Exit 27. Knowing when to hold on to something and when to let it go.

Twenty years ago, I was a freshman at UC Davis, and early in that school year, I attended my first football game.  (For the non-sports people reading this, trust me, this entire article isn’t going to be just football; it’s more of a backdrop for something I was thinking about earlier.)  I watched a lot of school football games the last couple years of high school, so I figured I’d just keep doing that.  I don’t remember the opponent or the final score (I just spent a couple minutes on Google to find that it was a win over Southern Utah, 41-16).  I remember it being crowded, and loud, and I remember someone giving me a lyric sheet to the school fight songs and thinking that some of the lyrics were kind of strange, since I had no idea at the time of the history behind the songs.  I went to every home game that year, and while I did not keep up that level of participation in following years, I still went to a couple games every year that I was an undergraduate, as well as a few basketball games every year.

I have close friends who are almost like family who have season tickets to University of Virginia football, and during my adventures on the road in 2005, I went to a game with them.  I realized at the time that this was the first time I had seen football live, at any level, since five years earlier when I was running the scoreboard at the first school where I worked.  I decided that if I ever ended up settling back in northern California, I would get back into UC Davis football.  On October 29, 2005, my time on the road had ended, I was staying at my parents’ house indefinitely, and I took an overnight trip to Davis to watch the Aggies’ football game, a win against Cal Poly.  It was my first UC Davis football game in eight years.  I attended the other remaining home game that year, a win against the Bears of Northern Colorado, and since then, nine years later, I have only missed six home football games.

Watching the Aggies beat Cal Poly is always special.  They’re one of the Aggies’ two primary rivals, but also one of the reasons I chose UC Davis over Cal Poly was because when I visited the campuses (campi?), everyone at UC Davis seemed friendly and welcoming, and everyone at Cal Poly seemed unhelpful and snooty.  (Of course, I have friends now who attended Cal Poly whom I would not describe using words like this, so please don’t take offense at what I just said.  But this just goes to show how first impressions make a difference.)  That year especially, though, the win over Northern Colorado felt just as special.  Two months earlier, while on the road, I had spent a weekend in Greeley (where the University of Northern Colorado is located) staying with an off-again-on-again online acquaintance.  I didn’t know her as well as most of the online friends I met in person during that adventure, and to be completely honest, as I got to know her that weekend, I thought she was an arrogant hipster snob.  She regularly put down things I like, both hobbies and political positions.  I went to her church the Sunday I was there, the kind of church where almost everyone was under 40 and they try to reach out to people who don’t like the traditional church experience.  Her church seemed to give off the vibe that they were better than traditional churches, with pews and hymns and old people and Republicans, because they were authentic, and relevant, and postmodern, and insert whatever other Christian pop culture buzzwords apply.  According to their mentaily, that makes them really spiritual, whereas traditional churches are full of a bunch of fake people who only care about the superficialities and don’t really love Jesus.  So I know this is pretty much irrational, but ever since that weekend, anything at all related to Greeley makes me think of her and that snooty messed-up church, so therefore I particularly enjoy watching the college football team from there lose.

Anyway, last night I was in Davis for the football game, also against Northern Colorado.  I thought several times about how it was the least fun I’ve had at an Aggie football game in a long time.  That got me thinking, why do I still go to every game?  What purpose does it serve in my life?  Am I going to keep going to every home game forever?  If I am no longer enjoying Aggie football, maybe it’s time to cut back.

Now there are reasons specific to tonight that made this game less fun than usual.  The crowd was pretty sparse, particularly in the loud and raucous Aggie Pack section where all the students sit.  (I’m not allowed in that section anymore, of course, but they’re fun to watch.)  My theory is that a lot of students were still nursing their Halloween hangovers by the time the game started at 4pm.  I was exhausted from a late night of Halloween parties myself, and I found myself nodding off a few times during the first quarter.  It was a slow first half; at halftime, the Aggies were behind, but the score was only 7-0.  And it was cold, or at least colder than it’s been in this part of California for the last few months, and I didn’t bring my big jacket.  And, finally, the Aggie team is pretty bad this year.

But as much as I enjoy watching football, I’m starting to wonder if maybe it’d be okay not to go to every game.  I started going back to Aggie football (and basketball, and, for the first time ever, baseball) games during the 2005-06 school year, alone, partially because I had no other social life at the time.  Now I do, and sometimes I get busy with other things, or I have to arrive late at a friend’s event because I was at the game.  This year in particular, there have been Saturdays when I’ve been tired and behind on housework and life in general to the point that going to the game starts to feel more burdensome than enjoyable.  I missed a game this year for a non-sports social obligation.  And going to games alone isn’t particularly productive socially; I occasionally run into people I know,  but I’m not meeting new people at football games or anything.  Sometimes I need alone time, and I enjoy spending my alone time going to a football game, but tonight I just wasn’t feeling that.

I don’t like change.  Aggie football has been my fall tradition for ten football seasons now, and even before that it was a connection I had to the past.  I remember that 2005 game against Cal Poly, the first one I went to as an adult, how much I enjoyed hearing the same fight songs that I learned as an 18-year-old freshman.  And while there is a lot to be said for keeping traditions alive, there is also great value in knowing when to hold on to something and when to let it go.  I love returning to the campus of my alma mater with all the old buildings, all the big trees, all the memories of that time in my life.  However, as I’ve said before, it’s really easy for that kind of nostalgia to degenerate into a longing for a past that truly only existed in my selective memory, with the bad parts forgotten, and a frustration over how life was so much simpler back then, without providing any solutions for navigating the current reality.

Fortunately, I have ten months to decide whether or not to stop going to Aggie football games.  There is only one home game left this year, against Sacramento State.  The Hornets are the Aggies’ other primary rival and the next closest college football team to UC Davis; their respective stadiums (stadia?) are just 22 miles apart.  I already bought a ticket to this one, since that game is always exciting and actually has a chance of selling out every year, so I’m definitely going to that one no matter what.  So I won’t have to decide to change my tradition until next fall.  And I don’t have to stop going entirely; I can still go to some games without making it the primary focus of my Saturdays in the fall, which may leave room for something new I might need in my life.

Incidentally, last night, after falling behind 24-7 early in the fourth quarter, the Aggies made the rest of the game exciting.  They looked pretty good for most of the fourth quarter and closed to within 24-21 before fumbling away the first turnover of the game.  That led to a field goal, so it was still a one-possession game (27-21), and the Aggies drove down to the Bears’ 18-yard line before throwing several incomplete passes, followed by an interception with eight seconds left.  Oh well… at least they fought hard.

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