College football rivalries such as Army-Navy, Texas-Oklahoma, and Ohio State-Michigan involve much more than just games. They are bigger-than-life spectacles. So it was a big deal for my teenage son when I took him to what is arguably the greatest rivalry in college football, the Ohio State-Michigan game.
Usually when I take my son to a sporting event, I don’t care all that much who wins. Being genetically programmed to be a social observer, I just enjoy the festive atmosphere and overall experience of the occasion.
For example, I never fail to be fascinated by such intellectually stimulating sights as boisterous, bare-chested fans with painted faces and purple hair. Or jerseys that display such highbrow prose as, “If you ain’t a Redskins fan, you ain’t sh–.” I think Freud would have had a field day at a 21st century American sporting event.
But something happened at the OSU-Michigan game that was different. When the final gun sounded — with OSU on top — jubilant Buckeye fans rushed onto the field to celebrate. It was a mob scene. No violence — just pure, uninhibited joy. After about ten minutes or so, it appeared that not one of the 105,000 fans in attendance had left the stadium.
Then, the unthinkable happened. My son, who had remarked several times about how cool it was that thousands of fans were rushing onto the field to celebrate, asked me if we could go down and join them in their joyous antics.
I didn’t take him seriously, of course. He knows me far too well to believe I would ever do anything so rash as storm a football field with a bunch of kids. I have a major aversion to looking like an ass in front of large crowds of people — especially if the crowd is composed mostly of college students. So my answer was “no” … “no” … and “no” again.
Unfortunately, my son has Ringer genes. So he asked again … and again . . . and again. Finally, he said the magic words, “C’mon, dad. Be daring. We’ll remember it the rest of our lives.” Such shameless, guilt-frosted words have a tendency to set off one’s Parental Guilt Button, which causes emotions to drown out logic and rational thought.
It’s all a blur to me now, but as near as I can figure, I must have gone temporarily insane. The last words I remember saying were, “What the heck. Let’s do it.” The next thing I knew, I was bolting over thirty-eight rows of seats to get to the edge of the field.
Once there, I found myself staring at a seven-foot drop over a cement wall. I gasped as my son jumped over the two-foot high railing and landed at the bottom of the wall. All I needed now was a crane and I could join him.
No crane in sight. Instead, I had to rely on impulse. Feeling like a Marine pursuing insurgents in Kandahar, I climbed over the railing and made the plunge. Alert the media: I landed in one piece and was alive!
For a half-hour or so, my son and I roamed the field. Like a psychedelic movie, college kids were swarming in every direction. What was surreal about the whole thing was that I felt as though I had seen every one of their faces before.
Why? Because they were the same kids who had swarmed the field 40 years earlier after another Ohio State victory over the evil empire from the north. The only difference then was that I was the son and my dad was me. I felt as though I were in a time warp!
As my son reached down and pulled up a clod of grass for a souvenir, my mind began to drift back to a more innocent time … hanging out at the Town House Drive-In with the guys … playing touch football in the street … slow dancing that would have today’s MTV-bred kids snickering.
In those days, my pals and I were — to borrow a phrase from Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities — masters of the universe. Now, in this chaotic, back-to-the-future atmosphere, I could almost feel that naive sense of teenage immortality once again, that innocent self-delusion that rapidly melts away when a young person comes face to face with the scorching realities of the adult world.
My son, meanwhile, was euphoric. I fought the urge to even consider the possibility that I might actually be enjoying the madness of the crowd, but I was overtaken by every parent’s greatest weakness: seeing his child genuinely happy.
Now that I’m safely back in the new millennium, I’m really glad I let it all hang out and took that trip in the Ohio Stadium Time Capsule. I do, however, feel compelled to leave you with one important piece of advice: Be careful about allowing your child to set off your Parental Guilt Button. I can tell you from firsthand experience that a seven-foot wall is a pretty long drop.