the community that I supported in school. I ate gumbo and sauce picante under a tent in Friendship Circle in the searing heat, the rain and the freezing cold. The weather here, apparently…… is unfazed by magic. I dropped way too much money on green and gold fan gear. I started thinking of spending my hard-earned money to travel to Frisco TX, a place I’m sure I would have never visited otherwise. My friends and I joked of being arrested for the first time in Southeastern history scalping tickets. I watched as the football community posted pic after pic of the “old days”. I saw all of us start to pepper our conversations and our FB posts with “Lion Up!”. I started to attach to a community when I’ve only been back here for less than six months. Believe me when I say THAT is magic. Last night, as I sat in a football stadium donned in a camouflage poncho … yes, me in camouflage … in the rain and cold, mesmerized by the magic that team was creating on the field and in my life, I realized I had changed.

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I don’t know where the magic lies. I don’t really care. Somewhere in the universe I believe the magicians looked at Southeastern and said, “it’s time. If you build it, they will come …” Who are they? I believe that the magic was created for those Lion football players that never had a chance to take the field. They know who they are. They are the ghosts that never scored. They are the veterans of World War II that were fighting for our country and didn’t get to play. They are the unrecruited, unpracticed and untried young men that should have played in the “gap” years. I believe they played this year. I believe their hearts and souls were attracted to the magic of this 2013 team. It started when a group of football alumni worked their tails off to get football back in Strawberry Stadium. They knew the payoff, and they knew the wound. I thank them for their vision. If you build it, they will come ….

From all of us who basked in your magic this year, I say thank you to the 2013 Lions Football team. You are all magicians, and you changed us forever. No matter where or on what field of life you create magic in your future, we will be there. If you build it, we will come .…..Lion Up!

Actually, Sometimes Size Does Matter

When I was a little girl and Daddy was a sportswriter for the State-Times in Baton Rouge, we went to Destin on vacation every summer. He was a journalist, and, although the career looks glamorous, it’s not a job that’s going to make you rich. And, even if it was, with 4 little kids, I don’t know how rich we would have been anyway. He managed to get a discount at a little hotel on the white sandy beaches of a fishing village called Destin every July before football season kicked up, and he had to be gone every weekend. It was called Capri by the Sea. I can still see that little motor court with a big flashing sign that said Kitchenettes. I can still see it plain as day. There were no swimming pools. Momma made meals in the kitchenette, we wore our little fair-skinned selves out on the beach all day, and we sometimes… every now and then … got to make a trip to the Dairy Queen downtown. Those were high times.

One year when I was in my teens we drove up in our typical early morning fashion to see a couple of high rise condominiums littering the shore of the quiet little beach town. I’m sure my parents could see it coming, but I had no idea what might happen when “development” came into town. I’m lucky now if I can even afford to stay in a place in Destin. I went down a couple of years ago to a Jeff Galloway running camp in Blue Mountain Beach which is just east of Destin. I decided to drive through Fort Walton – the way we used to drive when I was a kid – for nostalgia. There was no nostalgia. There was nothing that I recognized. All new buildings… traffic as thick as thieves …. and money …. money … money.

I have nothing against money, but I do have something against money when it buys up the prettiest little beachfront this side of heaven so that kids like I was won’t ever be able to put their toes in the sand. I had planned to camp at a state park there for the week after the camp ended, but, after two days of driving in that traffic, looking at all those ritzy shops and condos and not seeing the gulf at all, I packed up my stuff and headed to the mountains in North Georgia. I had a great week camping on the side of a mountain, listening to small town bluegrass and getting a lot of fresh air and exercise. I will never go back to Destin. There is nothing there for me. And, it makes me very sad. I’ve sat on beaches all over this country, and there are ways to develop a beachfront where it doesn’t look like that. As far as I’m concerned, they blew it.

Thursday night I went to my college football game. It was our school rivalry match-up, the River Bell Classic, with Nicholls State University. We beat the tar out of them, y’all! But, I digress. A bunch of us went to the tailgate, had some scrumptious home-cooked pastalaya, drank some cold ones and then walked over to the game. We had a blast. It was a perfect night. The only thing missing was a lot of our friends because it was on a weeknight, and they couldn’t make it. A group of us hung out a little after the game was over and debriefed the evening. My friend Gizmo chatted about how they used to tailgate over at LSU – for 15 years – cooking, loading all their stuff up in their little trailer and having a ball. One year, they came over and told them they couldn’t come back unless they paid $2500 for the spot. “You mean we’ve been coming here for 15 years, and now you’re going to charge us $2500 to park in this spot?” he asked. The answer was in the affirmative, and that ended their tailgating at LSU.

Last year my brother Terry and his family came out to Homecoming at Southeastern. He said he’d been wanting to bring his kids to a college football game so they could experience it, but the LSU games had gotten so ridiculously over-priced and were such a hassle, that he didn’t want to go over there. When I was at Southeastern, we had about 5,000 students to LSU’s 15,000. Now, Southeastern has 15,000 and LSU has about 30,000. We’re not that much smaller. And, we just won the Southland Conference Championship to boot. Our coach, Ron Roberts is popular and is really concerned with building community. It’s no wonder I was hooked when I came back to Homecoming last year. It was like I was catching a little wave that is continuing to build for Southeastern Football. We have playoff games coming up in a few weeks, and people are already talking about going …. even if it’s out of town. That’s a big deal for my little college, and you’d better believe I’ll be there if I can.

I overheard my friend Gizmo say, “We ought to just start coming over here,” last night as we were talking about the hassle of going to a LSU game. He said what I’d been thinking for the last two weeks. I much prefer the quieter side. And, it’s still fun. It’s a pretty little stadium. The campus is nice. Friendship Circle is right next to the stadium, and we tailgate under big old moss-covered Live Oak trees. It takes 10 minutes to get off campus after the game, and parking is a cinch. What better time to start a new tradition than when your team is winning? It doesn’t take anything away from LSU, but why not have a place for families that’s a little more accessible for the average fan. And, if you have a good football game with a multi-media scoreboard, pretty cheerleaders and great beer, all the better. I think I’m liking this idea.

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The biggest social events of the year down here are LSU football games. I know people that don’t even go into the stadium anymore. They have big screen TVs set up in the parking lot and watch the game from there. Others host parties at their homes because they don’t want to mess with the traffic and expense. I run down the levee in downtown Baton Rouge on Sunday mornings frequently, and I see the parking lot full of big RVs. I don’t like it. I’m the type of gal that, given lottery winnings, I’d go buy me a pretty little place in the Ozarks beside a nice stream, buy a few goats and save the rest for going on adventures. I wouldn’t want an RV with all the trimmings. I spent a horrible weekend camping in a tent with my friend Elizabeth with some RV blaring it’s generator all night. We didn’t hear a bird all weekend. It ruined it for us.

I have a feeling I might be one of those folks that would have loved tailgating at LSU when it was 15,000 students, and the average coonass had a space where they could cook a pot of gumbo. So, I think I’ll be heading to Southeastern next season instead of trying to land LSU tickets. I sure can’t afford them, but I can buy them in Strawberry Stadium and have money to buy a couple of green and gold shirts and even popcorn and hot dogs. I always kind of liked the underdog anyway. Lion Up!! 🙂

Creating a Legacy: Southeastern Former Football Players

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Southeastern Louisiana University cinched their conference championship tonight.  It was really fun to be there and be a part of the celebration. My friend Gretchen and I showed up at the tailgate at around noon. The game started at 3 PM, and, as usual, in November it was 8o something degrees. We sweated all afternoon until the sun went down, and then, we froze to death in 68 degree temperatures. I don’t know why my body is processing the weather the way it is, but what used to be hot is now cold to me. We spent part of the afternoon shopping in the University Bookstore trying to get something gold to wear. Then, we headed over to the Former Football Players tailgate.

I never really got to experience college football. I had a job in the Sports Information Department, and my task on football nights was to keep the official scorebook. Seated in the press box with my boss, Larry, I penciled in yardage gained and loss, first downs, interceptions and fumbles and otherwise interpreted Larry’s screaming monologue detailing the events of the night. At halftime, as the student worker, I passed out some awful white bread, ham and mayonnaise sandwiches to the media. While my fellow co-eds were having the time of their lives, cheering in the stands and sipping on whiskey, I was working to the tune of about $3 an hour. By the time I left the press box and walked down the stadium steps to leave for the night, Strawberry Stadium’s lights were out, the field was vacant and the night was done.

I remember watching from the press box as former players would go out onto the field at halftime, and I didn’t really think much of it. Here were these old guys still showing up at a small town football game on Saturday night. In the ignorance of youth, I thought that the moments of college were just the beginning of something greater and bigger that would make being at Southeastern pale in comparison. Why would those old fogies be spending their Saturday night back here?

I started this blog because I began to realize that it’s not the big headlines in life that are important. It’s the small headlines, the stories – the moments – the everyday adventures that mean the most to me. The moments that touch my soul are the ones that involve emotion and sentiment. I was really touched today by the legacy that the Former Football Players group is creating. A couple of the younger former players had killed an alligator and made a sauce piquante. (Ah … they didn’t kill it at the tailgate.) I was devastated when I walked up and they were scraping the bottom of the pot to put a few tablespoonsful on a plate of potato salad. All around me I could hear stories being  told and shared laughter about times past. The sentimentality was palpable.

Southeastern discontinued football for a number of years, so there is a gap in its football history. The unfortunate side effect of this is that some momentum was lost in building a legacy. What I’ve learned about football teams from being around my former classmates is that they have a unique bond that is pretty difficult to duplicate. Many of these men were born and raised in small towns across the Southeastern United States. They were big fish in a small pond when it came to football, and most were not the biggest fish. The really big fish went to the big schools like LSU, Alabama and other Southeastern Conference Schools. I had brothers that played football, and it was a lifestyle. They were on the field for two-a-days long before school got back in session in the deep south scorching heat of August. They had to love the game to stay committed to it. While others enjoyed the football games and socializing, the players played their hearts out. For my classmates at Southeastern, they ended up doing it all over again at a small college. I can only imagine what it might be have been like for them.

In high school, they went home after practice and games, but in college, home was with their team. Not only did they show up on campus long before the student body, they lived together, ate together, practiced together, played together and partied together. That’s a lot of togetherness for a bunch of testosterone-driven young men. Most showed up on campus as country boys and left four years later as young men. It was where they grew up. And their family – their team – sweated with them in jerseys of green and gold. As a woman and definitely never a football player, I can’t imagine what that kind of closeness feels like. I was close to my friends in the dorm, but I didn’t work with them. I certainly didn’t get out on a field and sweat and learn new skills and get the heck beat out of me. I didn’t show up on a line on Saturday night with the whole town watching and compete. I didn’t share the thrill of victory nor the agony of defeat. I can’t imagine what that kind of bond would be like. And, I certainly can’t imagine what it might be to leave it.

I talked with my old boss, Larry, about why he still works with this group of former players in putting together tailgates when he could be retired. He tried to act like it was because he gets paid, but I finally got him to admit that it was really a labor of love. He had heard complaints over the years from former players that the only thing the college wanted from them was their money, and he really felt the connection and the value of former players went much deeper than that. He wanted to be a part of something that was of value for the former players. The younger players I talked to were engaged with this alumni group because they felt they had something in common with the older guys. They had all played for the same team. Don, one of the former players from my generation, said that the game had changed, the new guys had 3 sets of jerseys instead of the one he had, but they all played the same game. The game connected them across age, culture and time.

I sat down next to Ormando right before I walked over to the stadium, and I asked him how long he’d been coming back. He said he’d come the first time a couple of years ago and a couple of times last year. He’s finding himself coming more frequently now because he’s afraid if he misses a game, he’ll miss somebody he wants to see. I got this visual of this tailgate being a hub for these guys. I get the feeling this is sort of “home” for them. And, the players that are holding this together and making this happen week after week are creating a space for those that are ready to come back. As I’ve caught up with each one of them that I knew, each one came back for a specific reason at a specific time, and they were so happy to see the faces of their boyhood waiting for them in Friendship Circle. It would have been really sad if no one had been there to greet them.

At the end of the game tonight, part of the student body flooded onto the field to congratulate the players. The band played our alma mater led by a player who had jumped up into the stands to lead the band in a moment of celebration. Video-taped congratulations played on the scoreboard. Former players on the field congratulated tonight’s heroes. I walked away thinking of how that moment is a memory in the making. The young people probably naively think that this will be one of many evenings like this in their lives. Those of us who are older know that some things only happen once in a lifetime. Some of the best moments are the ones that are spent in youth when there is nothing to worry about. There’s nothing but a field, a score, Saturday night lights, an evening ripe with celebration and the sweet taste of victory on your breath. One day these players will long to tell the story of tonight’s conference win. They will be balding, middle-aged, in need of dropping a few pounds and sporting a few scars. I hope the former players tailgate will be there …. waiting …… with alligator sauce picante and potato salad ….. with open arms …. with laughter and memories …… for their homecomings ……one by glorious one.

BTW … there’s one Thursday night for the Nicholl’s game… y’all come on by!