Fall means football, fun and, well, crowds
Two brushes with a quintessential autumn American experience provided vivid illustrations of why we live in Nevada County.
A week ago, I attended the season opener by the Nevada Union Miners football team. It was the first football game I had attended since moving here, even though I had intended to do so many times over the last couple of years.
The easy reason for not attending before then was that Friday nights are often busy ones at The Union. But I have to admit that I am not fond of large crowds, and I’d heard that the stadium is usually packed for NU games.
This time, however, I wrapped up work by 8 p.m., and the word came from the sports desk that, in any case, the varsity game was delayed because the earlier junior varsity game went late. (Apparently that happens a lot, which plays hob with our deadlines when the Miners don’t finish until 11 p.m. Why is that?)
So, with it being a beautiful evening, I decided to catch the game. Warned that the parking lot might be filled, I parked along Sierra College Drive and hiked in the back way via the Litton Trail.
Even though it was a nonleague game with Laguna Creek, the stands were indeed filled as I arrived midway through the first half. I learned that Laguna Creek had scored early, but by halftime NU was up by a touchdown. Watching the crowd revealed the full gamut of Nevada County people: Young kids running through the crowd, old-timers staking out their turf with folding chairs, teenagers strutting to draw glances from the opposite sex, middle-aged jocks reliving their high-school days and playing armchair quarterback, anxious moms cheering for their boys on the field.
I realized this was the first high school football game I’d attended since I was in high school, more years ago than I want to remember. I played football in my sophomore year (lineman, of course), and wrecked my back by being on the bottom of a pile in one game.
My mom said no more football, so I finished my high school career as a drummer in the marching and pep bands. In my senior year, I was the lead drummer and instead of many hours practicing football drills, I spent many hours practicing for the marching band halftime show at home games.
The NU band, in the stands, provided a lively accompaniment to the action on the field. But the nostalgic part of me was disappointed not to see a marching band performance.
Perhaps marching bands are considered passé these days. Or maybe there just aren’t enough students willing to spend the practice time, or it’s a lack of money for uniforms or other expenses. Whatever the reason, I value my marching band memories, and am sorry NU students won’t have that experience.
I sat on the visitors’ side of the field for the second half, and enjoyed the friendly banter between the Laguna Creek fans and the local folks who sit over there because it’s less crowded.
The Miners ran roughshod over Laguna Creek in the second half, winning by 20 points, but even the visitors left with a friendly wave, telling the local folks, “See you next year.”
For contrast, I attended the opening game of the 49ers season in San Francisco, at what is (at least for now) being called “3Com Stadium at Candlestick Point.” Of course, everyone still calls it Candlestick.
Overcoming crowd-o-phobia is a challenge whenever 65,000 screaming people are gathered in one place, but the experience was enhanced because I took the 7-year-old son of friends to see his first live football game.
He is the only football fan in his family, cheering the 49ers on TV, and he was jumping out of his skin to be going to the game for real.
He kept a running commentary about everything he saw – the long lines of cars waiting to get into the parking lot, the tailgaters with their elaborate grill and party setups; the huge stadium towering over everything; the mobs of people dressed up in 49er colors.
He got a pin commemorating opening day 2004, and a Marine in full dress regalia gave him a poster of a Leatherneck drill team, which was to perform at halftime. (It was armed forces appreciation day at the game.) First we had to make a restroom stop (whew!), then spend an arm and a leg for drinks and unappetizing hot dogs. Then to our seats, which were on the JumboTron end of the field, at the end zone corner.
The eyes of my young friend, Ian, grew wide as he took in the field, the stands packed with screaming people, his Niners running onto the field through the giant helmet.
The people around us in the stands seemed to relish having the young-first timer among them. As we stood for the Star-Spangled Banner, the gentleman behind us tipped Ian to keep an eye out for a fly-over by a formation of fighter jets. Sure enough, with a roar and a whoosh, the jets flashed overhead as Ian swiveled his head, shouting, “Where? Where?”
The game was a whirl as Ian was, in turn, fascinated by the game, the uniforms, the crowd doing the wave, the vendors with their cotton candy, lemonade and popcorn. (No beer in the stands, though, apparently to discourage overimbibing. By the time you leave the stands to go to the beer booth, then slog your way back up, half a quarter has gone by.)
We had some small binoculars to get us up close. I was explaining a play to Ian when I realized he was focused on getting up close to the cheerleaders.
Even though Ian said he wasn’t getting tired, he commented at the end of the third quarter how long the game was, and I figured it was time to start hiking to the car. As we drove him home, we listened as the 49ers rallied to come within two points of tying. Then we listened to the sports commentator rip into fans who had left before the end of the game.
Aside from giving Ian a thrill, seeing a pro ball game in person is just too much work for me. As far as I’m concerned, that’s why they invented TV.
Now a high school game – that’s a different story. For those who can’t get to see the Miners or the Bruins, Gil Dominguez’s shows on public access television are the next best thing. But for your $6 admission and the cost of a hot dog that helps the booster club, you can’t beat the hometown version.
A reader e-mailed to get clarification about our election letters policy this year. Here is what we’re doing:
• Word limits are the same as regular letters, 200.
• Every day, we will use half of our letters space for election letters, and try to publish a mix of the letters we get that day. Those day’s letters that don’t fit in print will be put online in our Web site’s opinion page section and our Election Central page, http://www.theunion.com/election.
• The election letters will stay one week on the Election Central page, then go into the searchable archive.
• Each person will be limited between now and Nov. 2 to one letter about a candidate or candidates, national or local, and one ballot measure.
• Because of the volume of letters we’ll be receiving, The Union’s Editorial Board has decided to suspend candidate-related Other Voices guest columns until after Nov. 2.
A couple of readers have complained that their letters didn’t get in the print edition, or that they don’t have an Internet connection. Admittedly, the policy is a tradeoff. The positive side is that letters are not limited to 100 words as in years past, and that we avoid the delays in publication that occurred – sometimes many weeks – because of lack of space.
Readers without Internet access usually have relatives or friends who are online. Also, there are computers available at libraries or in our lobby, with folks who can help you. If that doesn’t work, please call our Readership Editor, Dixie Redfearn, at 477-4238 and we’ll figure a way to help you read those online letters.
Richard Somerville is the editor of The Union. His column appears on Saturday.
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