The Ironic Bowl
Holidays are great for not getting out of the house and for speaking disrepectfully on social media about old people who enter a room thinking ‘what’s in here that I can throw away’, ‘whose blood sugar can I impugn’, and ‘why are you wearing that??’. You go in thinking you’ll spend more time with your family, like a fired CEO, but all you do is violently avoid. You do this via any device that will let you, be it iPhone, iPad or basic-ass tv remote.
This year I discovered that, despite abandoning all hope for disconnectionists, holidays are wondrous for plugging into someone else’s bubble. I do not have cable at home, which means I watch sports illegally when I watch them at all(1). A coastal elite(2) would not be expected to fuck even moderately with football. But I do, if only because I grew up in the interior where memorizing lots of useless sports data is the next thing to mitzvah. Recently football’s pull has become increasingly irascible, knowing what we know about head injuries and what these idiots sign up for, so it was with relief that I started paying no more attention to football when I stopped having cable. But that shit still looks awesome on tv.
College football is the principality to pro football’s power, and its inherent regionalism is harder to explicitly or implicitly endorse while ignoring the fact that the players(3) are nineteen-year-olds potentially harming themselves for life. The essential college football rivalries go back to the 19th century; the NFL doesn’t have that emotional depth. The largest college football stadiums, in Tuscaloosa and Ann Arbor and Austin, seat 100,000 people. Rivalry games, like the ones saved for Thanksgiving weekend, get on a level American sports rarely see in terms of spectacle and majestic brio. We compare college football to a religion and we think we’re disparaging it.
Saturday was the 78th Iron Bowl, ‘an American college football rivalry game played annually by the football teams of the two largest public universities in the U.S. state of Alabama’. This is the first of the 78 that I watched in its entirety, not counting channel-changes to Friends(4). Not having seen a thing like this recently in my career as a media prosumer, the primordial Fellini-like ritual(s) of the deep south fell like praises to an idol—meaning me, you see. The coaches act(ed) like insane idiots. Cheer personnel drag(ged) a giant helmet on a little cart thru the back of the end zone. More cheer personnel carry/ied in zigzag formation flags spelling out their school’s name. There is/was more face-painting and pom-pom shaking and oddly-personal posturing than you cld, theoretically, shake a stick at; it is less like church than like a carnival in a graveyard. I’m sorry, I’m lost.
Anyway that game was probably the best I’ve ever seen(5). Auburn won on the sports play of the year, with no time left on the clock(6). When it happened, I sailed off the couch like a startled cat off a lap; it was terribly exciting. It wasn’t merely the play itself. It was the final circle of a promissory three hours that brought me around to maybe giving obese redneck sports fans a break and myself one, in turn, for forgiving them their debt.
Chris Davis, who scored the winning touchdown, ended up in the [end] zone with his head briefly between the legs of a joyous teammate; you can see it at 3:32ish of the above-linked video(7). Football being the sport with the least subtle homoerotic vibes, I find its rabid fans’ ignorance of them to be fascinating, coming as it does from a place of virulent normative bias. It’s fascinating because if you think of a mob of Southerners with a cartoon lightbulb over their heads and then you think of young black men, football isn’t where the sketch leads; it’s the same for men who hang out almost exclusively with men and see each other naked a lot. [Most] football fans and [most] football players would reflexively resist most of this; the words ‘racism’ and ‘homophobia’ remain only theories. Not to call them structuralist or anything, but [most] people who watch football earnestly wouldn’t get football-themed gay jokes made by [most] people who watch football ironically. Moreover, white bourgeois adults watching predominantly black youth(s) abuse each other for institutional profit is still what college athletics is. But actually watching some of it made me hate half of America less. This is why sports matter[!]
Of course, the next foul imprecation one of my uncles pronounced on Obama, I regressed. But whatever, it’s their season.
(1) I obsess over baseball but I don’t watch every regular-season game.
(2) One under 40, anyway.
(4) s0 mainstream
(5) I have intentionally seen maybe five college football games in their more or less entirety, in my life.
(6) Football, like basketball and all other silly non-baseball games, has a ‘clock’.
(7) There was another moment at the end when AJ McCarron, Alabama’s senior quarterback, left the field to avoid the scrum but not before greeting/kissing his [grandparents?] and [girlfriend?] Nothing much, except it contained all these sharp stress/relief parallels. Fantastic image.