I can’t say that I had never been to a college football game before last Saturday. But the one game that I had attended was not exactly a large affair. It was more than twenty years ago, a game at Wheaton College against Millikin. And the only reason I was there was because I lived in the town next to Wheaton and my cousin was Millikin’s punter.
What I remember of the Division III match-up was simple metal bleachers, not much bigger than the ones at my brother’s park district baseballs games. I remember a grassy field that extended under said bleachers. I remember walking around, bored, because I didn’t know the rules of the game and I didn’t want to know. I watched my cousin when he punted without understanding that punting was not a good thing for his team to be doing.
And so, when I attended the Boise State versus San Jose State game on Saturday, it was an entirely different kind of experience.
There was no grassy field to be seen. Instead, Albertsons Stadium hid the famous blue turf from view until I passed through the security line, complete with metal detectors and the possibility of additional screenings by wand wielding security officials. Past that point, I couldn’t see anything but concrete until I climbed a set of stairs.
The main concourse reminded me of being a hockey game; food and drink were available and there were plenty of restrooms. But it was all open air, and I imagined it could be quite a miserable experience in the cold and the rain. I could see glimpses of the field, but it was clear that this was not the place from which one was supposed to view the game.
To get to my seat, I had to climb yet more stairs, and then more stairs. I was only a few rows down from the very top of the seating area under the Stueckle Sky Center, and my legs felt every narrow concrete step. The steps felt extra narrow because I had taken the precaution of wearing my hiking boots to keep my feet warm. They add an inch to my height and at least two inches to my foot length.
I arrived at my seat about a half an hour before the game started and I just stared. At the people still making their ways to seats, at the teams practicing on the blue turf below, at the marching band gathering and the large American flag being held across the field in preparation for the anthem.
The field looked so small from up there, as if 100 yards were 100 feet instead. And, after I got to see the exciting ritual of the hammer wielding home team entering the field and the marching band playing the anthem, when the game actually started, it still seemed small. The players on each team seemed to move down the field at incredibly fast rates.
And yet, the game itself seemed to go incredibly slowly. Thanks to my backpacking inflatable seat cushion, my rear wasn’t freezing on the metal bleacher bench, but by the middle of the second quarter my bladder was starting a war with my desire a) to see everything that was happening in the game and b) not to have to climb those stairs again.
That other long ago game was an afternoon game, and I remember that we stayed for the whole game. This game started after 8 pm and it took an incredible effort to make it past half time (which I wanted to see for the marching band). I watched one more drive after that and gave up to ride my bike home after 10 pm. As luck would have it, Boise State got a touchdown on that drive and I was able to head out on a high note.
I had a good time at the game. It turns out that knowing the rules contributes a great deal more to the enjoyment of a football game than simply knowing the punter.