What follows is a meandering piece of prose that lacks a central thesis and uses mixed metaphors. Somehow, these two particularly damning facts about the following piece of writing seem oddly appropriate for the start of college football season. You've been warned.
There's a prevalent philosophy in education that the best way to learn a language is through near-complete immersion. The payoff? Constant stimuli, constant exposure, and constant arrest of your attention. The ebbs and flows of the college football season – the thrill-a-minute roller coaster for which you wait in line six days – are a language unto themselves. Dual-threat quarterbacks gliding and galloping through space inspire modifiers never before uttered. Sounds left by safeties extirpating receivers create either the sweetest or sickest onomatopoeia letters can form. College football at both its most basic and/or at its pinnacle takes the foundation of all language – a subject does something, e.g.: "You do" – and runs with it.
For those in the vicinity of mid-Missouri, immersion starts again Saturday.
Two years ago, the incomparable Spencer Hall wrote what is literally my favorite piece of writing on the planet. Here I use the term "literally" in the truest sense of the word and not the bastardized version of "figuratively," as Spencer so perfectly captures what fall Saturdays mean to so many. You owe it to yourself to read it in its entirety, bookmark it, then read it again.
I do know, however, that like everything else this experience, this randomness we do each fall means so much more to me now than it did before. It is not enough to admit that your seriousness becomes that much more serious when you reproduce. Your arbitrary passions, your silliness, your distractions become that much more intense now, if only because you understand how limited a resource they are. The whistle blows. The conferences order themselves. Then you will face the winter again, holding the note and understanding the urge to write those words on a sheet of paper: "Football season is over."
Unlike Spencer, there's been no child born into my life to start the ticking clock. I'm not sure I could even fathom the system calibration that ensues. But on a much smaller note, my path into the workforce and my move further away from mid-Missouri in the 20 months since leaving the University continues to make my relationship with the program evolve and adapt. Linguistic immersion isn't exactly easy living in a culture that doesn't speak the language.
For those of you, like me, who are expatriates outside Mizzou's established geographical footprint, it's probably an incontrovertible fact that you are "That Mizzou Fan" to everyone you know in that you are simply the only Mizzou fan they know. To the people you talk to daily, the Missouri Waltz might as well be the Foxtrot with a Scott Joplin tune playing in the background. As such, I know for an absolute fact that your daily conversations with colleagues and random strangers have been the exact same as mine, "Yes, I am well, thanks for asking. Indeed, this is odd weather we're having. No, I don't know how we're going to do in the SEC. Yes, I do realize how good the SEC has been in the last decade. Oh, you say you never considered Missouri to be in the Southeast, that's very profound. You have a good day as well." The monotony of the conversations and arguments are what they are at this point, as are the mind-numbing cultural analyses that have swarmed the Internet like summer cicadas.
It's an odd juxtaposition at times. The offseason is an amalgamation of the murmuring white noise that engulfs the spring and summer months fused with a near-pathological addiction waiting for the game to return. Something about this game — about this team and about this university — inspires this guttural, visceral reaction. It's equal parts brand loyalty and blind loyalty. And for those of us in black and gold, it takes new meaning in 2012.
It's no secret I grew up in an SEC household. A gameworn Alabama jersey from a nearly a half-century ago hangs in my old closet at my childhood home. I'd trade part of my portfolio for a guarantee that my first-born male heir would have Verne Lundquist's laugh and would sleep under a mobile that rotates between Every True Son, Old Missouri, the Missouri Waltz and the SEC on CBS theme song. One of my favorite photos of all-time features my father and I along the sidelines at Bryant-Denny Stadium prior to an Alabama/Florida game with the ears of Big Al enveloping each of us. What football means to each of us individually is what makes it so special to us collectively, which I'm now thinking is an exquisitely apropos sentiment for the value of football in this conference as a whole. My business is football, but my leisure is football as well. Twenty years ago, the universities that my father, my brother and myself called/would call our own were in three separate conferences. This year, they represent three of 14 names housed under one banner. A family game is now all within the family.
Ten months ago, the University of Missouri forever altered its state of athletic existence. The playing field has changed (both literally and metaphorically, I guess). The logos change. The uniforms change. The opponents change. These are all details in the grander truth: The experience of Missouri Football has unequivocally and indisputably changed. College football's connective tissue through generations is the commonality of experience. We eat the same burgers at Booches, talk about the same seats at Faurot, and exchange notes on which downtown Columbia establishments held us voluntarily hostage in our early 20's. It's why my friends and I, despite a 40-plus-year age gap, stood beaming and bullshitting with the two older gentlemen behind us with tears in their eyes at the 2008 Cotton Bowl. We come from different times, different locations, different lives... but the immersion lets us speak a common language.
2012 Missouri Football is upon us. It will be unlike anything that has ever existed before it. Soon enough, the players, the games, the narratives and the experiences will all coalesce into a language of their own. We hope and pray for a flowing, rhythmic account that seduces us all.
It all begins, and from more than 900 miles away from Ol' Mizzou, my wish and my request for you, dear readers, is simple: Immerse yourselves. Spencer Hall's eternal September is set to give way to 2012's actual September, and to those of us beholden to the wonders that this game gives us annually, that is the sweetest phrase of all.