The eyes of the nation were upon them.
Under fluorescent lights, the winged bastions of Oregon streamed onto the field, fleet feet robed in Day-Glo, silver helmets adorned with their proud crest, standing breathless, exulted. Toe to toe against the roughest in the state, the sometimes champions, the present defenders of the field.
The stadium, divided in two, roars, shakes, threatens to collapse from the frenzied passion of the crowd. On one side, burnt auburn and deep azure and Southern twangs pack the stands, the audience slashing the air with fevered fists, chanting a war cry. Across the battlefield, the stands are decked in emerald, the spectators lifting their hands in perfect Os, arms outstretched and hopes soaring to the top of the fluorescent stadium, deep in the desert and far from home.
The minstrels of either side bring the crowd to a fever pitch, weaving the rhythms and melodies native to their homelands through the stands, across the field, twining around friend and foe alike. The choruses appear, one beaked and breezy, the other fierce and feline. They dance before the crowd, raising their furred and feathered forearms in anticipation, drawing walls of noise from their audiences. They are ready to narrate the show.
The warriors approach the field, and—all of a sudden—the battle begins.
Sweeping up and down the field, the men sprint and clash, weaving routes, crashing helmet-to-helmet, wrapping their uncommonly large bodies around the ankles of their opponents. Feathers fly again and again, but a glimmer of hope appears on the scoreboard horizon; the ball sails triumphantly though the posts, the rule-keepers lifting their hands in tandem, signaling a small victory.
The stadium thunders. It’s too early in the game for risks—and there is a collective gasp when the brash fowls fool their feline adversaries, shooting into the endzone, and lighting up the numbers overhead. For a second it seems that all falls silent, and we wait with bated breath. But our upholder, our superbly swift runningback dives, slow-motion, across the lines and inside the pylons. It’s unexpectedly impetuous. But it’s impossibly successful. And there is hope, there is pride. There is the tangible feeling that these soldiers, with silver wings painted on their broad shoulders, belong on this field. To win the day; the taste is almost tangible.
Midway through the battle, the players collapse onto hard wooden benches, soaked in sweat and breathing hard. The generals of both gesticulate wildly, banging on lockers, on clipboards, on the shoulders of their men. “This is our day,” they say. “This day belongs to us.”
On the field, the choruses and the minstrels once again take up their crafts, inspiring big hearts and high hopes in the chests of the crowd. “This day belongs to us,” they say. “The eyes of the nation are upon us, and this is our day.”
The respite is over all too soon. The two lines of men push against each other. They drag and dash and dance, leaping vertically and diving into the turf, sometimes exploding out of the collapse of bodies, other times falling to the ground, the coveted ball slipping loose or finding its way into the hands of the enemy. It is war by attrition, as each run on and off, up and down the field, desperate for the pride of victory, for the vanity of the title, for the return home triumphant and victorious, secure in the comfort of conquest. Both stand upon this grass undefeated, the grave reality that only one will leave as such begins to wear on the minds of the teams.
They are worn, they are tired. Their costumes are streaked with dirt and grass, some with blood. Whistles sound over the crowd and the thundering stampede of cleated feet begin to show signs of fatigue. The clock ticks down slowly, and then time seems to speed, the numbers seem to drop faster and faster as the Oregon citadels watch their hopes dwindling, dwindling, dwindling… All of a sudden, there is no time, and there is no hope. Every eye turned towards the field, whether intimate or remote, begins to believe what is tragedy for some and triumph for others.
The Day-Glo smeared with dirt, the yellow crests indelibly marred from helmets violently crashing against each other, the Ducks limp off the field, surrounded by the furious fever of the once-more victorious Tigers. Their perfect season marred by a single hash mark in the “loss” column; their unprecedented trek to national recognition book-ended by heartrending defeat; their one chance at the big dance over. The trip home will be quiet. Some will speculate at next season; for others, it’s too late. Next season they’ll be gone, perhaps to greater victories or perhaps to meaningless jobs. The vestiges of national glory have faded faster than the last cymbal clash.
The heat, the noise, the light, the drama. The highest rated cable broadcast ever. The meteoric rise of a once-mediocre franchise to stand against repeated champions of the nation. The pride of the team, the students, the community. The tension and the resolution, the ecstatic cheers and dejected sighs. The costumes and the music, the tension and the rivalry. The presentation, the exposition and the conclusion of the 2011 BCS Championship game was more than theatre—for those sporting green and yellow in all corners of the country, the final game of the postseason was a tragedy of Elizabethan proportions.
Read Full Post »