Thursday, August 30, 2018

UVA Football--Hope Springs Eternal

Because it has been a while, I feel the need to reacquaint readers with the central place the University of Virginia and its sports teams play in this blog. Huge. Humongous. Out-sized. Perhaps obsessively large. But a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

For most of the past 31 years I've attended at least one football game a year, and for many of those years I've been season ticket holder. Two of my best friends in the world and I each have two tickets in a block of six in the upper deck behind the goalpost opposite the jumbotron/hill at Scott Stadium. As we aged and gained economically, I suppose we could have gotten better seats, but we like these just fine.

My "in-person" obsession with UVA sports until the last few years was restricted to football. Some of you know that UVA has had a few lean years, but there were some glimmers of hope last year with a team that won six games (only to be keelhauled by Navy in a regrettable bowl appearance). The rise of UVA men's basketball as a national powerhouse has added to my in person watching, though I've only seen two or three regular season games in person since leaving school. At this point, it is fair to say that I am a big UVA Football fan, and an obsessive UVA Basketball fan.

Rob, Tom, and me with young fans. 
The football gameday ritual has been refined over the years, but generally follows this pattern. I drive 3-3 1/2 hours from Easton MD to Richmond VA to pick up Rob, one of my two fellow season ticket holder friends. We'll visit for a bit at his house and exchange comments about the propriety of whatever obnoxious bit of "Hoo-Wear" one or the other of us have on. We'll make fun of the third member of the triad (Tom) for whatever it is Tom should be made fun of, and we'll wonder aloud how much of the game will have passed before he finally shows up.

Rob and I drive to Charlottesville together, usually timed to arrive 2.5 hours or so before the game--for our "Pre-Game Meal" at The Virginian. I like to park down on the Corner because it gives us the chance to walk the Lawn on the way to the stadium and back. It is hard for me to walk the Lawn without getting a little misty, even today. We try to get an outside table at The Virginian for a couple of reasons. First, it's just damn pleasant if the weather is nice. Second, we will almost always have some old friend happen by and stop to talk with us for a bit, something we miss if we're inside. Third--there is the "scenery", but I'll keep my lechery to myself.

The UVA Fraternity man in his natural environs
As I am Rob's designated driver for these events, he generally has a beer or a bloody (for the midday games) or two, which help lubricate his already winning mien. We are somewhat pathetic, Rob and me. We repeat the SAME DAMN things year after year--most of which were enshrined in our patois during college ("Chicks dig John Shea", "Fall....that's all!" etc.) and we loll about taking up prime tables that others eye wantingly.

Then we head over to the stadium to join a tailgate. This has become increasingly more difficult over the years, as our friends have pulled up lame when it comes to providing us with tailgates we deserve (I'm looking at you Mark Senell, Fred Helm, Hunter Woods, etc). One hopes that last year's campaign brings these fair-weather tailgaters back this year. We usually show up for the first game with a bottle of some ridiculously named, overpriced bourbon to thrust upon the tailgatemeister, with the expectation that this grants us continuing access to the tailgate for the remainder of the season. This unspoken arrangement suits us fine. We are unaware of how it is viewed by others.

About twenty minutes before gametime, we head up to our seats. Of late this has been a quick walk, as the "crowds" at the gate are somewhat less than they were when we were a better team. Security measures have also changed over the years, so it is a crapshoot whether or not you'll get held up at the gate. On the way to our seats, I espy the various concessions, and am moved to great emotion when the "funnel cake" purveyor is on the scene. Not that I am hungry at this point, mind you, after a pre-game meal at The Virginian, and some fried chicken/ham biscuits at the tailgate (when at full-strength). No, the funnel cake is consumed second half, when a bit of room is cleared in the upper part of my digestive system.

Tom usually shows up sometime in the first quarter with some portion of his family with him. Rob and I generally go solo and then pass our extra tickets to Tom. Various women in my life have over the years made noise about wanting to come to a game with me, but this noise generally ceases after I bring them. It is a long day, but also one filled with odd practices and boolah-boolah, and often featuring Rob or my descent into immaturity as a result of team performance.

After the game Rob and I make the long walk back to the corner to grab the car and head back to his place in Richmond. It is never easy getting out of C'ville after a game, but compared to getting out of Annapolis after a Naval Academy game it is positively SPEEDY. Depending on the time of day, we sometime stop and buy Chinese food to ensure our tummies are filled for bedtime. I mostly always bunk in Rob's basement crypt  bedroom for the night and then wake quietly and steal away without waking him or Jen.

One great recent addition to my game watching has been the re-emergence of old friends into my life whose children attend UVA (the littlest kitten is in the mix....but my influence campaign is on the downlow. Except for the fact that I buy her UVA swag every time I come to C'ville). I love meeting up with them and their kids.

So--hope springs eternal. No one is expecting much from this team this year, but I'm predicting six wins again. We'll see how it goes. On Saturday morning I'll wake up and start the whole ritual over again. In the meantime, WAHOOWA!

Monday, August 27, 2018

On the Death of John McCain


When I left the Navy in 2008 and began to be a bit more...well, vocal about my politics, Senator John McCain was not my favorite person. You see, in those days, I was a Republican first, and a conservative second. Because my party was sufficiently conservative, I concerned myself largely with the business of winning....elections, policy matters, etc. Senator McCain seemed then only nominally concerned with such matters, preferring (in my view) to stake his own claim and to be the "Maverick" his supporters. Because he so often questioned his own party, he was celebrated as what I called "every Democrat's favorite Republican". This of course, lasted only until McCain became the 2008 Republican nominee, at which point he became what all Republicans are painted as, racist and unconcerned with the plight of the downtrodden. I also did not like McCain's jihad against "pork" in the budget--not because I loved pork (ok, I loved some of it) but because the institution of Congress needed ways to lubricate the system, a system that now (without pork) has ground to a halt. It always bothered me that someone with such institutional regard could not see this. Finally, there was campaign finance. McCain and I could not have been farther apart, and I am glad to see the Supreme Court came to agree with me.

I left the Navy in April of 2008 and started this (sometimes interrupted) blog in late June of that year. McCain was in the midst of a heated battle with Barack Obama, who would of course go on to win the election and cool the earth/restrain the rising waters etc. I was supportive of Senator McCain, but not overwhelmingly so. Of course I would rather have poked my eyes out than vote for Obama. I was on vacation with my (then new) family at a dude ranch in Wyoming when McCain announced Sarah Palin as his running mate. I thought it an inspired choice for about a month, and then realized the error of my ways.

I guess what all this rambling adds up to is that I was not a huge fan of Senator John McCain.

But John McCain? My God, I idolized the man. And I am deeply, deeply saddened by his death.

I was probably too tough on Senator McCain because of how deeply I admired John McCain. It all began in the mid-90's when I read the great Robert Timberg's "The Nightingale's Song", a book that traced the lives of a series of prominent Naval Academy graduates, including McCain. It was here that I learned about McCain--the wise cracker, the trouble maker, the average pilot, narrow escapes from death, prison and torture, return, divorce, rise, renewal. Hie thee to Amazon as soon as you can and order this book if you have not already read it. I watched him as a candidate in 2000 (where I supported Bush, quietly, on active duty) and like everyone else, was transfixed by his ease and honesty, and the way he absolutely OWNED the press. I remember watching his young family by his side on the campaign trail, obviously with no idea that I would later in life befriend one of them--Jack--whose own young life brought great joy to his father. My heart aches for my friend.

Even when I disagreed with Senator McCain--which was often--I continued to admire John McCain. I admired how dogged he was. I admired how honorable he was. I admired how funny he was. I admired how uncompromising he could be where principle was concerned, and how compromising he could be where practicality was possible. I admired his character, which shone brightest during his 2008 campaign when he defended his opponent's patriotism against early signs of ugliness in the GOP that would grow to full (im)maturity eight years later. And I admired how much he loved his family.

The last two years have been among John McCain's finest. His distance from a divisive and damaging presidency, and his willingness to criticize it and the President--even though of the same party--has served as a beacon of political bravery in an atmosphere of rampant and ruinous cowardice. As I write this, a President who publicly questioned McCain's status as a hero is hunkered down in a White House that this morning raised the flag to full mast after an announcement on McCain's death that was beneath even the miscreant in the Oval Office. The contrast in character between John McCain and Donald Trump could not be more clear, and it is my fervent hope that the solemn activities this week and the reflection they cause bring more Americans to once again value political virtues from which we have become distanced. Honesty. Clarity. Honor. Bravery.

McCain will lie in State at the Capitol on Friday. I will join him there.

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