Fast forward to Fall 1996. Yes, we did choose FSU (The Florida State University) because of their quality graduate programs in our respective fields--and the lovely stipends that were attached to said programs. However, there was another tangible benefit about which we learned upon arrival in Tallahassee--free football tickets for all students. Free tickets. NCAA football. The Seminoles. Garnet & Gold. Bobby Bowden. I started practicing my chop--tout de suite. September 7 couldn't arrive quickly enough for me.
Dressed in the first of many 'Noles game-day shirts I would eventually acquire, I was psyched. As we approached Doak Campbell Stadium (affectionately known as the Bobby Bowden Chapel), you could smell the barbecue and feel the excitement. The parking lots, now tailgate havens, were awash in all things garnet and gold. And, of course, as you entered the hallowed place, FSU Spirit Girls were there, face-paint tubes in hand, to complete your 'Nole ensemble with a perfectly-placed arrowhead--or whatever you chose. Of course, I was a willing participant. Honestly, I can't recall if my favorite Philosopher indulged in the "make-up". Likely, he didn't--he's rather understated like that. We balance each other out, you know.
To me, it seemed like thousands of folks were making their way up the spiral inclines that would take us to Saturday "church"--football is religion in the South, y'all. And, there would be thousands--82,300 to be exact. And, then, I heard it. The sound of the world-famous Marching Chiefs making their way into the stadium. It started with the drum line. Then, the brass made their presence known. If you've heard the Chiefs play, you know exactly what I mean. Goosebumps. Seriously. Yes, I love college football.
Now, most adults would simply look in the general direction of the music, nod approvingly, and make their way to their seats. Not this girl. Instead, I threw my program into the unsuspecting hands of my dear Philosopher, ran to the guardrails, squatted down, peered through the metal, like a kid at a candy counter. I couldn't quite see it all; so, I just laid down (yes, I laid down!) on the ramp, gazed delightedly at the 400-member marching band striding through the stadium innards, with an enormous grin on my face. People were walking past me, giggling a bit, and looking quizzically at my ever-patient Philosopher. "It's her first game," said he. And, that explains it all.
Several years later, I would have an office in that very complex, a view of the baseball stadium across Woodward Avenue, and share a parking lot with the now-retired Coach Bowden. My buddies and I would sometimes find ourselves lunching in the stadium, bringing our brown-bags or food court yummies to the bleachers, and watching the crew paint the end zone for that week's game. Once a fan, always a fan.
Many years have passed since those days--and since my first NCAA football game at Doak. My allegiances have changed a bit. For the most part, I am an SEC girl. I will make no apologies for the quasi-acrobatics and "Go, Baby, Go!" that accompanied Chris Davis' 109-yard game-winning touchdown return after a botched field goal by Alabama, in the last seconds of the Iron Bowl to give Auburn the win. And, yes, it's a family affair.
Praise the Lord and pass the dip! I'm ready for some football.