TCFA

Posted Jan. 8, 2015

Sep 16, 2011

College Football. Four Kids. And How it All Fits Together.

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This time next week, I will be sitting in a window seat of a Delta flight out of Philadelphia, nervously flipping through some crappy in-flight magazine, sipping a Bloody Mary and counting the minutes until we blessedly land on solid ground.

I will be antsy, I will be jittery and I will be generally enveloped in claustrophobia. Because, you see, I absolutely abhor flying.

But I will also be … excited. Excited about my arrival in Memphis, home of Graceland and the sound of the Memphis horns and one of the most stunningly mediocre college football programs in American history. Excited about an evening spent hopping from one blues club to the next with three good friends from Charm City, USA. Excited about waking up at 4 a.m. the next day, piling into a rented SUV and driving South, deep into the heart of Dixie, down to Oxford, Mississippi, home to William Faulkner and The Grove, the single most famous patch of tailgating turf this country has ever known. Excited about the game itself—Georgia vs. Ole Miss, a game with nothing much on the line, except for pride and bragging rights and maybe a bid in a third-tier bowl game. Excited, in general, for roughly 48 full hours of compete and utter freedom.

I mean, it will be grand. It will most certainly be grand.

But it will also be awful.

Because you see, though my excitement will indeed be real, and though the weekend shall be indeed wonderful, I know full well that the enjoyment of the weekend will be tempered, at least in some way, by a nagging feeling down in my gut.

A feeling of guilt.

Because while I’m down in Oxford, you see, the family will be back home. And I’ll be honest: I kinda feel bad about that.

***

I love my college football. I love my family.

But now that my family is unusually large—we’ve got four kids, folks, which has put us in a place where people start to wonder if we belong to some kind of strange religious cult (note: we don’t)—it has become apparent that balancing love of family with love of college football is not just difficult; rather, it is at times downright impossible.

With three kids, I must say, it somehow seemed quite doable. But now, with the recent addition of The Staggeringly Difficult Joey, it seems that our lives here in The Beautiful Wissahickon Valley have become far too complicated for college football, or at the very least, far too complicated to allow for the full college football experience.

The mornings I once spent hunkered down in front of the television, watching ESPN College GameDay and (more importantly) BTN Football Pregame, are now occupied mostly with finding ways to placate crying children (Princess Leah, 2, and The Staggeringly Difficult Joey, 4 months) or of preparing non-crying children (Young Jack, 7, and The Ever-Demanding Anna, 5) for the myriad events that comprise their ridiculously complex weekend calendars: birthday parties, soccer practices, soccer games, appointments; social obligations.

The afternoons that were once comprised mostly sitting around and drinking finely made craft beer and commiserating with The Lads about the events of the college football day are now comprised mostly, of well, more kid stuff: Poopy diapers and messes to clean up and meals to serve and kids to bathe and bedtime and all the rest of it. At all times, at least one kid needs something; my wife, bless her heart, handles most of it. But there remain many loose ends to tie up, many items to attend to, many butts to wipe.

In the midst of all the craziness, I try to watch the games. Which is to say, I do watch the games, as I feel it is in some way my responsibility to do so. Which means, of course, that I can on occasion … tune out.

I mean, I am generally aware of the kids surrounding me. I am generally aware of their needs (and demands). I am generally responsive to any true emergency.

But I am responsive, too, the events taking place in Happy Valley. And Knoxville. And Ann Arbor. And Lincoln.

I am aware of all of it, and unaware of any of it, as I live in see-saw mental space wherein my brain is tasked at one second with handling a demanding child’s latest demand and the next second with trying to comprehend the latest ridiculousness from Denard Robinson. I deal with apple juice and sippy cups and then I deal with Twitter and texts. I deal with Joey’s latest freakout and the lunacy of Joe Paterno coaching in the pressbox. I deal with all of it, but none of it, because I am exist only halfway in the world of college football, and halfway in the world of parenting.

I am a college football bon vivant.

I am a father of four.

On Saturdays, I am both. Or, at least, I try to be.

(Thank god for Mrs. Your Editor.)

***

The question, of course, is whether this balance can be struck going forward, and whether this situation—this dual existence of family man/football saveur—is actually tenable.

I have given this question a good bit of thought. And I’ve come up with an answer.

The answer is no.

No, it’s probably not feasible to live this double life, at least not in the long term.

Because the reality is, as difficult as it is to make this life work now, in the days when only two of our four wonderful children are spending three-quarters of their weekends tied up with various activities, it’s going to be even more difficult when all four of them are doing so. And yes, that day is coming: Leah is now less than two years away from soccer; if Joey keeps growing at his current rate, he will likely be permitted to play at age two. I mean, the kid is a beast.

And then there will be all the rest of it, too.

More birthday parties.

More school functions.

More appointments.

More social obligations.

More stuff.

And yet, there will still be college football. College football that I’ll want to watch. College football that I'll have to watch. College football that I will watch. Which will inevitably lead to conflict, confusion, and greatly muddled Saturday afternoons.

But here’s the thing: I think it’s worth it.

***

Pretty much every Saturday morning this time of year, I call my Mom. We talk about the kids, yes, and we talk about the events of the day. But mostly, we talk about college football. Because it’s Saturday, and we’re college football people, and that’s what we do.

Later in the day, I call my Dad. We skip straight past the kid stuff and the life stuff. We talk about college football. We talk about the Big Ten. We talk about Notre Dame. My Dad makes a few cracks about the sad state of the Penn State football program, which then makes me feel oddly compelled to defend the Penn State football program. We talk about Ohio State. We talk about Verne Lundquist and Brad Nessler. We talk about Denard Robinson, because despite the fact that we aren't supposed to like Michigan, we have agreed that Denard Robinson is A Good Kid. We talk about all of this because it’s Saturday, and we’re college football people, and that’s what we do.

Even later in the day, usually near dinnertime, I’ll get a call from my brother. A man of few words but strong conviction, he usually dials me up to make just one small point—something his keen former coaching eye picked up while watching Toledo or Navy or Wake Forest or BYU. He’ll also grumble about Penn State. I will grumble along with him, because it’s a Saturday, and we’re college football people, and that’s what we do.

And all throughout the day, I text my sister. Repeatedly. We text about how much she hates Ohio State, and how much she hates Ohio State fans. We text about Penn State’s win (or Penn’s loss). We text about tailgating, or the bars we’re at, or the beers we’re drinking, or the games we’re watching. We discuss bars and beers and the Nits and more because it’s Saturday, and we’re college football people, and that’s what we do.

Now, this connection—this familial bond over the great game of college foobtall—did not happen by accident. Not in the least.

No, it was forged over a lifetime of Saturdays—Saturdays spent huddled around the television at our old home in North Solon, watching the Ohio State Buckeyes under Earle Bruce, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish under Lout Holtz and, starting in 1992, the Penn State Nittany Lions under on Joe Paterno.

That adds up to a lot of Saturdays, folks. A lot of Saturdays we could have spent fishing or touring museums or taking in the Cleveland Orchestra. A lot of Saturdays that were, indeed, filled with soccer games and football games and dance recitals and all the rest. A lot of Saturdays when there was probably a lot more on the docket than just the Ohio State game.

But you know what? We still managed to watch our football—and we survived.

More the point, we got something out of all of those crazy, football-filled days.

We got college football—a game that we share, even to this day, each and every Autumn Saturday. We’ve tailgated together in Happy Valley and Annapolis and points in between. We talk college football, read college football, savor college football. We have college football, and we have each other, and that makes it all the more fun.

Someday, I hope—I mean, I sincerely hope—that that my family will have the same. Someday, I hope, we’ll share that same kind of connection—a connection that will keep us close even when we live far apart, a connection that will bring us together for tailgates and gameday parties and trips to Happy Valley and road trips to college football points of interest all over this great nation. Someday, I hope to be the Dad calling up his kids, consoling them on their teams’ latest loss. Someday, I hope I’ll have a bunch of kids who love college football—everything about it—as much as I do.

And someday—someday soon—I hope that I’lll be able bring the whole gang (or, well, maybe one or two of them) along for trips to places like ... Ole Miss.

But we ain't there yet.

This one, I'll have to take solo, whether I like it or not.

And when I get down to Oxford? When I step foot on that hallowed ground in The Grove? When I hear the first strings of "Forward Rebels" and take in what may well be the greatest Saturday scene in all of Americana?

Well, I will try to enjoy it.

And I'll do my best to not feel guilty about doing so.

* And in case you are wondering, that guy in the photo up there is my grandfather, Joseph Walters, namesake of Joey. He worked seven days a week. He had five kids. He loved football. And yeah, he made it work.

THE NEWS, AS IT WERE: RAMBLINGS FROM COLLEGE FOOTBALL PROPER

♦ By this pont, I must admit, I have grown quite numb to all of the conference expansion/implosion talk. I have especially grown numb to conference expansion/implosion talk directly related to any report penned by one Chip Brown, the alleged Texas insider who runs the Texas fan site OrangeBloods.com. Now, by my rough estimate, Brown has written approximately 14,000 stories about expansion over the past year or so, and so far as I can recall, an extremely small percentages of his predictions/reports have actually come to fruition. But he's hit on one or two (to his credit, it must be said) and so it has come to pass that, today, when Chip Brown speaks, all of The College Football Twitterverse listens; very shortly thereafter, the College Football Mainstream Media rushes in to claim their pound of flesh, and all at once, we have a full-blown rumor on our hands. Which brings us to this week, and a report Brown published Wednesday morning that indicated that, despite all of the talk about Texas possibly joining the Pac-12 or the Big Ten, the reality down in Austin is that the 'Horns would  much prefer a move to ... the ACC. Yes, the ACC. Repeat: The ACC. Now, this makes no sense in any way whatsoever, of course, and could never happen lest the entire world explode. But no matter, Brown insists it to be true, and so The Collective College Football World believes him. Wrote Brown: "It's time for Texas fans and faithful to start getting their heads around a possible move to the ACC. It's by no means a done deal. But it's looking more and more like Option No. 1 for the Longhorns if the Big 12 falls apart." I repeat: This can and will never happen. Lest the world explode.

♦ Well, there's no getting around this: The NCAA has officially boxed itself into a corner. As I wrote over at the other site earlier this week, The World's Most Confounding Organization Except Maybe For FIFA has issued yet another utterly confounding decision regarding "disciplinary matters." This latest decision comes to us from the college football hinterlands of Idaho, where poor Boise State has become the latest team to suffer at the endlessly inconsistent hand of the mighty NCAA. In case you hadn't heard, Boise earlier this year "self-imposed" a series of (legitimately tough) penalties in the wake of revelations that it had been handing out "impermissable benefits" to student athletes (in several sports) over a course of several years. As part of these "self-imposed" penalties, Boise reduced its football scholarships for the 2011-2012 season by three and freaking fired their athletic director, a guy named Gene Bleymaier, who over the course of the past three decades helped Boise State transform itself from a junior college into one of the preeminent powers in all of college football. In other words, Boise punished itself, and punished itself but good. But no matter: The NCAA, which took about 17 years to pass judgment on USC and has thus far show no backbone whatsoever regarding the Ohio State situation (we can only imagine how badly they're going to mess up the Miami thing), had no problems coming down hard on poor old Boise. Indeed, the NCAA shocked just about everyone this week when it announced that Boise would be handed the dreaded "lack of institutional charge" -- a charge that comes along with the loss of nine more scholarships and three years' probation. Seems a bit extreme, given that the violations here were of a fairly pedestrian vintage ("Hey son, can I buy you a Whopper?"). The NCAA justified its actions by saying that the violations gave Boise a "competitive advantage." Which is silly. And Chris Petersen, current head coach of Boise/future head coach of Penn State, knows it Said Petersen: "I was surprised by the findings. I am also disappointed." The only silver lining here? This probation might provide just the kick in the pants Petersen needs to come save Penn State from irrelevancy.

miscellany: notes from the college football fringes

♦ My absolute favorite nugget from Chip Brown's Aforementioned Piece Of Fiction is this one, wherein Brown makes the case that a move for Texas to the ACC would be a good thing for "the student-athlete." Why would it be a good thing for the student-athlete? Well, here's why, according to Brown: "Student-athletes would be gaining an hour by traveling back to Austin from the Eastern Time Zone as opposed to losing one or two hours by traveling across two time zones from the west back to Austin in the Pac-12." WHAT?

♦ No, Penn State will not lose to Temple this week. Though the entire world, including the absolutely ridiculous Buzz Bissinger, is convinced that this is the year the Owls will finally knock off the Nits, the reality is fairly simple: Temple is not as good as they were last year, Penn State is better than they were last year, Penn State beat Temple last year, and so Penn State will beat Temple this year. Nits by 17.

♦ College football is better than pro football. And here's why.

♦ About the only good thing that came out of Penn State's game against Alabama last week was this letter to the editor, published in The Crimson White, student newspaper of the University of Alabama. The letter came from a member of the Tide Pride traveling fan club. He wrote: "Flying home after the Penn State vs. Alabama game, I noticed a newspaper article in the Pittsburgh News. The article was titled 'Not in the Same Class,' and that statement could not be any more true. Penn State’s sportsmanship, friendliness and class up the ante for Alabama fans in the future. Yes, Alabama won the game, but Penn State had the class.They had northern hospitality that far surpassed any other place I’ve ever been to. We were treated like rock stars. Walking down College Street students would greet us with 'Roll Tide, Go Bama!' We were stopped several times per block and asked if we were having a good time. While eating breakfast at the Waffle Shop, several fans came over, introduced themselves and talked to us. The most common topic of the day was how well Alabama treated them last year in Tuscaloosa. After this weekend, I think they should be commended on their efforts to welcome the Bama fans. Our tailgating hosts, Jeff, Terry, Bill, David and Steve, went overboard by treating us to a true Penn State tailgate. At least twenty students joined their parents to tailgate with the ‘old’ Alabama fans that we are, and made us feel that much more welcome. Those kids sure have been raised right! This year, Penn State won the class award between the two classiest schools in the country. And no, Penn State is not in the same class, they are one step higher this year!" Honest to God, that letter makes me happy.

♦ In a related note, if you ever berate, disrespect or generally bother opposing fans who come to see their team play at your school, you are a terrible human being. For handy tailgating tips, please see my archived column about How To Be A Good Tailgater.

♦ Let is now turn our scholarly gaze to Columbus, the heart of it all, where the Ohio State Buckeyes are playing the role of victim. See, folks, in the wake of the Buckeyes' less-than-ideal few months regarding off-the-field matters, and in the wake of the Buckeyes' less-than-ideal showing against Toledo, it seems the the sliver bullets are feeling as though the world is against them. They feel as though people "want them to fail." This, apparently, kinda hurts their feelings, and makes them want to remind the world that, hey, they aren't playing at full strength because of, you know, the scandal and such. As center Mike Brewster told ESPN.com this week: "We're going through a lot of adversity right now. Look around, there's nine, 10 dudes that should be starting and they're not." Dudes.

♦  The Buckeyes also aren't very happy that they are being perceived as a "dirty program," and by extension being lumped in with the Miami Hurricanes of the world. Said safety Tyler Moeller: "It makes me angry about how people perceive this program just off a few things that have happened." There's really nothing I can add to that.

♦ Georgia is 14-14 overall in its last 28 games. It is 12-14 against FBS teams during that same time frame, and 7-10 in the SEC.

♦ And, yes, Georgia is now 0-2 so far this season after a 45-42 loss to South Carolina last week. Georgia fans are justifiably concerned. But is Mark Richt concerned? No, Mark Richt is not concerned. As he said this week: "Could that game on Saturday gone either way? I think it’s pretty obvious that it could have. Did we improve tremendously in a lot of areas? There’s no doubt about that. I left the field sick about losing but encouraged about the team. I think we can compete with anybody in the Eastern Division and anybody in the league.” All of Alabama chuckles.

♦ As a longtime defender of Moxie Matt McGloin, it is not easy for me to write this, but I shall write it anyway: McGloin has played his way into the second-string job at Penn State. Young Robert Bolden has not exactly set the world on fire, either, but an unbiased observer would have to conclude, two games into the season, that Bolden gives the Nits a better chance to win. Apparently, however, Joe Paterno is not an unbiased observer, because he told The Massive But Dwindling Penn State Press Corps this week that he would continue the inherently flawed strategy of playing both Bolden and McGloin, even though reports out of camp suggest that even the team wants a decision to be made. Said the increasingly disconnected Paterno: "I think both quarterbacks have played well enough for us to win with, and I'm reluctant right now to tell anybody, 'Hey, we're going to start this guy,' because it would look ... like the other guy didn't play well. I thought they both did a pretty good job, really." Neither did a pretty good job, really.

♦ Looking for the latest TCFA Podcast, in which Mike and I talk about Texas' insanely inflated opinion of itself, the dramedy of the Joe Paterno situation and all of the biggest games to come here in Week 3? Well, click here.

♦ Speaking of the TCFA Podcast, some exciting programming news: The podcast is now available via Stitcher Radio. This fantastic smart-phone app (I have been using it for a year, and it's awesome) allows you to instantly stream any podcast in the world (yes, the world, which means you can catch up on all of the soccer news out of England and Scotland. And Italy. And Spain.), thereby allowing you to bypass the oft-troublesome iTunes system. You can download Stitcher here or at your app store.

♦ Speaking of the TCFA Podcast once more, just a reminder that we are still accepting suggestions for our new official podcast sign-off line. Have a suggestion, let us know by dropping us a note.

♦ Of course, you can also drop us a note to let us know your thoughts about this week's column, or just about anything else. You can also follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook

♦ Looking for picks? Well, click here.

♦ Song of the Week: Marah, "Firecracker," from the spontaneous, beautiful and altogether unexpectedly awesome "Let's Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later on Tonight" (an album that is now 15 years old ... ugh). Beautifully scrappy song that melds Philly swagger with alt-country grit. Includes this wonderfully evocative line: "I am a pipecleaner / that has been stripped down / to a long thin wire."

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