How does a person get addicted? I just finished Augusten Burroughs' memoir Dry, and the great mystery of the book is how someone goes from being a relatively normal human being to drinking two or three bottles of Dewars' a day every day for years on end. Or, more relevantly to us, how does someone end up on the couch on a Thursday night watching Louisville(the official team of Thursday night) play Colorado State in an ineptly played 6-3 game that made us want to claw our eyeballs out?
In the book, you discover that not being really normal-his mother was diagnosed clinically insane, and he grew up in the house of their psychiatrist and his adopted son, who raped Burroughs mercilessly for much of his adolescence. So being extremely fucked up by life helps. So what's our excuse for rampant drinking and excessive remembrance of useless college football trivia? Admittedly, most of the college football fans I know don't have mad mothers, and if there's any forced sodomy in their past, they certainly don't share it with others.(Unless you ask nicely after a few drinks, of course.)
I think for some fans-Boston fans pre-2000s especially-the real dedication comes in a certain amount of masochism. Getting dumped might suck, but getting dumped by a really beautiful woman, one who set fire to your house, gave you gonorrhea, and then ran over your pet pig...now there's something grand and awful about that. Kind of like Jean Claude Van Damme movies: so putrid, so unwatchable, so laughingly bad...that we actually love them, with the logical exception of Double Impact with Dennis Rodman.
I went back and tried to remember the moments that got me hooked. I was surprised to find that the losses were what really stuck out-always more vivid, and always the bait for a deeper level of addiction that came with the next one. Kind of like getting trashed, and going straight to morning beer to take the edge off the hangover. It's a nasty cycle, and it all started with...
1. Penn State/UGA, 1983 Sugar Bowl. I'm getting babysat by my cousin, who's a diehard Penn State fan, while I'm rooting for UGA because I'd lived there and thought the logo was really cool. I'm not even sure if I knew what the point of the game was really, but I knew the guys who had cooler uniforms had to win.
(This particular unfortunate cousin was one of a group most families have: just old enough to babysit, but not old enough to make plans involving a car and being far away from any possible entanglements on a Friday or Saturday night. My sister and I robbed them of a year's worth of adolescent weekend drinking by ourselves, and I ruined one cousin's Members Only jacket by puking red Kool-Aid on it once in 1984. Never say I didn't do anything for fashion.)
Herschel Walker gets stuffed for the first half by Walker Lee Ashley and the PSU defense. My cousin bets my ice cream that the Lions are going to win, and I take him up on it, even though I won't touch actual U.S. currency for another two years. (Fifty bucks in cash, from my grandmother. Blew it all on the G.I. Joe Hovercraft and some action figures. . Je ne regrette rien...)Penn retakes the field and stuffs Georgia for another half. Penn wins, 27-23, I cry, but I still get ice cream, and the seed of my addiction is planted.
2. Georgia-Georgia Tech, 1987. We took the train in from Sandy Springs, which was entirely unnecessary but still very, very cool for someone who'd barely seen mass transit. (Mass transit for me was ridiing in one of those kickass conversion vans with a tv in it. That was suburban style, baby.) Again, not really clear on the whole "how the game" gets played thing, but working on it in between my worship sessions with the GI Joe Hovercraft.
(Seriously: the greatest toy ever made. Ever. It floated, goddammit! It had a sled that shot out from the front! Depth charges that rolled out from the side! It's own motorcycle! The thing carried like, a hundred action figures, bristled with improbably large guns, and came with a gay-looking pilot wearing a ridiculous orange lifevest. I played with it until it fell apart and a friend of mine and I gave it the Viking funeral it deserved. We were very lucky his mother didn't call the fire department when she saw a flaming piece of plastic in the creek behind her house.)
Georgia-Georgia Tech may feel kind of tame now- Georgia wins, Tech fans respond with "that's okay, you'll all work for us someday"- but back then it was savage. Georgia was beginning the long slide into the end of the Vince Dooley era, while Tech was just getting into the first year of Bobby Ross. It was a total mismatch, and had I known that, I would have prepared myself. As it was, I played the Italian card and switched sides three or four times in the game, losing my mind and crying when Tech finally lost, 30-16 at home.
I don't remember the details of the game-besides seeing the option for the first time in person, and remembering how totally bonkers the whole thing looked. And I remember going to the Varsity and beginning the ruin of my arteries with a pair of chili dogs and onion rings so greasy they soaked through cardboard in seconds. I also remember crying, and feeling the hook sink a little deeper into my gut.
All this was merely setup for the big one, though, the game that amped me up from casual fan to total raving lunatic...
3. Auburn vs. Florida, 1994. I'm not the only person who still loses sleep over this game. Spurrier, in an interview a few years later, was asked to explain the pattern of losses at crucial times in UF's history. He got flustered, cracked out the white board, and drew a schematic of Auburn's winning TD in the '94 game. "One man in coverage, that's it." The look on his face was one of mixed contempt and agony.
That's okay, Steve. We wake up screaming sometimes, too.
That'a gentle way to put how this game made any UF fan feel. It was my freshman year, and being in the band meant easy access to football and one guaranteed road trip a year. After demolishing Tennessee and LSU, we were supposed to cruise past the felonious Tigers, on suspension for the sins of the program and playing for nothing. This meant that they would be unbeatable, of course, and should have scared the shit out of the Gators.
And that was their downfall: Florida's teams in the 1990s were never scared, and that won them a lot of games and cost them a few painful losses. The first half drags on and Terry Dean spends most of it drilling passes into the chests of Auburn's dbs, and...no problem. No worries, just a little high-wire act and we'll be right back in this...no problem. Stephen Davis keeps pounding the ball and Bobby Pruett's defense bends and then breaks, and...problem. Florida's getting its ass kicked, Spurrier looks like he's having a stroke on the sidelines, twitching and picking his nose and fliching like he's getting stung by a horde of African bees.
Dean throws his 38th pick of the game, and Spurrier calls in Danny Wuerffel, who shotputs the ball and thanks Jesus after every td. We know this because he actually leads Florida to points and a lead. Terry Dean takes off his uniform, walks out of the stadium, and buys a GMAT prep book before the game ends. Florida's up, 33-29.
Patrick Nix gets possessed by one of those rare, spontaneous moments of greatness that sometimes occur in college qbs-call it a Butthead moment, inspired by the episode of Beavis and Butthead where Butthead, stuck defending the duo in court, pulls an abstruse and complex legal ruling out of his ass, wowing the judge and saving the two from jail. Nix, possessed by his Butthead moment, saved Bowden's considerable ass by hopping the Tigers down the field in a slow motion, stomach-churning drive toward the South Endzone.
The noise of the crowd watching this happen was indescribable. It was like the background noise in "Extreme Home Videos," much like the murmuring, screaming, and horrible silence that results when a bull hops into the crowd at a Mexican rodeo. "Faces of Death" doesn't even come close. Pruett's loose zone bled yards, and the gasping started once they crossed the forty.
The td pass to Sanders-an Arizona cardinal, for chrissakes!- hung in the air for a day and a half. Everyone in the stadium knew where it was going, and every UF fan had the same impassioned thought in their head: no. From my vantage point in the North endzone, I couldn't tell if he caught it or not, but I didn't need to, really-the Auburn band jumping up and down did it for me.
The time on the clock is burned into my head in little yellow dots: 1:33.
UF goes nowhere and the game ends. We lose. I go out and get blind drunk on someone else's tab. The first genuinely apocalyptic hangover of my life ensues the next morning, and I'm addicted for life, thinking of Patrick Nix and football that wouldn't land.
Terry Bowden can't be fired enough times for me to ever feel better about it.