It’s over

I attended my final college football game of the season Saturday, sitting in Jerry Jones’ new Cowboys Stadium to watch the Ole Miss Rebels defeat the Cowboys of Oklahoma State in the first Cotton Bowl to be played anywhere but Dallas’ Fair Park.

I look forward to watching Texas play Alabama tonight on ABC to determine the national champion. Roll Tide.

Still, I’m a traditionalist. I wish the bowl games would end Jan. 1. Although the double-overtime finish was fun to watch last night, it just seemed wrong to be sitting at home watching Central Michigan play Troy in the GMAC Bowl on the evening of Jan. 6.

Like many people who grew up in the South, college football season is a special time of the year for me. I also like to attend high school football games whenever possible. For 16 consecutive Saturdays in 2009, I attended football games. It’s simply a part of the routine in our family.

On the hot afternoon of Aug. 29, I made the short drive to Little Rock’s Scott Field to watch the Arkansas Baptist College junior college program open its season with a win over Highland Community College. The day ended with baseball as my youngest son, one of his friends and I watched a Travelers’ doubleheader at Dickey-Stephens Park.

The next 10 Saturdays were consumed with Ouachita football games — five of them in Arkadelphia, one in Magnolia, one in Monticello, one in Texas, one in Georgia and one in Alabama.

The 12th Saturday of my streak of 16 football Saturdays consisted of a morning drive to Russellville, a hamburger at C.J.’s, an afternoon of watching Arkansas Tech defeat North Carolina-Pembroke in the NCAA Division II playoffs, a drive from Russellville to Fayetteville and a night spent watching the Razorbacks defeat Troy.

The 13th Saturdayconsisted of watching Arkansas defeat Mississippi State at War Memorial Stadium (and driving Dave Neal, the ESPN play-by-play man, to the airport afterward, complete with a police escort).

The 14th Saturday was a road trip to Jonesboro — I always try to catch at least one Arkansas State home game each season — to see the Red Wolves beat North Texas.

By then, we had reached December. The 15th Saturday was devoted to two high school state championship games at War Memorial Stadium — I watched El Dorado defeat Pine Bluff for the Class 6A title in the afternoon, and I watched Springdale Har-Ber defeat Fort Smith Southside for the Class 7A title that night.

The 16th Saturday on Dec. 12 was devoted to watching Junction City defeat Bearden for the Class AA title in the afternoon and Shiloh Christian defeat Lonoke for the Class AAAA title that night.

The Saturday streak came to an end Dec. 19 when there was not a football game played anywhere in Arkansas. But on Saturday, Dec. 26, I was at the airport bright and early for the short flight to Dallas, followed by eight days of working in media relations for the Cotton Bowl.

And on Saturday, Jan. 2, I was in Arlington to witness the first Cotton Bowl played in the new stadium.

Yes, I look forward to watching the game on television tonight.

And, yes, I will watch many of the NFL playoff games through the Super Bowl in early February. But football season for me is over in essence because football season at our house means attending games, not sitting on a couch and watching them on a screen.

I was in attendance at 16 college football games and 15 high school football games this season. I wish I could have attended even more than those 31 games.

Right or wrong, it’s an important part of life in our family.

George Will wrote in a column published today: “If boosters stop donating to football, they will not start donating to classics departments. The late Bear Bryant, Alabama’s coach, correctly said, ‘It’s kind of hard to rally ’round a math class.’ So a droll University of Oklahoma president was not quite kidding when he said, ‘We’re trying to build a university our football team can be proud of.’ The wit who said football has about as much to do with education as bullfighting has to do with agriculture was more amusing than accurate.”

I will make it through this colder-than-normal Arkansas winter by dreaming of August. One of my favorite writers has become Wright Thompson of Wright is a native of Clarksdale, Miss., where I spent dozens of nights during the four years I worked for the Delta Regional Authority. I lived in Little Rock during that period, but my second office was in Clarksdale.

Wright and I have a lot in common, I believe. A couple of years ago, he wrote a lengthy ode to Southern football that began this way: “Two friends, both unhinged football fans, got married earlier this year. During the wedding reception, the bride’s father somehow got the Ole Miss band to march into the room, a blaring chorus of starched uniforms and shining brass. The groom conducted. The crowd stomped and cheered. You’d have thought folks were celebrating a 12-play scoring drive, not holy matrimony. Soon after the wedding, I watched the video of this event. Immediately, I recognized the feeling deep down in my gut. It’s something I’ve felt in so many cathedral-like stadiums. I closed my eyes, and the familar notes sent me rushing months into the future, longing for a tailgate that escalates from simmer to burn, for the chill bumps that always come in the moments before kickoff, for the evening breezes rustling the white oaks when the game is done. My body sat in front of a computer screen. My mind was in a stadium. It was only April, and I longed for September. I missed football season. As you might have guessed, I live in the South.”

I miss it, too, Wright. And it hasn’t even officially ended.

2 Responses to “It’s over”

  1. Melissa G. Nelson says:

    It all started in Oct. 1989. As we landed in Little Rock after our honeymoon, we took a taxi ride to our new home (a small apartment I’d never seen) and Rex told me this is where we’ll be living and we headed to Conway because he didn’t want to miss a UCA game. Rex sat in the press box and left me in the stands among a few drunk students. I thought to myself…what am I doing here?

    Yes, we’re still happily married 20 years and counting. I’m used to my life and I have grown to love Arkansas but will always be proud to be a Texan.

    Tonight is a tough one for me since I have so many friends and all of my family rooting for UT. I’ve made a bet that Alabama will be victorious and if I lose I’ll have to wear a Texas shirt all day and photograph and post my pictures on Facebook. I have zero allegiance to Alabama but made this bet on my belief that the SEC is better.

    I’m looking forward to watching the game with my husband and two boys and eating tons of fun football food!

  2. rexnelson says:

    You weren’t supposed to tell about having to go to that UCA-Ouachita game your first night home.

    Unfortunately, UCA won — Rex

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