I moved to Charlotte from Greeley, Colo., midway through my sophomore year.
We moved during Christmas break. It was a lonely time, when I was coming to grips with moving two time zones away. I hadn’t lived a day without the Colorado Rockies – the mountains this time – always pointing me west.
During the last week of school, there was a bonfire at Greeley West High.
I remembered it for years after, because I walked on the still-hot embers of the fire later that night, and melted the bottoms of my shoes. I remembered it also because someone saw me staring into the flames and reached out.
They told our MC to tell me goodbye, and that I’d be missed. I survived the move, it turns out. I might have even thrived. The Carolinas feel like home now.
This week, people stepped up when I didn’t feel I needed to be stepped up for. I’m glad you did. Although I don’t want the hand on my shoulder … well, it’s comforting to know it’s there. That you’re there. Even if I don’t understand what you’re there for.
But the girls’ questions aren’t going to answer themselves, right?
1. What is a bonfire?
It’s defined as “a large, open-air fire used as part of a celebration, for burning trash, or as a signal.”
It could be all three. If our soccer team’s ship wrecks on an island after we win a tournament (just our luck, right?), and we have nowhere to toss your juice boxes, we could make a bonfire.
The fire could be our S.O.S.
Bonfires are fickle. They warm, but they also melt your sneakers. And the Ewoks were about to barbecue Luke, Han and Chewie on one. And they celebrated around one in my least favorite scene in any Star Wars movie. (It’s still 37,000 times better than the best scene in Mama Mia.)
2. What’s on the side of Ohio State’s helmets?
Those are Buckeye stickers. Never mind for a moment that a top-ranked football team is named for a state flower. Teams’ coaching staffs award exceptional plays with these stickers. The lousier the helmet with buckeye leaves, the more accomplished he is. Ohio State was the first to use this system.
Gobs of teams in college football now stick it to star players with helmet merits.
Stanford – the Cardinal, another fauna-inspired mascot – gives out ax blades. Southern Methodist uses stickers that look like a skull and crossbones, but are “warriors and swords.” Sledge hammers are doled out at Arkansas. Vanderbilt gives out ship anchors. Tulane’s game-turning plays warrant Fleur-De-Lis, that look like mini Saints logos.
Who can beat Louisiana-Lafayette’s hot peppers stickers? Fitting for a team known as the Ragin Cajuns.
3. How do football commentators get their job?
The must earn 37 sledge hammers, 17 ship anchors and enough hot peppers to keep it interesting.
You might think it’s a perfect job for me – you get to watch a game and ramble on about it. I’m kind of stellar at that.
When I was a kid, my sister and mom noticed when the TV guys would say what I had just said.
Broadcasters go to school to become football commentators.
They’re usually the little guy on the right who never played football. Or if they did, it was back in the 50s, when you could be little and have a generic position, like, end. This broadcasting school grad gives the play-by-play account of the game.
Then there’s the jock, on the left. He’s well dressed, and has played this game. During the pregame show, he holds the microphone in whichever hand he wears his Super Bowl ring on. He’s great. He’s played the game, and has embarrassing stories about all the players.
It’s great if you have a voice that sounds like gumption and gravel, like Cris Collinsworth. They even use it on the Madden games. I rode in an elevator with him from the pressbox. He let the scribes share his space, and made a funny about a hotel key he dropped.
“That one was from three cities ago,” he said. Brought the house down.
Collinsworth then followed his entourage through the crowd when the doors opened. They formed a blocking wedge ahead of him that I saw as I was snowplowed to the right so he could pass. I raised my arms in disbelief.
It was definitely a block in the back. And the stupid ref missed it.
Stars always get the call.
4. Could a defensive player pick up an offensive player and carry him down the field in football?
If he ever tried, I’m sure Chris Collinsworth’s entourage would take care of him.
He wouldn’t go far. Back in the day, a proper tackle meant hitting a guy in the thighs or mid-drift with your shoulder pads.
You kept your helmet to one side, and maybe even lift a ball carrier off the field. But you put him down a yard or so later.
Imagine Packers defensive end Julius Peppers, basketball tall at 6-foot-7. Imagine he’s grabbed Eagles back Darren Sproles (compact, at a dad-sized 5-6).
He’d better sprint like Usain Bolt with Sproles on his shoulder, or the Eagles would chop-block Peppers to the ground. Anyway, refs would call the play dead, because the rules say they should give a ball carrier his forward progress.
As Peppers carries Sproles backward, there’s no more forward progress.
That is, if the refs even saw it. I’m still fuming over that block in the back.
5. How old would your dad be today?
He would be 64. He’d be a year from retirement from IBM. It’s hard to believe he’s been gone for 14 years! Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him. He’d be so proud of you girls. I know he’d love to watch you play. His own son was a bit of a bench warmer, and he still showed up for me.
Every time I cover a game, I remember a ritual we had when we went to sporting events together. We’d walk a lap around the stadium while everyone else stood in line for nachos or the bathroom. When he had tickets to a game that I wasn’t going to, he’d show them to me and say, “read ‘em and weep!”
More often, he’d take me. We saw Larry Bird’s final visit to Charlotte. Great seats. Even better was the impromptu walk race we had from the parking lot to the front gate. I can only imagine what people we zipped by thought of the sight.
I’m sure I won.
But I won’t trust the ref to get that one right.