Saturdays are for the Boys
I picked the date in April.
Not long after the dust had settled from our most recent attempt, G-Day 2018, I made up my mind. I mean, sure...we left at halftime after an endless parade of Sprite and popcorn and overpriced candy, but at that point I knew my little dude could do it. Besides, I know plenty of ADULTS who lack the attention span to watch walk-ons battle third-stringers in the spring heat for the right for some video highlight to post to social media. But even the best and most entertaining social events with a three-year-old are always a crapshoot, so the math and preparation behind a decision like that are never to be taken lightly.
We were going to see the Dawgs. For real this time. In a game that meant something.
September dates would be too hot. Early-season games, due largely to uninteresting opponents on a schedule grid determined by TV interest, were often noon kickoffs. The idea of dragging a toddler companion into the 300 level for three hours of lackluster football and tepid fan interaction was certain to be a recipe for disaster.
It couldn’t be a game that meant too much. Although I had high hopes that one day he would eagerly look forward to spending his fall Saturdays surrounded by barking maniacs in red the same way his parents do, any reasonable person could anticipate that there would be significantly less game-watching with a companion who had to use the restroom every half-hour. Besides, even the most optimistic prediction of the experience had to involve a willingness to leave at any time once the fun and spectacle had worn off.
Tennessee? No way I was missing that one, especially after the way the 2016 game ended. Vanderbilt? Ditto. Ruin our homecoming and you’ve got a payback coming. Auburn? Tech? Too important. There would likely be title implications in these late season games, in addition to a predictably rowdy and vitriolic atmosphere. My son likely wouldn’t be swayed by whether or not it was third down or if we were in Roddy’s field goal range, not when he was out of M&M’s and he knew there were more right on the concourse.
It had to be the perfect game. Not unbearably hot, but not particularly compelling. The kind of game for which Dawg fans from Blackshear or Thomasville or Carrollton or other far-removed locales might not even bother making the long trip.
“I FOUND IT,” I excitedly told my wife, who did not share my enthusiasm for sharing this experience with our firstborn.
“Alright, but this one is on you if it’s terrible.”
“He’s gonna LOVE IT!”
“Yeah, I bet.”
On November 17th, the Minutemen from Amherst, MA would be coming to do battle in the Classic City. It was the perfect combo of late fall, an overmatched opponent, a division race already under wraps, and a late afternoon kickoff that would avoid missing bedtime. I shared my plan with him before the first game of the season, and continued reminding him with each passing week about how great of a time we’d have together when he finally got to attend a real game with me.
How was the GAME?
I’d love to say that it was a transformative experience in the young man’s life, that we had conversations between snaps about nickel defenses, RPO’s, and the difference between MIKE and SAM backers, and as the final buzzer sounded, he told me that it was the greatest experience he ever had and that he was so lucky to have me as a father. Most people with young children know that’s not how it went though. There were plenty of snacks, plenty of drinks, plenty of trips to the restroom and countless inquiries about where Hairy Dawg had gone. There was far more attention paid to the spectacle of blaring sound system and video board, far more interest in finding pom-pom shakers, and far more questions about how much longer it was going to be until it was over than I hoped for. Not more than I expected though, or at least should have. We left at the end of the third quarter, with the early evening sundown bearing upon us and the game already long out-of-reach.
Put another way, It was AWESOME. I got to spend an entire afternoon away from social media and chores and the regular anxieties of day-to-day living, and instead spend it sharing an experience that means so much to me with the people who mean the most.
I can’t wait to do it again.