I only got to watch one half of football on Saturday, October 1st, 2016.
When you grow up in my family, game day is 12-hour affair. A 5:30 pm game means we leave about… ohhhhh… 6:45 am or so. Breakfast at The Pantry, lunch in student commissary (so we can all pretend we attended USC at some point), marvel at the Heisman trophies, then watch the band rehearse the halftime show before kicking the pole (same pole, same foot) and crossing Exposition Blvd. You get to experience one last pleasant smell as you saunter past the Exposition Park Rose Garden, two if you count the bacon-wrapped hot dogs.
But once you’re beyond the California Science Center, it’s all business. You start to notice visiting team colors and wonder how you could ever hate someone so much without knowing them. You may as well be suited up yourself. One quick stop for an $8 water and it… is… game time.
October 1st, 2016 was game day. Just not like the others.
I nervously tapped my foot, hat on, SC hula flower shirt donned. I watched the clock click from 4:01 pm to 4:02 pm. Kick off is at 5:30.
The kids are still napping. This is just cruel. We should have been there 6 hours ago.
All Dad duties have been completed. Precisely 2 bottles of water per child (per Coliseum regulations) pocket full of lollipops, and a little cash to pick up a hot-n-ready pizza they can gore themselves on as I dodge L.A. traffic on the 10 West.
I’m not going to get to kick the pole.
We tear into the parking lot about 5:15 pm. The 6-year-old remarks from his car seat, “be more careful, Daddy.” He should be thanking me. Going the wrong way down that parking lot aisle got us to our seats in time for kick-off. Take notes, young one.
Luckily I conned my brother into coming with us, so I only have to try and not lose one child. The other is totally on him. We make our way to the gate and it all of a sudden becomes very clear why my Dad likes to leave so early. A raging, frothing sea of cardinal and gold swells like the Bearing Sea. 90,000 people try to make their way through 4 metal detectors.
I really should have taken a minute to tell the kids what to do if they get lost…. It’s fine. They won’t get lost.
My blood pressure spikes as fireworks surge into the air. I missed the National Anthem. Great. America thinks I hate her now.
My 3-year-old taps a shoulder in front of us as we wait. I start to apologize until I realize it’s an ASU fan.
“You’re rooting for the Devils right little guy? How ‘bout it?”
How about I punch your throat? How about that?
Calm down, we’re almost inside.
The 6-year-old decides now is a good time to start poking me in the lower back. Relentlessly. The PA announcer starts going through the starting line-ups and I immediately feel filthy. Juju won’t see me in the stands cheering for him during warm-ups.
He sees me every time! Shut up!
We finally reach our seats, just in time for kick-off. Children placed squarely between my brother and I, it’s time for football. The opening kick flies through the air… and the 3-year-old flies from his seat into mine. Entirely unprepared, I take the full brunt of his 31.8 pounds in the breadbasket. The whole first series is spent explaining stadium etiquette to a child whose main objective is to test every limit we place on him.
Have you ever shaken a 2-liter bottle of soda up really good, and then watched the cap (already not screwed on quite right) cling to the bottle in futility as the surging liquid pours out every possible point of weakness?
That was the 1st quarter.
I burned through all the lollipops, and played every game I could come up with to keep the 3-year-old happy. He had kicked the older couple in front of us no less than 17 times and their patience was wearing thin.
“He really is cute,” she said. Trying to convince herself, no doubt. I gave my brother the signal. We’re going to have to leave at halftime. We’re finally winning… nay, dominating a conference game and I have to leave at halftime.
With two minutes left, Justin Davis had just blazed through the porous ASU defense and I made the announcement.
“OK boys, let’s go.”
I started to stand up when I felt a little hand on my arm.
“Can we stay?”
I plopped down in my seat, wondering whose child that was. I looked over to the 6-year-old, who gazed up at me under the brim of his appropriately colored Iron Man hat.
“You want to stay? Why?”
“So we can watch this game.”
I prefer not to admit what happened next. Allergies really hang around out of season in L.A., alright?
I’ve always suspected the two boys share a psychic connection. The fighting and bickering is just an act. They can brainwave each other whenever they want and team up on me. But as if he took the cue, the 3-year-old settled right down. He sat on my lap and didn’t make a sound. He just watched football and worked that last lollipop down to the stick. We still left at halftime, but for two glorious minutes and a TV timeout, I watched USC football with my boys.
Maybe we will leave the San Gabriel Valley an hour before kick-off, and I will drive in some aggressive, and borderline unsafe manner to ensure we make the start of the game. Maybe I will stuff my pocket with lollipops and put two hats on one of the kids, one frontward and one backward so I can make Sherlock Holmes jokes.
I only got to watch one half of football.
I don’t even know what the final score was.
It doesn’t matter.