The Game – It’s The Only Place To Be

My future brother-in-law sidled up to me Christmas Eve at the family gathering. Surrounded by the detritus of wrapping paper, he looked me in the eye and accused me — good-naturedly, I think — of, well, his words: “You’re brainwashing my daughter.”

Mike bleeds Blue. He was wearing Wildcat blue at the moment. The daughter in question wore red. Lena, a high school freshman stamping out her own identity, apparently wears red a lot these days.

She’s the constant companion of Aunt Joanie — my sweetie — at Cardinal games. Lena’s first games were simply a way to get out of the house. Now she’s smitten.

She, like many before her, including yours truly, has fallen in love with the hoopla of being there. The players glistening with effort. The pep band. Fans cheering and yelling at the zebras. The ebb and flow twixt victory and defeat. Simply being in the gym, being at the game. It’s a most magical place.

I ran into a lifelong buddy, Koz, at the first U of L game this season. “We’ve been at this 50 years,” I greeted him. “Fifty-five,” he corrected me. We reminisced about the Armory and the early years at Freedom Hall, when we had the place pretty much to ourselves.

My buddy David and I have attended hundreds of games. We used to buy the cheap seats, then scurry around to co-opt the best we could find vacant — that is, if Hymie Greenberg, our pal Jimmy’s dad, didn’t beat us to them.

Very few of the games were on the tube back then. Not that it mattered. If they played, we came. Still do.

Recently, David sent me an article, the gist of which was: It’s easier and better to watch sports on the tube. Save money. No T-shirt tosses, incessant timeout commercials or Ring Road. Plus, there’s the comfort of one’s very own recliner, a fridge nearby and the fidelity of HDTV.

There are tales of New York Giants fans who sold seats over the Web to their biggest game in years, against the history-making New England Patriots, who stood poised for best-ever status.

I blanched at the heresy.

Thanks to this writing gig, I’m blessed with a seat courtside at Cardinal tilts, not far from photographers’ row, where I used to sneak decades ago. I glory in the view of the arena filling up, the players warming up, the sneakers’ squeak, the tally of buckets.

I get to games early. It is, truth be told, my raison d’etre. What I did with my folks when an adolescent. What I did with my pals when old enough to drive. What I do now with Joanie. And Lena.

Not that I don’t watch games on the tube. Ask Joanie. She’ll confirm how much free time she has to do her thing around the house without being bothered by the guy in the Ekorness, clicker in hand.

As I told David after he sent me that article, watching at home isn’t the same. If you experienced those games when the Cards and Memphis State were rivals, or were in Rupp for any of those Wildcat smackdowns with Arkansas or LSU, you know.

Being there is the deal.

Shame on those Giants fans selling their seats for the Pats game. Feh!

I admonished David to make sure he stays in good shape in case he needs to start rolling me into the game in a wheelchair. Then again, Lena might be pushing us all in, while, to her dad’s dismay, wearing a red sweatshirt.