Welcome to the latest installment of Secondhand Sports, where I give you the inside track on a sporting event you most likely did not care to attend. This time, prepare for an in-depth look at FSU’s spring football game, which was mostly spent focusing on anything but FSU’s spring football game.
If there’s one lesson I learned from my childhood, it’s this: Go for the party, skip the spring football game.
Growing up, we always attended East Carolina’s Pigskin Pigout Party for the BBQ, music, autographs, and to see PeeDee the Pirate. But ECU’s spring game, the main event of the weekend, was always the lowest priority — and for good reason.
Spring games are the biggest affront to the term “spectator sport” that I could imagine. It’s a scrimmage masquerading as a real football game. Scoring systems are often made up and arbitrary, players switch teams, contact is limited, and it doesn’t matter one iota who wins. I’d rather watch paraplegic figure skating (actually, that might be awesome).
For coaches and players, they’re important, along with every other precious second of preseason practice time. But my real problem is that the rest of us are supposed to act like we care. I lost a piece of my soul every time I had to pretend that, “Yea, Deonte Thompson really looks primed for a big year. Did you see that go-route he ran in the third quarter of the spring game?”
Everyone is clamoring for a sneak peek of what their team will look like the following fall, but it doesn’t really work that way. Remember when Markus Manson led all rushers at UF’s 2006 spring game? Or when Chevon Walker did the same thing the next year? Or when Cam Newton threw for more yards than Tim Tebow in 2007? Well, maybe we should have paid more attention to that last one.
The point is that these things aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. It’s just a practice, but after a weekend in Tallahassee for the Seminoles’ spring game, I can understand the allure a little more.
Here’s how it went down (all times are approximate; it was that kind of day):
1:30: I arrive at the friend of a friend’s parents’ tailgate, wearing a No. 12 Florida jersey with MBJB on the back. I try to explain this is making fun of John Brantley, not in support of the Gators, but the joke doesn’t quite land. (Turns out said friend of a friend actually reads this blog. Shout-out to Kyler.)
1:35: I see I’m getting sized up by the die-hard Nole who’s running this shindig, so I go straight in for the friendly handshake and strike up a conversation. When the topic turns to the outlook for Florida next season, I begin explaining why the Gators suck now. This essentially boils down to “They just do,” but it really struck me at that point just how baffling UF’s fall from the top has been.
2:30: I gave in to peer pressure and slipped off the MBJB jersey, but I put it back on for a special Brantley round during a game of cornhole. The first throw goes 12 feet over the board, the second falls 20 feet to the right, the next goes into a tree, and I was sacked on the fourth. I really want to start a YouTube channel filled with videos of me making terrible throws in the MBJB jersey. It’ll be like the opposite of Johnny McEntee.
3:45: During the walk to the stadium, I’m informed that the dad I spoke to at the tailgate wanted to kill me. “When you walked up, he was like, ‘Oh, this kid’s gonna wear a Florida jersey to MY tailgate? That is NOT gonna fly.’”
4:15: We get to our seats and soak up the atmosphere. It’s basically a Punt, Pass & Kick tournament, without the passing or kicking. Starting quarterback E.J. Manuel is trying to see how many slightly off-target passes he can throw before one of his wideouts stabs him.
4:30: Cornerback/All-Around Baller Greg Reid does one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen on a football field. He catches a punt near midfield and tosses the ball down (no returns were allowed in the game, another reason why spring football games rock). As the opposing offense jogs off their sideline, Reid turns to them and starts jawing and nodding his head while backing away. He’s talking shit to his own teammates during a scrimmage after catching a dead-ball punt. I really can’t stress enough how much I love Greg Reid. He’s a freak athlete, he has a cool nickname (G5), he dances on the field, and most importantly, he’s blissfully unaware of any shred of possibility that he might not be the greatest athlete of all-time. He’s the kind of player who would get burned on a deep route (not a great cover guy), then celebrate emphatically after the receiver drops the pass, as if he caused it. And then he’ll run the ensuing punt back 60 yards.
4:47: Someone got a first down!
4:55: We go to the concession stand, which is being manned by a group of young black men from the Delta Sigma Pi fraternity. They’re wearing shirts that read: “Progressing Professionally since 1907″ and depict the evolution of a monkey to an ape to a human to a guy in a suit. I’m stunned that this shirt didn’t cause some kind of race riot, but then I figure it’s a black fraternity, and they can do whatever they want. I later learn this is co-ed business frat that’s open to all races, which means that potentially, at some point, a white guy handed that shirt to a black guy. I would kill to have been there for that transaction.
4:57: After getting over our astonishment, a few friends and I try to snap covert cell phone pictures of the shirt. I favor the “Lucky Number Slevin” technique, taken from Lucy Liu‘s character in the movie: You hold the phone to your ear as if you’re on a call, aim carefully and snap away (just make sure the flash and shutter sound are off — awkward). A friend goes with the “Dude look at this” move: Hold the phone up like you’re showing a video or picture to a friend, but you’re actually aiming and zooming in for a picture. He wins and get this photo:
5:05: The game’s been on for an hour, and it’s 7-7. FSU is on both sides of the scoreboard and still not managing to win.
5:19: After Manuel gets pick-sixed, my favorite thing in football happens: A white guy goes out to return the kickoff. I start yelling and fist-pumping, then make a bet that he’ll get past the 25. He fields it at the 5 and gets stuffed at the 13.
5:25: I’m still crushed about the white guy return, and we leave. On our way back to the tailgate, we notice three flags flying above the parking lot that really blew me away: Southern Miss, Yuengling and China.
6:00: Based on the noises coming from the stadium, I feel fairly confident saying that early in the second half, Chris Rix interrupted a play by riding Renegade across the field, hurling footballs at the handicapped fans in attendance and screaming, “I only parked there for an hour!”
6:30: We go for a walk around campus, which begins with passing an elderly gentleman who very noticeably shat his pants. If you can name a situation that’s simultaneously more hilarious and depressing, I would love to hear it.
6:35: I learn that FSU has a building called “HCB,” which literally stands for “Huge Classroom Building.” I immediately decide that my children will attend this school.
6:45: We throw the football around and start yelling QB names before each toss. The Tebow is obvious, the Leftwich involves a wind-up that drops almost all the way down to the ground, and though I won’t describe the Air McNair in full — I will say the pass doesn’t get thrown.
7:45: We’re back in the car, driving out of the tailgate lot, when an FSU fan approaches the front passenger window. He’s in his 50s, wearing a golf shirt and looking like you’re run-of-the-mill college dad. He leans in and says, “What the f— are y’all doing here?” After a long, stunned pause, he says, “Seriously, what the f— are y’all doing here?” We start to explain that we were at the same football game he went to, but before we can, he just yells “White Power!” goes for a fist pound and starts cackling as he walks away. I’ve tried not to dissect that one too much.
“What the f— are y’all doing here?” is a fair question to ask of anyone attending a spring football game, but after my first one as a semi-adult where I wasn’t working, I do understand it a little better.
The parts of the game we saw were boring, and I doubt any outsiders were able to learn much meaningful information from it, but it was a damn good time. And the more people who fall into the trap, the more fun it is.
I whole-heartedly disagree with anyone who thinks these games are a huge deal, but while I look at the fact that Alabama regularly pulls in 90,000+ for these contests as more of a testament to boredom than passion, I do have to admit, that would be one hell of a party.