What did you do for fall break? Did you go to a tropical beach or a fancy resort? Did you spend your week building houses or playing with orphans? Maybe you just went home to New Jersey. As for me, I went to sunny California for a long weekend.
And for the sports nerd that I am I did not go to a beach or the Chinese Theatre. I didn’t escape to Alcatraz or go wine tasting in Napa Valley. I, along with my WXVU radio co-host Michael Bobich, decided to dedicate the three days we had in the Golden State to what America is all about: football.
The long weekend was a football marathon. Our goal was to go to a high school, college and professional football game in three days. We looked into a Pop-Warner game, but the team was out of town. Our aim was to observe and celebrate the many similarities and differences that existed between the levels of football.
Our first stop was in Concord, Calif., home to the De La Salle Spartans, Michael’s alma mater. De La Salle is known for its dominance on the gridiron, so much so that on the school’s Wikipedia page, “football” is listed first, higher than its academics and Roman Catholic background.
The Spartans are most known for their historic 151-game win streak (1992-2005), which is a national record. Along the way they won countless district, sectional, state and national titles and produced some great NFL talent including Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew and former Giant wide out, Amani Toomer.
Needless to say the odds were stacked against the poor team that they were facing.
In a 56-0 thrashing of Amador Valley, I was opened up to a high school culture that revolves around football. The stands were packed for much of the game despite the almost illegal brutality on the scoreboard. And although the Spartans were on the road, they brought just as many fans as their opponents.
We met a man named Tom Kirkbride who, despite no longer having a child enrolled in De La Salle, continues to go to the games years later. Over that time he has only missed one game and that was when he was in the hospital to have a deregulator put into his heart, and even then he sent his wife as a proxy to be his eyes. Tom, like so many of the high school fans, enjoys the dominance that the Spartans provide, but they ultimately come for the sense of community felt at the games.
That same community was felt on our second stop on the trip. We made our way to Palo Alto, Calif., where the Stanford Cardinals played host to the Southern Cal Trojans. If I learned anything about Pac-10 football, it is that the entire conference hates USC like the NFL hates the Cowboys.
For the first time in over ten years, the Cardinals were ranked higher than the Men of Troy and the campus at Stanford could smell blood in the water. The sense of superiority coupled with the spectacular northern California weather caused the fans to turn out in droves. The game was the climax of a great day of people exploring campus, cheering in the streets and playing touch football everywhere.
You could tell even more than at the high school game the night before that people (myself included) had no affiliation to the university other than their desire to be apart of the community event.
I was most impressed, however, with the spirit and representation that the fans of USC brought that Saturday. Despite having their team unranked and facing all sorts of NCAA allegations, the Trojan fans made up a great percentage of the stadium. I didn’t exactly understand why they would want to make a trip to hostile territory to play in a game in which their team was double-digit underdogs. By game time, I realized why.
That Sunday night we capped off our football weekend with a trip to Candlestick Park to see the Forty Niners play my Philadelphia Eagles. It was an exhilarating feeling tailgating outside of the stadium overlooking the bay, knowing that I was in hostile territory. It was a good experience to feel different, wear different colors and step outside of a community.
As we walked toward the stadium, I felt a stronger kinship to the Eagles fans in the parking lot than I normally do every Sunday in Philadelphia. It was as if we had made the trip together, and even though we didn’t know each other, we were each other’s family for the night.
The one thing that I will take away from this trip was the unity that the game provides. While the evils of football were also exposed (time for another article), I saw the reason that football is America’s game.
At the high school level, this sense of community is given to you because they most likely represent the town that you live in. In college you choose the community that you wish to be a part of by deciding between Cal and Stanford. While in the NFL the community you decide to be apart of is not because of obligation, but because of mutual possession of clothing.
Our trip was exhausting. I mean, the players only had to play one game while we watched three. Luckily our football-watching stamina was very strong and our condition at its peak. Maybe next time we will train harder, sit longer and watch four games, because you never know the next time that Pop-Warner team will be on ESPN.