I pass a man who is stark naked, except for his boxer shorts. Half his body is painted blue. Half is painted yellow. He is sitting in the parking lot, tossing a football, making a “Whoo! Whoo! Whoo!” sound, like a train, coming ’round the bend.
“Excuse me,” I say, nonchalantly.
“Pardon me,” I say.
I bump through a parade of Michigan boosters. I bump through a parade of Notre Dame boosters. I weave through rows of tailgating vans parked beneath school banners. They have picnic tables, folding chairs, and, for some reason, countless bowls of potato salad. Why so much potato salad? Do people really like potato salad that much?
Several cheerleaders are doing a last-minute practice. They jump on each other’s shoulders and form a human pyramid, 20 feet high. With big smiles, they raise their fists and yell: “GO BLUE! GO BLU-“
“Ooops,” I say, accidentally knocking them over.
“Sorry about that,” I say.
I reach the stadium. I find the entrance marked “PRESS.” A guard takes my pass. There is only one entrance like this, as if they don’t want to encourage any more of us than necessary. I do not blame them. Not on Saturday afternoons.
“So,” the guard says, “you for the Wolverines or the Irish?”
“Neither,” I answer sadly.
Neither. In a sea of passion, I am seaweed. In a raging fire, I am ashes. I am a sports writer at a college football game, maybe the biggest college football game of the season around here — Michigan-Notre Dame, a truly emotional showdown.
And I am paid to be unemotional.
“Excuse me,” I say to a marching band tuba player dressed in something off the Sgt. Pepper album.
“Gesundheit,” I say.
Stoic amid the craziness
This is the scene. It happens every year. I am not allowed to root. I am not allowed to take sides. I walk through the tunnel like a monk between a mob of bare-chested Michigan students and a mob of bare-chested Notre Dame students, pointing at each other and yelling things such as “YOU DIE!” and
“IT’S OVER!” and “BLEEEP BLEEEP, YOU BLEEEPIN’ BLEEP!”
“Sorry to interrupt,” I say, pushing past.
“So sorry,” I say.
I see the field. Another sellout. Over the loudspeakers, they are introducing the players.
I know all about the players. I can tell you about the players. I can tell you Tyrone Wheatley’s rushing average and his longest run of the year and his favorite off-field activities.
I can tell you Todd Collins’ passing tendencies, how he reads the defense. I can do that.
What I cannot do is hang over the railing and high-five him as he comes out.
“Coming through,” I say, squeezing past a family of six in Golden Dome hats.
“Coming through,” I say, past a party of U-M grads in cutesy yellow berets.
“Coming through,” I say, passing a woman with a big bowl of potato salad.
I reach the press box. I find my seat. Soon the whistle blows, and a kicker races forward, and the crowd rises to its feet with a swelling
“Do you see a place to plug in the computer?” I ask, from beneath the desk, as this is happening.
“Does anyone see a place to plug in?”
What if? Nope, not a peep
Bo Schembechler, who used to coach one of these football teams, had a theory about sports writers. He said they had it all wrong. They should be
“homers,” he said, the biggest homers of all. They should write what “a great day it was for Michigan” whenever the Wolverines won. And when the Wolverines lost, they should write how the other team got lucky and probably cheated.
That sports writer, he said, would be the most popular sports writer ever
— because he wrote what his readers felt.
I wonder about that sometimes . . . as I watch a man dressed as a wolf shake his butt in front of a TV camera.
Everywhere you look, there is passion. Cheering. Booing. Dancing. Emotion. College emotion. Everywhere but here, in the press box.
Here, there is distance. Here, there is perspective. When the game is over,
we will march across the battlefield like dispassionate soldiers, en route to the locker rooms to ask dispassionate questions. Our faces will not be painted. Our clothes will have no color code. We are the only people in this circus who are not supposed to care.
I look around. I wonder what would happen if the code were broken. What if I let out a yell like the people in the stands? A “Let’s Go Blue”? Right now? What if I showed some emotion, in the middle of the press box? Why not? Shock the world! Why not?
“LET’S GO . . . “
The others look up angrily.
. . . eat,” I say. “Let’s go eat.”
I’m figuring potato salad.