I just moved to Ann Arbor and I don't have a bed yet. It's raining out, and the sound of it is scaring my dog, who usually curls up with me in bed when she's frightened. Instead she's trying to shoehorn herself onto this skinny little couch. And I've got a lot going on in my own life: I'm in my second full day in a brand new city, about to start grad school at a place I can't afford, to go into a dying industry with a stubborn baby boomer stranglehold on the workforce. And I'm debating whether I should text this girl, or chill out, or ask her out, or whatever. And (minus a couple shameful aberrations) I've gone over a full year without having a drink. And I'm worried about how my classmates will react to my sobriety when we go out in the evenings, and how my puppy is doing all alone in a new place when I'm out with them, and whether I can even really afford to be out at all.
I've got all these thoughts swirling about in the ether around my head like a shapeless brainpan. Nothing makes me feel smaller than my own thoughts, and my own sheer, seemingly-limitless capacity to have them. I decide I need a distraction, and I open this video up. Look at this. This is just spectacular.
First, the video itself: loud music pumped in to a steep-walled stadium designed to trap noise like a frightened animal, feeding a crowd already drunk on bourbon and secondhand adrenalin, and 67,000 people moving in unison. Children, drunken students, drunk grads, sidewalk fans, truly ancient people, all of whom are complete strangers to the vast majority of this small city crammed into a concrete dish. My goodness, the crowd: my favorite part of the video, the part that gives me chills every. damn. time. is when Alonzo Tweedy sneaks up outta seemingly nowhere after Lamar Miller slips out of an arm tackle like a greased Scotsman. Listen to the crowd. Everyone is united.
Football gives us our lives through a looking glass. These teams are in flux: VT went on to lose on a questionable call in a major bowl game, Miami was trying to claw its way back to the top of Swag Mountain where their abandoned throne is replaced by Saban's pyramid of skulls, the pinnacle of which Johnny Manziel has stolen to use as a chalice for his frat party Swamp Juice. Partly they're avatars for us: we take pride in their athletic ability to punt, pass, and kick as if it were our own, and part of us is at the party with them; their accomplishments, their struggle to reach a peak, are commensurate to our own.
But it's so much more complex. I first became a fan of Virginia Tech following the shooting. From my little Virginia mountain hamlet, 4/16 became interchangeable with 9/11. It became a baseline for comparisons of the way things are, and the way they were. But what struck me was the rally to follow. My first major event at Virginia Tech was the Concert for VT, at Lane Stadium. The stadium was a rallying point, where we all converged to gather our thoughts and our prayers and our loved ones. I have the image of the team running onto the field that fall against ECU, hoisting the American flag, imprinted on my eyelids. I can see it whenever I want. We get back up after we're knocked down. And our football team is symbolic of that.
Maybe that's why, in my own perverted way, I'm looking forward to VT's beatdown at the hands of the Saban Death Squad Saturday. Because regardless of a school's history of tragedies, the sports programs are symbols of the university, its dedication to achievement and the Greek notion of arete, pinnacles of civic pride and a consolation that we're not alone. We have football, and we have each other. From Tyrod Taylor (for those who've passed), to the child jumping with Sandman (for those who've yet to come), reach for excellence.