Monday, August 29, 2016

For a Huge College Football Fan, The First Daddy-Daughter Game Is Truly Special

My daughter, Jordan, was freshly three when I traveled to Dallas, Texas last fall to join up with Jeff to catch the Red River Rivalry in person.  While I was hanging out with Jeff and his family, my daughter wanted to Skype.  Jordan could sense that I was having an epic time and curiously asked, "What are you doing there?"  I told her I was going to a football game, to which she surprisingly replied, "I want to go to a football game with you!"

It is my not-so-secret hope that my kids end up loving to watch two things with their dad and the other one is college football.  My son's room is covered in Irish decals and a giant ND leprechaun Fathead, advertising very openly to the little boy whose name my friends from college swear is an homage to a former Irish QB named (Brady) Quinn (that certainly didn't hurt in the name decision-making process!); I frequently read them a book about the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame during the season, planting the seeds; I encourage Jordan to fly the Irish flag in front of our house with me on Saturdays during the fall, watering the seeds.  I would admittedly be a little disappointed if those seeds didn't germinate into beautiful, football-loving flowers.  Jordan has shown some early signs of catching on; she genuinely enjoys flying the flag and frequently asks during the season that everyone in the house wear their Irish shirts, a request I'd make if she didn't.

I captured this moment with Jordan after the Irish beat Stanford on a TD
with 18 seconds left in 2014 just a few weeks after she turned two
I felt compelled to act on her request when, after I returned home from Texas vs. Oklahoma, she reiterated her desire to go to a game with me.  Granted, she was only three at the time and getting her to concentrate on anything that didn't involve Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or putting together a puzzle was going to be a challenge.  I therefore had no desire to drive to Raleigh or anywhere far away for what was sure to be less than a full game day's experience.  There was really only one option, then, for this testing ground of a first football game for my daughter: Wake Forest.  The Demon Deacons play in an easily accessible stadium about 15 miles from my house and tickets are never difficult to obtain on short notice.  As fate would have it, my alma mater, NC State, was playing in Winston-Salem two weeks after my Dallas trip.

Throughout those two weeks, I would ask Jordan again at bed time, "So, you really want to go to a football game with daddy?"  And she would continually respond excitedly, "Yes!"  The day before the game, I started inquiring about tickets through some people I know at Wake and went to the local collegiate apparel store and found her an NC State shirt appropriate for a late October day.  The very nice lady who runs the shop, hearing of my plan to surprise my daughter, threw in a set of Wolfpack facial stickers.  I got our tickets and we were all set.

Now there was just that little problem of keeping her entertained during the game.  How would it go?  Would she be bored out of her mind?  What was a reasonable expectation for a three year old little girl's first live football experience?  Should I bring some things for her to do during TV timeouts that are no big deal when watching at home, but are terribly monotonous when you're there in person?  The game was during the time that she typically took a nap, so what was the potential for the kind of in-a-crowd meltdown from a toddler that sends yours truly's blood pressure through the roof?  These were the kinds of things running through my head the morning of the game.

Oh and, by the way, NC State had not beaten Wake Forest in Winston-Salem in about fifteen years.  The last time, in fact, was before I started college.  I was in attendance for the first of the road losing streak to Wake in 2003.  Kevin's dad was the head of the psychology department at WFU back then and secured tickets for us.  We came back home to go to the game, expecting that we would be seeing the second win for an historically great NC State season (they started 9-0 the previous year), but the Pack got caught looking ahead to the next week's game at Ohio State.  And so it would go every two years.  It's not like Wake has some massive home field advantage either; any bigger program in North Carolina will fill half or more of BB&T Field with fans favoring the away team.  I'd call it an odd college football phenomenon that the Deacons could beat anyone at home with the kind of consistency that they defeated State without a definitive home field advantage.  I was actually there in 2011 as well to see another supposedly superior State team lose at Wake.  I bought season tickets that year because Notre Dame and State were playing at Wake (Kevin got married on the day of the ND game so I missed that one).  My wife and I took my good buddy affectionately known as Sac (another State alum) and watched another undermanned Demon Deacon squad upset the Pack.

Returning to scene with Jordan meant that I could possibly be in attendance for almost half (2003, 2011, 2015) of the odd year losing streak at Wake.  I should have expected that she might be my good luck charm, though.  The year that she was born was the first year that the Irish went undefeated in the regular season since 1987; our beloved Notre Dame football team has won 75% of its games since that season started.  Could some of that luck rub off on NC State?  Yes sir (at least on October 24, 2015)!  The Pack jumped out to a commanding lead in the first quarter and never looked back.  With my daughter in attendance, they tallied up 28 points in the opening stanza and coasted to a 35-17 win.

All I can say is THANK GOD that the Pack were scoring so many early touchdowns.  Jordan was a real hit with our surrounding attendees, of both the red and the black/gold persuasions, dazzling people with her bright smile and infectious enthusiasm, but she was pretty bored with the repetitiveness of moving the chains.  Touchdowns brought out the burgeoning football fan in her, though; and all four of them in the first quarter came off of big plays.  There's something unique about seeing a touchdown scored from a long pass or run in person because of the burst of energy that it evokes from the crowd even before the player crosses the goal line.  It's almost watching an audience do the wave; the player breaks loose from his defender and his teammates on the sideline start jumping up and down, which triggers the fans in the front rows and then lower bowl and then upper deck to get on their feet (like a wave from top to bottom).  And then the eruption of noise (and you usually only hear the happy fans).  It's a swell of emotion and even a three year old football novice feels that something awesome is happening.

With two long TD runs from Matt Dayes of 85 and 57 yards respectively and two long TD passes from Jacoby Brissett to Maurice Trowell and Nyheim Hines of 59 and 57 yards respectively, Jordan was kept engaged in the action.  Touchdowns equaled excitement equaled questions about the game (like "Is it another touchdown?" when people got excited about a first down, a concept she temporarily appreciated because she thought it was fun to pretend along with me that we were in Raleigh and say, as the PA guy proudly does at Carter-Finley, "That's another Wolfpack...FIRST DOWN!").

I'd like to think that it cushioned the blow of getting mauled by the Pack for Wake fans within ear shot of Jordan's cute little "Go Pack!" chants and her adorable attempts at getting down to a science the wolf hand sign (repeated opening and closing of the thumb to middle and ring fingers like the mouth of a wolf with the pinky and pointer fingers up representing the wolf's ears) and her repeated exclamation when she got it right of "Chomp Chomp Chomp."

Though she never had too many opportunities in the opening quarter to get distracted from why we were there, the second quarter's lack of scoring considerably dulled Jordan's enthusiasm.  She was going through a phase back then that, whenever in public, she needed to go to the bathroom like 65 times more frequently than in any other setting and the goose egg on the scoreboard laid by the Pack in the second quarter triggered it.  I had not accounted for that.  At all.  I'm no germophobe, but men's public restrooms are disgusting and here I am tasked with taking my little angel into this deplorable stall with urine all over the seats trying to make sure she doesn't touch anything.  Wake's men's rooms are far cleaner than your average college football venue, but the concept of a clean stadium men's room is akin to trying to make football "safe" or brussel sprouts sound appealing - some things just are what they are.

Ploys to keep her reasonably in tune with the game like ice cream were only so effective and it became clear to me that half time would signal the end of Jordan's first game day experience.  She did well to stick with it for as long as she did given her age.

One of the most memorable moments for me came as we were leaving, when an older couple that had been sitting a couple of rows behind us stopped me and said, "You're the dad of the year" and commented on how attentive I was to Jordan.  I needed to hear that even if it was from strangers.  I love what I do for a living, but it admittedly takes a lot of time and energy and I often wonder if I'm doing a good enough job being a dad, if I am as the couple said "attentive enough" to the needs of my family.  I felt like Super Dad that day; Jordan had a blast and talked about it for the rest of the season and she's going to be very excited to see the picture below added to the collage from my College Football Tour, as it is tradition to start the new season by adding Tour photos from the previous.  

Me and the J-Train

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