On January 9, 1977, I found myself in the emergency room at the old Eastern Wake Hospital. Turns out, I was suffering from stomach ulcers.
It’s no wonder really. Earlier that night I had watched my beloved Minnesota Vikings get spanked by the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XI. It was the Vikings’ fourth (and to date their last) chance to win a Super Bowl. I had suffered through two of the three previous Super Bowl losses and I just knew that Super Bowl XI was going to be a magical night for the Vikings.
Instead, they took one of their worst-ever Super Bowl beatings. They didn’t even look like they belonged in the same stadium with the Raiders. It was an agonizing few hours and as the game began to wind down, I laid in the floor twisted up in pain. I insisted on watching the end of the game before I would let my mother take me to the ER.
Such is the life of a football fan.
I tell you that story to point out that, finally, football season has rolled around again. We are on the opposite end of the season from the Super Bowl, but as of this writing, all my favorite teams are undefeated. East Wake and Knightdale have a chance to win North Carolina’s version of the Super Bowl. N.C. State has a chance to make the NCAA football playoffs and the Vikings and Carolina Panthers are, once again, Super Bowl contenders. For now, at least.
For a football fan, these are the halcyon days when all the opportunities for glory are in front of us. We will live and die by our teams’ fortunes. We will fill stadiums or sit glued to our television sets to see our favorite teams. Real junkies will watch any game they can find. Heck, I’d watch Mt. Holyoke play the Sisters of Mercy if the game was competitive.
High schools started practicing this week and The News & Observer has been filled with headlines about local teams and the ACC and SEC. Preseason prognosticators are busy telling us who will win and who will lose. If you believe them, call me. I’ve got some oceanfront property in Arizona to sell you. Still, it’s nice to imagine what the future holds. I can imagine the sheer giddiness in my house as our favorite teams string together a series of wins. I can imagine the forward-looking spirit of a real fan as they say, “there’s always next year,” after our teams lose two or three games by the season’s midpoint.
Football is perhaps the most intense team sport I can think of. Aside from the physical nature of the game, the fact is there are fewer games each season which means each game is more important. Two or three losses in a row by a Major League Baseball team isn’t a big concern over the course of a 162-game season. Even basketball teams play 20 to 80 games in a season depending on the level of competition. But in football, high schools get just 10 games. College teams get 12 or 13. Professionals will play only a 16-game regular season and it wasn’t that long ago that the season was only 14 games in the NFL.
That intensity carries over into the fans. Last spring I traveled to Clemson, S.C. and Auburn, Ala. and saw just how rabid college football fans can really be. The schools’ enormous stadiums sat squarely in the center of campus and all over the campus were visual markers of the schools’ football history. It’s a way of life in places like that, sort of the way basketball is for many in the Triangle.
I dearly love my college basketball, but there’s nothing like a football game. It’s enough to send a boy to the ER.