Spinning Fall tails
Vince Lombardi famously called football “controlled pain”. Given everything that has been going on over the past year here, I don’t think any of us would disagree with that. Clearly Lombardi meant that in a very positive way. I agree with control as an aim, pain, not so much.
A couple of weekends ago, Geoff and I headed off on a photographic safari to continue a series I am working on for my Flickr photostream. Completely without thinking, I planned it for a Saturday on which a USC home game was scheduled. Also, ironically, there was a Dodger baseball game that day. That meant nightmarish traffic going and coming, parking problems and crowds that I hadn’t bargained on when I decided we should hit this particular venue, in Downtown Los Angeles.
From serious concussions leading to deteriorating cognitive functioning, to children dying on the field from injuries to developing bodies, to domestic violence in the NFL, we all know that American football is a controversial “sport”.
Still, while I don’t subscribe to competitions for the most part (see my earlier posts on this topic) and while I feel football should not be a program for anyone younger than 21 (and should be separated from higher education), it does foster two things I endorse: self-discipline and perseverance.
Probably because I like both those traits and think they should and can be developed starting at a fairly young age, in a developmentally-appropriate manner, I have recently read a couple of books that dovetail both with this season, the return of Fall meaning Football in the US, and with my interest in continually improving and upgrading my own modus operandi. [When Pride Still Mattered: A Life Of Vince Lombardi and The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life].
Those things may seem completely unrelated but they both involve the principles that guided Lombardi, Jesuit-educated in High School and at Fordham, and the Order of the Society of Jesus, whom I have admired for years.
For one thing, I grew up Catholic and as all Catholics know, the Jesuits are teachers who are reputed for excellence. People familiar with the history of South America, know that the Jesuits have played a key role in the development and progress of the masses on that continent. They have been the good guys in the long and tortured story of the Conquest and colonization of that continent.
I was raised by a Jesuit-educated parent. My dad is a stickler for discipline, sucking it up, never allowing a tear to escape one’s eye, even when no one is around. He would make Patton look like a slacker. And, of course, he took it too far. Curiously, he was an amateur boxer and later a golfer, and now a tennis fanatic, played some baseball, but never played football. But, if pain was involved, my dad believed it was good for you. He and I are worlds apart on this topic. I do not believe in inflicting deliberate pain on anyone or thing, including oneself, and above all children and animals — for any reason.
While we were in the process of rolling out our photographic plan for my upcoming series, we could not help being sidelined for part of the day by the USC game. To be honest, I have paid as little attention as possible to USC and anything to do with it. I am a huge UCLA and Cal (UC Berkeley) supporter and fan. Both are top science schools, for one thing — with gorgeous campuses. For those people who don’t know the way these things fall out here socio-politically, I am a supporter of the excellent public university system in California. The UC System is on the whole superior to the private schools.
USC also has a reputation for attracting privileged, partying kids. [Forgive me USC-lovers, hence its nickname: University of Spoiled Children. OK, we can debate that some time, but I have direct experience of this with a key family member.]
As I battled to find parking and then had to make the long and circuitous walk to the place where I wanted to take my photos, I was forced to take a good, long, slow look at what transpires at tailgating parties all over this country. It is elevated to an almost maniacal obsession in Los Angeles by dyed-in-the-wool USC fans.
The USC campus and stadium abut the venue we were headed for. In every direction, as far as the eye could see, were the scenes in these pictures. Everything and everybody for blocks in every direction were festooned with and clad in Trojan (a fitting moniker) Cardinal and Gold.
Now, I went to a big football college back East, with a long and fierce game history. But, I will confess it now, I went to one and one only game, my freshman year, because we were forced to do it and to engage in placard cheering. I could probably write a whole post just about my mishaps with that one, seemingly simple, but deceptively annoying task. I will spare you for now — just remind me if you ever want to hear it. I should be used to what goes with the football season, boosters, fanatics and of course the licensing explosion that has occurred in the I-won’t-tell-you-how-long since I said goodbye as an undergrad to that whole world. I couldn’t even tell you what my graduate school team was called, that is how little interest I took in it.
Geoffrey loves football and played in high school, but not in college. He still watches it and, even though we have discussed the drawbacks of the sport along the lines that I mentioned at the top of this post — with which he largely concurs — he still has a steel trap mind for every minute detail of scores, records, seasons, coaches, assistant coaches, scouts, training camps, plays and secret strategies all the way back to the Stone Age (there was probably football when Cro Magnon man fought Homo Sapiens). But, even he was overwhelmed with the scene that apparently unfolds at USC every time there is a home game.
So I don’t turn this post into too much of a long read, let me sum it up by describing: thousands of parked cars with elaborate equipment and furnishings — largely in the school’s colors — making a vibrating sea of red and gold; fully tricked-out barbecues and propane-fired stoves with chefs and chefesses whipping up feasts that were spread on red and yellow tablecloths, laden with, natch, red ketchup and gold mustard bottles; plumes of blue smoke and the steamy fumes of corn dogs, pork ribs, burgers, fries and chicken “parts” (!!!) floating on the hot, humid air like a low-slung fog; satellite dishes (yup, in red and yellow) and big-screen TVs operated by generators behind each group of cars; folding chairs, loungers, hammocks, tents, recumbent bicycles, buses, trucks, SUVS, every kind of transportation, often in team colors were in front, beside, behind every group of celebrants. Even the row of Port-O-Sans behind the adjacent stadium were in: Cardinal and Gold.
Talk about control, pain, discipline and perseverance. I would say it applies to the tailgaters as much as to the team.
This was at 10 am, when we were just getting to our destination. The game was not until 4 pm! So, they make a full day of it and many if not most of the people there were not even going to the game! The din was audible from blocks away where we were forced to park our car. As we approached, to attempt snaking our way through the crowds to the photo-site, it became a rising and falling roar. USC fans take this stuff dead-seriously.
Meanwhile, at least a couple of photos here will give you a hint of what the real goal was for me that day. I don’t know which was more fascinating, the subject of my next photo series or the tailgating before that game.
By the way, USC won — no surprise there — 35/10 over Oregon State.
Stay tuned for more on my new photo series, upcoming.
Oh, and Go Bruins! Go Bears! 😀
Images: Beth Byrnes archives; click on them to enlarge, if you care to.