My Day on the Sidelines
by Niemo, 10/28/02
Skydiving, visiting the Bahamas, and standing on the sidelines for a Virginia Tech football game. Maybe there are a few other things on my checklist of things to do before I kick the bucket, but now there is one less thing left to do on that list after Saturday. Thanks to one of my good buddies, I got the opportunity to rub elbows with the Untouchables, an NFL player, and a former President (no, not of the USA, but of Virginia Tech) on the sidelines of Worsham Field for the Temple game.
Let me start from the beginning. Wednesday started out like any other day. I arrived at work shortly after 8:30 and prepared for a long day of instant messaging and web surfing. I was catching up on the latest development in the Serial Sniper case when my friend, who sells his second VT season ticket to me, IMíd me. "Guess whoís going to be on the sidelines on Saturday. We are!"
He began to fill in the details as I sat there silently stunned. Every week the Athletic Department has a drawing out of the pool of people who renewed their season tickets via the internet. The grand prize winner gets $500. The second prize winner gets two sideline passes. Iíd say we got the better deal there.
After I stopped hyperventilating, I suddenly thought the worst. My buddy can be a real jokester at times and I started to worry I was the victim of some sick, ruthless joke. But after I made him retell me the story for the fifth time, I figured he must be telling the truth because if it was a joke he would have long since tired of recounting the story. Alas, thanks to me being his seating partner and thanks to me going two hours out of my way last year to take him to the UVa game, I got the extra pass.
As I awoke in Richmond early Saturday morning, I found myself thinking about things I never worry about on a game day. Things like, "What should I wear?" Instead of my normal lucky maroon underwear, jeans, and a long-sleeve maroon VT shirt, I found myself pulling out khakis and a nice VT polo. One buddy even suggested I wear my official Oxendine or Druckenmiller jersey and official Myron Newsome game pants (donít ask) to the game and pretend to be a player. I decided against this; after all, I didnít want to scare Lamar Cobb (#28) or Chris Clifton (#16) into thinking they were being replaced. I decided when all was said and done to just stick with what got me here, and went with the normal outfit.
Now it was time to leave for the game. I am what you might call meticulous on game days. My friends would use other words, such as "anal" or "unbearable", but letís just say I like to have a set schedule. The first thing to throw me off on Saturday was not knowing how long it would take from Richmond -- I usually come from NOVA -- to get to VT. We didnít arrive in town until 11. I then found out my friend wanted to park near his brotherís apartment, adding 15 minutes to the walk to the tailgate. He also had to drop a ticket off at Foxridge.
At this point I was more steamed than JoePa at Big Ten officiating. We finally arrived at the tailgate at 11:40, just 30 minutes before we were to go meet our escort for the day at Cassell. Just 30 minutes to take my "Valium" -- the kind of Valium that comes in 12 ounce cans and helps me relax before each game. By 12:10 my seat partner was turning into Barney from the Simpsonís, "After this beer, and the next beer, we can go to Cassell." Serenity now!
At 12:40 we finally met our escort, Steve, at Cassell. "Youíre late," he uttered. Upon seeing the smoke coming out of my ears I think he realized he better not ask and just let it go. He led us into the stadium through one of the private entrances in the South End Zone. He told us about the new media room and visitorís locker room, but didnít bother showing them to us. He knew what we wanted to see.
Walking out into the South End Zone on the field I felt like Rudy when he walks into Notre Dameís stadium for the first time. Though I had been in the stadium for 53 consecutive home games now, and been on the sidelines, field, and goalposts on several occasions (as an unwanted guest), I felt like a Lane virgin on this day. We both started giggling like school girls and quickly turned into Wayne and Garth from Wayneís World, flashing our sideline pass to everyone in the same zip code as us. At this point I found out Steveís favorite word: no. My seemingly legitimate questions were all met with the same answer. "Can we line up at the end of the Highty Tighties when the players run out?" "No." "Can we hold the 10 yard chain?" "No." "Can I not punt a football into the kicking net?" "Yes." So much for Jedi mind tricks.
The first thing that surprised me about our sideline rights was we were allowed to walk anywhere. Now, Steve had to be within scolding distance of us, and we had to stay behind the second dotted line on the sidelines or in the end zone (the first is for photographers), but we pretty much could go anywhere we wanted, including right behind the bench. We decided to walk down towards the North End Zone and spotted Nick Sorensen. Despite my initial urge to say, "Field is awfully wet today, kind of like that game in í98 at BC where you fumbled 12 times", I managed to be polite.
Let me just say, despite my opinion on Nickís positional football talents, I can say he is a great guy and Iím happy for him and the success heís had the last two years more than ever. And oh those dreamy eyes and long locks of hair! He chatted with us for several minutes and even came back to talk to us a couple of times during the game, telling us how great it was to see two guys so excited to be on the sidelines. Excited might be an understatement. My buddy received his first warning of the game from the SID in the second quarter when he launched into a "Why donít we throw the lob to Wilford" tirade. Apparently you just cannot do that on the sideline. "You are a representative of the university" as Steve told us. "Just look at how much press Lavar Arrington got for getting kicked off the Penn State sidelines a few weeks ago." Whoa, did I just get compared to Lavar Arrington?
While many of the people on the sidelines would flash us these "act like youíve been here before" glances, I just had to be me. I hadnít been here before, and I probably never will be again. It was kind of like when I hit the only home run I hit in my life in a menís adult baseball league a few years back. I knew I should have acted like Iíd been there before, but thatís just not me. As I rounded third I launched into a "ride the pony" dance made popular by Deion Sanders in many end zones in the early Ď90ís. Most of my teammates loved it except for the guy who was on-deck and realized he would soon have a ball stuck in his ear thanks to my dance. So I was me on the sideline: made noise for the D on every play, jumped up and down giving four knuckles to anyone in sight on big plays, and taking more pictures than a redneck at Graceland. Oh, was it great.
Shortly into the game I realized all those "noís" that applied to us did not apply to Dr. Torgersen. I used to be the head of the tour guide association at VT and knew him and his daughter fairly well while I was a student in the mid-Ď90ís. So we were talking and catching up on things when he excused himself. He walked down to the playersí Gatorade table and helped himself to a drink, something strictly forbidden to us. He also did not obey the second white line rule. But heís earned it -- what a great representative for our university who is still teaching today out of love of doing just that: teaching. I had to just look jealously as he was more of a regular at the Gatorade table than Norm was at Cheerís, while I became more and more parched.
You could just soak in the crowd from the sidelines. I see why these guys put in so much work to play this game. It is amazing to have the affection of that many people. The "Letís Go!" -- "Hokies!" cheer just makes your hair stand up. The electricity that went through the stadium on Easlickís easy touchdown catch blew me away. Hmmm, maybe I should not say any touchdown catch is easy against Temple. But I digress. What an environment our stadium is now. Recruits must just get swept away.
As for the game, I was amazed at how swept up you get in things. The game just flew by because there was always something going on. Unlike in the stands where your only distraction from the game or TV timeouts is liquid warmth or chatty neighbors, there are a million distractions on the sidelines. For starters, the VTTV camera girl was a nice distraction. She was hotter than Barry Bonds in the postseason. At one point I think she started heading to the side of the field away from the action to get away from our staring eyes.
The chaos of personnel changes is also an amazing thing to watch Ė people running on and off the field constantly, at times with no warning (such as after KJís first fumble). Listening to the coaches was great entertainment. Letís just say Bud Foster is one intense dude. He didnít break any chalkboards, but you can tell the passion he has for playing great defense. Even the players can be distracted when they are the sidelines. I made sure to congratulate Vincent Fuller after both of his picks.
I now see why players do not care about the score as long as they win. You get so caught up in your job and the chaos of the game, that as long as you have more points at the end you are happy.
After the game, Steve told us it was time to leave. He was exhausted and wanted to head home to watch the Notre Dame game on TV, even though my buddy had ruined it for him early in the third quarter. I was crushed. I never wanted to leave. But shortly after Steve took us out the gates at the top of the tunnel, I realized I had a sideline pass and could just go right back in, and did. My buddy and I sat at the top of the tunnel waiting for autographs. We were doing an inside job. Every player had to walk past us. I usually am not an autograph guy, Iíd rather get a picture with them, but I was short on film due to such photographic masterpieces as "me and the red guy", "me and the 10 yard chain", and "me so close to the Gatorade table I can taste it." Oh well.
I collected about 30 autographs from players and coaches (could not find Casey Beamer, though). One player tried to crawl up the tunnel to sneak past the autograph hounds, but then saw me in a place he couldnít get by without signing and just submitted to signing for a while. To no oneís surprise, Ronyell spent the most time signing. And he went out of his way to flash that smile and his 14-karat gold teeth at anyone within shouting distance (which is quite a large distance considering Ronyellís ability to shout).
Jim Davis even took off a cleat so he could give a small boy the sweatband he had on his ankle (now thereís a collectorís item). Some of the guys seemed to sign either just for good public relations or because Beamer told them to, but all of them did it and were very respectful. You could tell KJ and Marcus Vick would have rather been on their way home, but both took the time to sign for legions of kids and even take a picture with me (no Ronyell smile, though). Suggs was the only player I could not find who I wanted an autograph from, but Steve promised to get that for me (thanks a million, Steve-o).
And I would not bet against us this weekend. From talking with most everyone after the game, including the coaches, they really want to put a whoopiní on Pitt this coming weekend. They have not forgotten last year. And a certain player, letís call him S. Witten, no thatís too obvious, Shawn W., is ready for you #5. He knows you are the one that broke his leg and is planning to have a big day. (Mental Note: boo #5.)
All in all it was an amazing day and an experience I will never forget. I wish the scoring differential had been a little wider, but a win is a win. I was exhausted from standing all day (I know, poor me Ė maybe add a recliner to the sidelines, Steve), but the power of the Rally Monkey lifted my spirits upon getting home to Arlington Saturday night.
The only thing that could have made Saturday better would have been if CBS had been doing the game and Jill Arrington
had been the sideline reporter. Oh well, I guess Iíll just have to get used to sitting with the mere peasants again