Football Season Begins

by Nathan Gunter


God, but it’s been an awful summer in Oklahoma. The grass has yellowed and gone brittle under the raging heat. For five weeks the daytime high temperature sat in the triple digits. We were teased with a short cold spell – mid nineties! BREAK OUT THE SWEATERS! – and then zoom! Back into the hundreds it went. The esteemed Senator Inhofe, him of the winter-ice-storm smirk – haw haw, there can’t be climate change if it’s a record-breaking snowstorm! – was probably having fits. At least, I like to think so.

I’ve never seen a city so ready for the summer to end. Even the kids on my street were eager to get back to school. Stores started sneaking the Halloween decorations onto the shelves in late July.

This is a state greeting the coming of fall like it’s Jesus Himself riding in on the back of a donkey. So it’s any wonder that people are more excited about this football season than I’ve ever seen them.

It’s hard to explain to people who don’t get it about why we love football so much here in Oklahoma. A lot of my more successful East Coast friends cluck their tongues and roll their eyes – how cute, the provincials have a game they like to play that originally appeared here. But I didn’t always love football.

My first memories of the game are of watching my parents and their friends going nuts watching the Sooners in our living room in Weatherford. They’d yell and scream – it was a little frightening, for a child, to watch adults losing control of themselves that way. Adults were always supposed to be in control, but the Game brought out something in them. It lowered their boundaries. It raised their voices. It made them people. Nobody in my family drank – but they watched football.

We trekked to Miami, Florida, for three consecutive Christmas Breaks to watch the Orange Bowl. My aunt and uncle, my two cousins, their friends, my mom and dad and brother and me piled into a conversion van and drove for what seemed like forever to watch Oklahoma win two consecutive bowls – and then, in 1988, lose 20-14 to Miami. I loved the drive, and our motel by the beach. I loved the sand and the food. I loved stopping at Yeehaw Junction, Florida, and seeing an alligator in the pond behind our motel. I loved the halftime show. But I never got the game.

When I was in the tenth grade my brother started playing little league. The next year he joined his junior high team. He went on to captain his high school team and to play for the Trinity Tigers in San Antonio – you may know them as the team with the amazing 15-lateral play that became a YouTube sensation (he’d graduated by then).

Seriously, if watching that play doesn’t make you feel something, check your pulse. I get tears every time I watch it BECAUSE I AM A MAN.

As I got older the thing that warded me off football – the seemingly blind devotion of everyone around me to it and its tendency to make people lose their minds – was what attracted me to it. In watching my brother I picked up the mechanics, the rules of the game. What makes a good player, what makes a good team. But I’d never been moved by it.

Then, one Thanksgiving break I came home from my ACC school, out on the East Coast where their passion is basketball, God bless ’em. My mom’s had the same Oklahoma season tickets since the mid-70s, and since I was home she and I went to a game. We parked across the street from the OU Aquatic Center and tailgated. I did homework for awhile, there on the grass, and we listened to college football on the radio. It was sunny and cold – my favorite kind of weather – and we talked and laughed. When we went to watch the game something came over me – I got into it. I wanted us to win. I wanted our enemies to die.

Well, okay, no. But my passion took me by surprise. I looked at myself and saw what had freaked me out as a child – unbridled passion for the Game. It was in me.

That day at the game with mom was one of the best days of my entire life. I’ve loved the game ever since. I’ve sat in negative-windchill temperatures in Virginia while my brother’s team played for the Division III National Championship. I’ve sat at games in pouring rain and almost-unbearable heat, and it’s always been worth it. Even when the Tigers lost the Championship and we had to fly, dejected, back to San Antonio. Even when I saw and heard Sam Bradford hurt his shoulder last year – twice. It can be heartbreaking, being a fan. But this time of year, the beginning of the season, is so full of this wonderful cocktail of hope and nostalgia that it’s impossible not to enjoy. Go watch a high school game this year – so many of those kids will never play again once this time of their lives is over. But they play for fun, for an odd sort of glory that they’ll look back on in their 30s and go, “God, but that was amazing. And God, we were dumb kids.” But they work their butts off anyway.

Play ball and Boomer Sooner. And what the hell – Go Cowboys, too. Just not on November 27.