It’s been a while since I first noticed sports in America and saw my first event live. The experience of watching football in the big house in Ann Arbor was special and I’ve been wanting to write about it a while. It could have been Trevor Noah, but my husband showed me a video from a comic who talked about the difference in sports in America and elsewhere. In other countries commentators talked about “it looks like a good day today” while American sports commentators are number crunching with statistics and trivia. When we had just arrived in our hotel room, I did see many dedicated newspaper pages for sports and a ton of statistics. I remembered thinking, that’s why they win so much internationally. Everything is so excessively competitive and professional.
I had never watched a football game before and I still don’t understand why they call it football. Except one kick that gives the team an additional point, there’s no foot involved. People are catching ball, and handball could have been a better name too. I don’t know what soccer means. But I did find out that, Soccer was a nickname derived out of “Association football“, in England. But football somehow it seems more intuitive. Nomenclature aside, there’s nothing common between the games. I’ve never been a fan of soccer or global football, so I wasn’t feeling touchy about the name in any case. But I hate being at sporting events where I can’t understand what’s happening. I need to be fully involved. In fact, naturally, Ogden Nash was talking about me when he wrote the confessions of a born spectator. My husband assured me that he’d help me. He was too involved to help. This is what really happened.
Watching football in the Big house in Ann Arbor
The queues were maize and blue
I waited at the gate while he deposited his camera cover. The camera is allowed but without a cover. We had queued up outside and the Big House was to host a 100,000+ people. Now that’s a big crowd no matter where you are from. There was security but somehow the queues were managed. No one was pushing, breaking queues and I had absolutely no anxiety that I would feel lost because unlike many cricket games, I did have a phone on me. Two college teams were playing- University of Michigan versus North Western. But the only thing visible from my pole position of waiting next to the security officer was a sea of maize and blue. With a couple of purple dots somewhere far away for effects. The security office kindly asked if I was a new recruit, which I politely declined and shared my predicament of my husband’s camera cover. In my excitement I also said that it was my first game ever. He looked at me with an “aww you poor baby kitten” look and then luckily moved up to hi-five “Go Blue”. All the local buses were all kinds of “Go blue” and “Hail the victors”. The whole city was poised for the match. There was a helicopter and some big city governor (or mayor?) was also going to be visiting.
It’s a college game. But doesn’t feel like one.
I’ve been to three universities in three different countries. In my head, I was amusing myself to think- COEP versus VJTI, or, Strathclyde versus Glasgow, or Pforzheim versus Stuttgart, but those comparisons are futile. No one can be so out there like American colleges. I did have the benefit of knowing two rules and someone called a Blindside because I saw Sandra Bullock in the movie, and felt sure that I knew about what to expect. But in reality, it’s a college game. And doesn’t feel like one.
I remember seeing an international badminton match in Germany between two European nations. And even that wasn’t anything in comparison to this. I’ve been to big cricket matches – even an India Australia game, with thousands of other viewers, and this football game reminded me of those big experiences. I found myself comparing this to an International cricket match. And yet, it was college kids- most of them in their teens that I was watching.
There’s a few things I learned quickly:
- Let’s Go blue. (M-I-C-H-I-G-A-N)
- Hail to the victors (there’s a new wave coming!)
- The cheerleads are spectacular and so is the band (somehow we need those IPL people to be trained)
- Rudock. Peppers. Harbaugh. Touchdown. Wolverines. (what did I miss?)
- Season tickets (not ready for the commitment on the first date)
- Student area (Don’t think I ever could handle it, it’s too much for me)
- Tailgate (I don’t drink beer, wasted)
The proportions were big
There were other athletes who were honored, buy the ticket for the girls basketball announcements, and more statistics than I could remember during TV breaks. It was a mad house. And I wondered, just how anyone could ever be able to have a different team as their favorite. My husband was busy hi-fiving random strangers each time the team scored points or foiled an attack. People were booing, hailing and chanting constantly. Everyone was fully involved. If this wasn’t an exhibition of extreme sport marketing, I don’t know what is. And I was finding it hard to imagine, if they could do it because of large funds, or the fact that people were really so into it. Everyone was willing to invest, time, energy and money into what could have been a cricket match in a small school stadium that no one could ever get an audience for.
I grew up in India always liking Mark Taylor’s cricket team, although I was always a Tendulkar fan. But as a team, I preferred the other one. I never associated the feeling of patriotism with sports specially as a kid. I supported teams I liked and did not base it on geography. And as a child of a conflict zone, re-imagining state geography, loyalty or motives can never be too hard. I liked my small rebellions.
As a grown up, when I watched Saina Nehwal, Vijender Singh and Sushil Kumar, I understood it differently. It felt like they were beating the odds as underdogs in a system that does not entirely support professional sports or fund it. Sure, we have people who get college seats or railway jobs with their sports performances, but many athletes fall through because of an inherent lack of funding or encouragement. Parents in my age group still tell their kids to be engineers.
It’s changing surely. But it’s hard to imagine how life would have been if I grew up in Ann Arbor as a child exposed to the Big house. How would I take to extreme competitiveness of professional sports- and life? How would I define loyalty and pride towards a team? And would I ever be able to see it differently?
I wonder if these kids know that this really isn’t common. And I wish rich Indian parents at least in the US stop pushing their kids to extreme levels of nerdiness. What’s not to like in sports or art ?!