Rooting for the Patriots Without Being a Fan

Let’s start with something we can all agree on: Super Bowl LII was a great game. It was close but high-scoring game with disputed calls, trick plays, missed kicks, a brewing comeback, and a dramatic turn that all came down to the last play of the game. Despite catching up on chores like laundry and cooking during the game, I really did enjoy it without having any allegiance to either team. However, it’s hard to watch any sports impartially, and although I don’t particularly like them, in my heart, I was rooting for the Patriots.

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The Best and Worst of Football

This past weekend, I watched 2 entire football games and saw 1 touchdown. For reference, a typical football game will have maybe 6 touchdowns. Between 2 games over 7 hours, I saw 1 guy with the football in his hands in the endzone. Rough.

I watched the first game in-person at my 5-year college reunion, where Stanford lost to Colorado. I will not attempt to summarize the game any better than ESPN: “Sloppy Colorado holds off equally bad Stanford 10-5“. I watched the second game over pizza at my friend Tom’s place, where the Seahawks and Cardinals managed to both fail to win the game and ended in a 6-6 tie. Neither game had much of a highlight reel, and yet, I had very different feelings about both games. Continue reading “The Best and Worst of Football”

My Super Bowl 50 experience

As hopefully all of you know, the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 24-10 at Levi’s Stadium. As a football fan living here in the Bay Area where Levi’s Stadium is located, I got to experience in the game in a few different ways.

First, I saw the Bay Area as a resident annoyed at the effect of tourism. We were warned that millions would be descending upon the city and that traffic and public transit would be problematic. To be honest, however, I didn’t really notice much of a difference as my daily life doesn’t seem to intersect with the public very much.

Second, I saw the Last Monday, I headed up to Super Bowl City, a few blocks of downtown San Francisco taped off for a bunch of booths and free concerts for the public. On the evening I went up, it was relatively chilly, and there wasn’t a concert going on. As such, most of the activity was centered around modular buildings for companies such as Kaiser Permanente, Verizon, and Intel. Most of the things worth doing, however, had relatively long lines that we weren’t patient enough to wait for. Overall, it wasn’t a particularly interesting experience, but I’m glad I went since I would have regretted not seeing it.

Third, I saw the game like any good US resident: at a Super Bowl party. One of my co-workers helpfully “volunteered” his place to host, and we prepared the usual array of chips, frozen pizzas, chicken wings, and other generally unhealthy game snacks. Somehow, the Super Bowl has ended up being one of the great, annual American culinary events alongside Thanksgiving and the 4th of July. However, it is unique in my mind because I don’t think about elevating it with creative recipes or “good” food, per se. I would rather just eat the same bags of chips and bake frozen foods.

I also paid attention to the important parts of the game by taking my bathroom break while the Panthers were on offense so I didn’t miss any commercials. I generally enjoyed the commercials this year: it seems like they have cleaned up a lot of the most outrageous ads, and they generally seem to do fun ads now. I think my favorite commercials were the avocados in space and the prius getaway car. I also really enjoyed the half-time show.

Fourth, I saw the game like a football fan. Specifically, I watched as a fantasy football team owner who wasn’t really rooting for either team but wanted to see a good game. And for a defensive struggle, it was a surprisingly good game. Most defensive struggles end up being quite boring while nothing really happens as both teams stop each other. This game, however, had 7 fumbles and 2 interceptions for a totally wild ride.

Few, singular events end up affecting me in so many ways, but the Super Bowl really has its own culture around it far beyond what happens on the field itself. Like Game of Thrones, I see it as something big enough that it’s worth participating just because everyone else is. So regardless of whether you got a 4-faceted experience like me or if you were rooting for the winning or losing team, at least we all share something to talk about this week.

What I learned from Fantasy Football

A few weeks ago, I finished up the latest fantasy football* (FF) season in 2nd place in my work league and 5th place in my friend league. Having played for 3 seasons, I am mostly past the initial disgust about bad luck and mostly jaded about the entire process. Having gotten this far, though, I do have a few different lessons from the experience.

(*for the uninitiated, fantasy football is a game where a group of people (usually friends) play “games” in a season where, each week, your team’s performance is determined by the statistics of how real-life NFL football players perform (e.g. you get 6 points for a touchdown or points per yards gained). Everyone drafts their team before the beginning of the real NFL season, and over the course of the season, you can trade with other teams, pick up and drop players, and change your lineup week to week. )

1. Actual game knowledge can be very deceiving.

“A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.” When you’re on a fantasy football website, there are going to be projections and rankings and all sorts of information to help you make good decisions. I have seen a lot of real football fans (i.e. people who actually watch and follow football and not just fantasy) try to outsmart the predictions with some obscure knowledge, but my experience is that typically, the football-naive (but fantasy savvy) people do better. Maybe you heard that your running back plays really well in sub-50 degree games or saw how fast he makes cuts and should crush a slower set of linebackers: the experts probably know that, too, and that he only plays that way in indoor stadums, and that his left guard still has a lingering injury.I think we tend to overvalue game knowledge in fantasy when rankings have already accounted for those facts.

2. Don’t trust anyone. Trust everyone.

Continue reading “What I learned from Fantasy Football”

Watching the Super Bowl with Librarians

What a Super Bowl. The game literally game down tot he last minute after several momentum swings throughout the game. With an acrobatic catch on the ground and a few interceptions, football doesn’t get much better than that.

Of course, I was largely neutral and only slightly favoring the Seahawks, so barring a total blowout, I would be hard to disappoint. Apologies to the Seahawks fans out there for the disappointment. Even more apologies to those around Seahawks fans who have listened continuously about Pete Carroll’s poor playcalling, where Marshawn Lynch didn’t get the ball on the 1 yard line. I know how it feels. I was at Big Game 2009, where we threw an interception in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown when we had a running back averaging almost 7 yards a carry. It happens.

While I’m at it, sorry to those around Patriots fans as well. Following Ballghazi/Deflategate, I think we all understand what sore winners are like as well. Or so my east coast friends have claimed based on their Facebook feeds with endless Patriots-related posts. You also have my sympathy: my Facebook is strongly Texas-biased, and for 2 years, my Facebook feed could have been mistaken for a Johnny Manziel biography.

Sadly, I missed watching the Super Bowl with friends at home while hypocritically harassing my very international coworkers to find a party themselves to truly understand American culture. I spent my weekend under several inches of snow, some of which came at me sideways. It took less than 15 seconds and a 20 foot walk from a cab to the hotel entry for me to conclude that I would never live in Chicago.

Due to the forbidding weather conditions and excellent use of Marriott membership by my traveling companion, I watched the game in the hotel lounge with endless wings, tortilla chips, bean dip, and carrot sticks. And an open bar. Fun fact: I gave up my label of being mostly vegetarian.

Less fun fact: I still don’t drink, but I did let loose and drink some ginger ale and sierra mist. Out of glass bottles.

Anyways, I watched the game with a bunch of older, female librarians. The crowd was mostly rooting for the Seahawks. One was a hardcore Bears fan, so I guess she like me doesn’t really have a team.

At first, it was strange. Having gone to library conferences for several years, I have met many librarians, and they largely fit the stereotype. They look like the people who would “shh” you in a library, and not so much the people I would laugh about a Kim Kardashian commercial with. But it turns out they’re pretty normal. We cheered and booed and commentated on the games and commercials. I would talk about the 2008 Super Bowl, and I would hear about the 1985 Super Bowl. Despite not being asked my age, they rightly determined I wasn’t even born yet and gave me a hard time about it. When the 50 Shades of Grey trailer came up, I heard about an apparently wonderful discussion one library had and the local controversy it caused. In return, I explained the economics of mobile games and how they could afford Liam Neeson and multiple commercials.

Were it not for the weather and free food, I would never have picked to watch the game with librarians, but it ended up being a lot of fun. I never got any of their names, but we were so familiar and casual that it would have seemed awkward to introduce ourselves and point out that we didn’t actually know each other. There’s a lot wrong with our sports culture, but it is an institution and shared experience that cuts across all ideologies and communities. There’s some comfort in the absurdity and depth of our passions for some event that ultimately has no bearing on our actual life. We embrace rivalries so much that we manufacture and overplay them, but they work so well in a system bound by hard rules with highly random results.

As that guy who laments the state of modern society, I want to point out how intolerant our society has become of different ideologies, particularly political ones. Despite obvious progress on social issues, it feels like the left and right wings couldn’t be further apart, where we’re increasingly unwilling to date between political parties despite being tolerant of different religions or races. And I sense that the development of online communities filled with people who largely think like ourselves has weakened local communities and the bonds we build with people unlike ourselves except for having picked to live in the same dang latitude and longitude.

At a time like this, maybe we need sports to be that institution that anyone can talk to anyone about. People pay attention to in-depth analysis and can debate predictions because the sports are so random, and we can trust the facts of the game. About the games themselves (not counting the off-field shenanigans), sports have some of the most open and honest discourse and arguments in modern culture, and although it’s mostly about nothing, there’s something to be proud about because no matter who you root for and what side you are on, we can all sit down and watch a game together because we all just want to see a good game.

Anyways, I think I overstayed my moment on the soapbox. I enjoyed the half-time show quite a bit. I saw it coming, but it turns out that I’m a big fan of Katy Perry’s music. A childhood of top 40 music stations means I just can’t resist catchy songs. And apparently, neither can librarians based on their enthusiasm for singing along. Maybe they should pipe top 40 music through libraries. How much fun would that be?

Our Stanford Football Traditions

This past weekend, college football season returned, and as a loyal Stanford football fan, I had my season tickets to show up to our 45-0 walloping of UC Davis in sweltering heat (by our Northern California standards) with 49,000 fans in attendance. It’s exciting to be back.

Maybe it has always been like this, but it seems like college football is currently under a lot of scrutiny for policies, including NCAA abusing its privilege, unionization and pay for student-athletes, corporate interests and structure of post-season bowl/tournament play, concerns over the health of players, and more. As a guy who just wants to root for his own team, however, I scuttle past that just to enjoy the experience. When I interact with a limited number of people on a daily basis, it’s a big change to have a regular event in the fall to participate in something bigger.

Furthermore, sports breed traditions, rituals, and superstitions. From the individual to the local group to the community levels, we construct our own experiences, and I thought I would share a few from my group of game-attending friends.

Not Tailgating

Maybe this will change this season, but we don’t tailgate. As a student, I was never a member of a group that did tailgate, so that tradition never carried over for me. Seeing as it’s a great American tradition, however, I wonder whether our gameday experience would be enhanced by it.

The Michael Thomas Play of the Game

Michael Thomas is a recently-graduated Stanford alumnus who now plays as a safety (defense who stands in the back) for the Dolphins. He’s made it to play in the NFL, and he was good for us too, but what I best remember from him was his penchant for running with dead balls. In football, the defense can pick up dropped balls and run in the opposite direction to score, but only if the play isn’t already declared over. There’s a little bit of wiggle room, but Thomas had a generous interpretation and would take off with balls on obviously dead plays. It worked just often enough (see Stanford-UCLA 2010) to reinforce this belief, but it often looked ridiculous. As such, we have come to naming the “Michael Thomas Play of the Game” when a Stanford defensive player picks up and runs with an obviously dead ball.

Imitating the Quarterback Audible

When the offense sets their formation, the quarterback will often take a look at the defensive formation and may choose to change the play at that time. This is called an audible. Different quarterbacks indicate it differently, but our favorite comes from Stanford, when the quarterback yells something like, “Kill kill kill!” and does a strange sort of chicken flapping action with elbows and arms tucked in, hands pointing out from the shoulders, then poking outwards.

Tacos El G Season

I have started to refer to college football season as “Tacos El G” season since we transitioned into a post-game tradition of going to Taqueria El Grullense after games. The restaurant is a dive, but the food seems good and authentic. The wet green/red burritos are quite popular among us, and if it was a hot day, I will usually get horchata as well.

Now that I enumerate a few of them, perhaps there aren’t as many as I thought there were. Perhaps I’ll count season tickets as a tradition in their own right. What really seems to matter here is the regularity and the comfort and cohesiveness that the activity brings. Maybe football (and sports as a whole) are ridiculous, but at least I’m participating in something bigger.

Fantasy Football and Friends

I had never been so concerned about athletes, many of whom I have never even seen, before I joined a fantasy football league this season. For the past 4 months, my fantasy roster replaced my email inbox as the focus of constant checking for changes that rarely happens. I was concerned that fantasy football would become a big distraction in my life, and it did, but I can’t wait for next season to start.

For the uninitiated, fantasy sports make users the owner of a fantasy team from some real, professional sport. Each season, you and a group of other owners (typically 10 total in fantasy football) form a league and draft players onto your team. For each game day, you set your lineup of players, and your team’s performance is determined by the actual players’ performance in real life. By scoring various outcomes from the actual games, your fantasy team accumulates points, which determine how well you did in a week. A common structure for leagues is “head-to-head” matchups each week, where you and another team play each other, and the team with the higher score that week wins. This process lasts all season, and some system determines the winner. Along the way, team owners trade players, “sign” free agents, and tweak their rosters based on news, statistics, predictions, superstitions, and wild guesses to do the best they can.

Currently, the NFL is in playoffs, which is the end of the fantasy season. My team finished 2nd during the regular season after 13 weeks and ended up 4th in the playoffs*. And despite looking over player rankings again and again, I still know little about the NFL. I have strong opinions about players who I have never seen play before, but I don’t how well their teams are doing or who their defense or coach is. I’m not sure whether that is ever going to change: I didn’t watch NFL games before this season, and I avoided watching this season because I would be too anxious about fantasy.

Still, it’s been a great way to keep up with friends. Most of them are in the area, so we have something to talk about regularly, but it has also been the start of a few random email threads with friends hundreds of miles away as well. We could keep in touch for its own sake, but we don’t. We could just talk sports and pop culture, but we don’t. When we turn it into a activity, however, then we have context to push us towards talking, and then everything is great.

Technology has made this easier than ever. A few weeks ago, I played StarCraft: Brood War with friends from high school while chatting on Skype. A few months ago, I played Dungeons & Dragons with some other friends around the world over Google Plus. Despite my concern about the internet giving us a shallow feeling of connectedness, it can also be the platform for us to engage in activities that we would rather do in-person but can’t. It seems ridiculous to think that it was not so long ago that fantasy football drafts were done on paper in a living room, but we now have the tools to score games and coordinate player transactions in real-time.

Earlier this season, I questioned whether I wanted to come back for another season. Fantasy football is certainly fun, but it’s a big distraction even when I’m not staring at my bench. I can think endlessly about how to optimize my team’s performance, and there’s always more data in statistics and footage to obsess over. Maybe it’s pointlessly addictive, but as long as my friends are there too, it’ll probably be worth it.

* Congratulations on Alex for winning and George for being the narrow 2nd place. Say what you will about luck: those guys deserved it.

Crumbs

I have a few things to share that I considered writing full posts on. When I thought through the result, however, the result would likely be tedious and overanalyzed, so I’m bunching them instead.

Return to Baldur’s Gate

My favorite video game series is Baldur’s Gate, and the first game has been re-released as “Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition” by a new team doing an overhaul. The updates are minor, though, and the real benefit is a reason to play the game again. It’s a roleplaying game based on the rules of Dungeons & Dragons where you control an adventuring party of humans, dwarves, elves, and the like to go on quests, kill monsters, and follow along the main story.

A lot of my enthusiasm for the game is nostalgia, but the game is works differently than RPGs being developed today. One trend recently has been more towards action RPGs, which rely more on twitchy reflexes to hit monsters or trigger abilities. Another trend has been towards open worlds and customization, where you can freely explore expansive planets and countrysides and play the game as you like. For me, both of these changes result in less interesting gameplay. Action RPGs often become repetitive as you find one way to kill monsters and do it over and over. Open worlds tend to have more bland interactions since the game can’t refine a particular path to something unique.

I would describe Baldur’s Gate more, but I think it would be more meaningful if you just found a gameplay video online somewhere if you really care. Definitely give it a shot if either of my thoughts above resonates with you.

Superstition at the Pac-12 Championship Game

Stanford football will be returning to the Rose Bowl this season after a hard-fought game against UCLA in the Pac-12 Championship. Thanks to my friends who are better fans than I am, I did end up attending the game, which was nerve-wracking enough to make it worth watching in-person.

We had just played UCLA the week before and won by a large margin, but this game was more back-and-forth. Through the first 3 quarters, I became very superstitious. Somehow, I determined that things were going better for us when I had my raincoat on instead of off. Then I determined that my raincoat just favored the team on offense, so I was taking it on and off a lot. Then I determined that I had actually gotten it backwards and needed my raincoat off.

At some point in the second half, I realized that my sudden superstition was really just me exhibiting anxiety about the game. In a scary situation where we might have come so close to the Rose Bowl and then lost it, I was trying to find something that I could control and change the result in my favor. Until then, I didn’t trust the team to do it on their own, and that was a problem, so for the rest of the game, I left my raincoat on and put my confidence in the team. That was confidence well-placed.

Benefits of Living Alone

My place is still mostly unfurnished at the moment, which means that I’m not in a position to be welcoming roommates yet. It’s strange, but it’s also liberating to be entirely and only responsible to myself in my living space. Here are a few things I have been able to do that I would be able to otherwise:

  • Leaving candy wrappers on the floor because no one else is around to step on them or get annoyed
  • Moving an end table into the washroom for 10 minutes so I can use my laptop while on the john
  • Never closing my bedroom door, even when I’m sleeping
  • Dragging my mattress into my living room to lie in bed and watch StarCraft being projected onto a blank wall, then going to bed

Overall, it’s not that bad, though I may become very eccentric if left alone for too long.

Digging into the Stanford-Oregon Outcome

(I started this Sunday but didn’t finish it until today)

Before the football game started yesterday, I was certain that #13 Stanford was going lose to #2 Oregon. I had watched our team go into the Oregon game with high hopes the two previous years and been flustered by their strategy and burned by their speed. Despite promising play from Kevin Hogan, our new quarterback, and solid defense all season, I didn’t see anything to make me feel significantly better about our chances than previous years. I was certain we would lose big. Just as certain as us losing to USC earlier this season.

If you were unaware, I was completely wrong about this as we won in overtime, 17-14. This was one of the best games I have watched, and it has a much larger impact than just adding a win for our team. It changes the possibilities for the national championship game. After then #1 Alabama lost to Texas A&M las week, the remaining three undefeated teams (Oregon, Kansas State, and Notre Dame) became the frontrunners for one of those 2 slots to go to the national championship game and win it all. After ‘Bama lost, there was outcry about the rankings among them since the #3 team presumably would be left out.

That thinking was premature as Oregon lost to us and Kansas State lost to Baylor. Notre Dame slid up to #1, and the championship berth is their’s to lose. More surprisingly, ‘Bama is back at #2, which is a tremendous turnaround from the belief that their dreams were over after the loss to Texas A&M. I’m honestly somewhat disappointed to see a SEC team (‘Bama) back in the championship game because the SEC is an overrated conference, in my opinion. Although they’re the best, I don’t think the PAC-12 gets the respect it deserves in conversation. Still, I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. There are still 2 weeks of games left, and this all is only big news because we made assumptions about how the rest of the games would happen.

Setting aside the national impact, this game was huge for Stanford because it was an upset. Since I had already assumed that Stanford would lose to Oregon, our only shot at Rose Bowl would be a win over UCLA this upcoming week and the good graces of BCS organizers to pick Stanford for the Rose Bowl (in that scenario, Oregon finishes undefeated and goes to the national championship game). Now, we “control our own destiny” and can make it to the Rose Bowl by defeating UCLA this upcoming weekend and then again in the PAC-12 championship game the week after. The season after our star quarterback Andrew Luck left, it’s quite surprising to see us in the hunt again.

It’s been a rough season for Stanford fans, but as my friend George points out, it’s only because we’re extremely fair-weathered fans. 2 games into the season, fans were down about the prospects of the season, despite having won both of those games. We were reenergized after beating USC, then feeling terrible again after losing to Washington. We’re now quite excited after beating Oregon, but a loss soon could lead to a lot of disappointment despite a very good season. This fickleness shows that our fan base is neither strong nor mature. It’s surprising when a now top 10 team can’t fill the stadium. For homecoming.

There are the usual excuses. Stanford excels in athletics, but its students are largely more academically focused. Palo Alto doesn’t have the composition that leads to great devotion to local sports teams. A few years of mediocrity before our recent rise kills a lot of spirit. Being a fan, however, is sticking through all of that and appreciating the results as they come.

Even more narrowly than the team is the best part of the outcome: redemption for our sophomore kicker, Jordan Williamson. Williamson went into the Fiesta Bowl last season 13/16 (81%) on field goals. At the Fiesta Bowl, under the most pressure, he went 0/3, including critical misses at the end that would’ve won us the game. For his final kick, I still had complete faith he would make it since he had been “lights out” all season. He didn’t, and we lost.

Prior to this game, he was 12/20 (60%) this season. For the fans, it has felt far worse, and an unreliable kicker is extremely stressful. It’s even more stressful for the kicker, and given his performance last year, it seemed like he was still carrying the guilt of the Fiesta Bowl loss, and it has costed us a game this season. Still, there’s nothing else I could do as a fan than offer complete support in his ability. In overtime, Williamson lined up for a game-winning field goal, and I knew he would make it. And he did.

Not everyone has forgiven Williamson for the Fiesta Bowl, but I did a long time ago, and that kick demonstrated that he can kick under pressure. In a game-winning situation in one of the toughest stadiums (Autzen Stadium) against the second best team in the country, he delivered, not only for the team, but for himself. Placekickers in football are only placed in often unexpected, but almost always high-pressure situations, and mental preparedness is key. I hope he can carry on and returns to his old form again.

I’m not an athlete, though I played and play many sports. I’m not a face-painting, die-hard fan, but I certainly feel the ups and downs. In some ways, following sports is somewhat pointless: the same things happen year after year, there’s a lot of thought spent on something that doesn’t meaningfully progress the world (at a high level), and it tends to bring out the worst in us. However, sports also show us how assumptions can lead to the wrong places, what the meaning of devotion is, what redemption can mean, and more. Sports are an opportunity for us to face the challenges of real life in a safe environment, and maybe the lessons can help outside the sidelines as well.

My Stanford-USC Game Day

It’s 8AM, and I don’t want to get up. I’m supposed to be at the Band Shak between 9 and 9:30, so I should leave and bike to Stanford by 8:45. It’ll take maybe 10 minutes to get ready, so I should be done with breakfast by 8:35. And I have oatmeal in the fridge, so maybe another 20 minutes to eat breakfast and digest, which puts me at 8:15. I set my alarm for 8:05 and flop back into my pillow.

I park my bike near the stadium since I know there are spots there and am uncertain whether there are more any closer to the Shak. As I walk over, I check the time and see that I have plenty of time, and other band members still haven’t left for rehearsal. Walking past the bike parking spots beside the Band Shak door, I head up to the second floor to put my backpack down and grab a sousaphone. None of the other “toobz” are there, so I wait to take my instrument off the hook and relax after my bike ride and before the morning rehearsal.

The morning rehearsal is mostly the same as the first rehearsal I went to on Wednesday. We warm up by playing another chart that I have difficulty finding in the flip folder I was given. So far, the music hasn’t been too tough. Playing tuba is actually quite lucky in this circumstance since tubas often get repetitive bass lines, so once I learn the fingerings and rhythms of 2 bars, I can play more than half of a song. A very nice bari sax player keeps me

Giancarlo, the director of the Wind Ensemble, next rehearses the national anthem with us. I witness the trumpet soloist having his focus tested in a very disturbing manner and am only somewhat comforted to know that I have now seen a band tradition happen. We play the national anthem, which mostly goes well. Giancarlo singles out the tubas as slowing down through one measure, insisting that we need to “watch [his] hands, not listen”. Garrett, the section leader, is very confident that he was watching, and from where I am, I agree. Maybe there are some phasing issues since we’re at the back of the band. After he runs through the measure a few times with us, we play it one last time, then move on to rehearsing the show.

Well, almost. The saxes are currently following our drum major around the practice field while seeming to improvise a little diddy. Ben, a former roommate and longtime band member, wanders over and wonders out loud whether they plan these sort of distractions. For coming together spontaneously, they sound really good.

Rehearsing the field show goes roughly like how I remembered. We receive printouts of the formation and move between them as necessary. The obvious difference from high school is that the LSJUMB is a scatter band, not a traditional marching band, so we don’t need to practice marching between the formations as much. Even so, we move, play, move, play, and run the show over a few times to work on details. We get some direction from the guys on top of the tower about staying together as we play, moving people around to make the formations look better, and other details. It all feels pretty familiar.

That is probably also helped by the marching we actually have in this show. The USC Trojan Marching Band is a traditional marching band with all of the unnecessary flourishes. Their band can cover the whole field (and even has reserves because there are so many), sometimes marches knees high, and is led by a guy dressed in armor. As part of our show, half of the band participates in the “Spirit of Stanford” band, which marches onto the field, knees high and instruments swinging, in a box while playing our own take on “Tribute to Troy”. I not very reluctantly offer to participate in this half of the band.

The last run-through is a little rough. We’ve been rehearsing for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, and I’m remembering all of the aches of playing. My lips are tired, and I’m cracking more notes that I can’t quite hang onto. I’m trying to keep the sousaphone rested on my right shoulder as much as possible so that it hurts the least while playing. I’m skipping most of the playing by now, only playing when it’s an exposed part.

We break and are told to come back in 2 or 3 hours for pre-game activities. I head over to Ike’s to meet up with my usual football-going gang. Although this game is certainly all sold out, we all have season tickets and are very excited for the game. I’m convinced we’re going to lose. More convinced than perhaps ever before. When we weren’t as good when I was an underclassmen, any game could be a pleasant surprise. When I was an upperclassmen, we were good enough to challenge any team. This year, however, we seem to have taken a step back into the 10-25ish range, while USC has a Heisman-hopeful QB and two of the best wide receivers around. We’re good, and I think we’ll challenge them this game, but I don’t see us pulling through. Still, my eggplant sandwich is very good.

Having already picked up my vest after rehearsal, I only need to get a hat and tie to complete my uniform. Garrett hands me an extra tie as I button up my white shirt. The tie has dollar bills printed on it. Did I mention we’re playing USC today?

We walk over to the Alumni Center where we rank up. I expect the toobz to move to the back of the band, but instead, my section seems to be in front of everyone. The bari sax player explains that we give everyone high fives as they march past, then form up behind them. I get lots of high fives, fall in, and move towards the stadium with the rest of the band. This also is very reminiscent: although we aren’t all marching in pairs and precisely in time, there are lots of cheers and small dance moves as we go. Suddenly, Garrett starts counting down, and the section scatters. I begin running too, vaguely following some of the others who are darting in-between (mostly) stopped cars. I keep looking around, hoping I don’t miss the cue to rank up again. I make it back without injury though slightly out of breath.

We form arcs just outside some of the tailgaters and begin playing. The next song is indicated with a signal, often cryptic, just like the flip folder titles. Although I can only find about a fourth of the songs, I manage to make it through anyways by watching the fingers of the other toobz. This, however, becomes much harder when we’re supposed to wander into the crowd. It’s also much harder to improvise my part when there are 5 others around me playing over my mistakes.

We play at another couple tailgates, and it all goes by in a flash. There was another song where we needed to wander into the crowd, though I figured out that part pretty quickly. I miss a lot more notes and play in a few places when I’m not supposed to. I’m beginning to see why the band doesn’t always sound great: people like me legitimately don’t know what’s going on half the time. I guess I can’t complain too much about it, though, now that I’m the problem. Besides, were the band stricter, I couldn’t have joined on a whim and perform a few days later. Amidst all of my confusion, the other toobz help me out a lot, and it’s a ton of fun. There’s a lot of dancing going on, and I try to copy, though I don’t think I quite have all of the moves figured out as the rest of the section does. There’s a lot of energy, and it’s great to be playing again.

After a break, we’ve entered the stadium. The national anthem goes fine, and the Trojan band performs their pregame show first. Watching them on the field, I’m actually not very impressed. Their formations and marching aren’t difficult, and they don’t actually look very good from the sideline. And given their size, their not the wall of sound I was expecting. Meanwhile, the band around me is heckling them. I don’t really get into that but am amused anyways.

We run on for our pregame show. This experience is actually one of the calmer parts of the day because for 10 minutes, I know exactly what is supposed to happen. I actually still don’t know what the show was about, but I get everywhere I’m supposed to be and play the right cuts.

The game is finally starting. After years of lazy days leading up to game time, I can’t believe how much I have already done before kickoff. The first quarter goes by, and it feels fine. The offense doesn’t look great, but our defense appears to hold well, and we’re tied. In the meantime, I think I’ve missed almost every song we play in the stands. I actually have missed at least the beginning of most songs today. The song gets called out, then I need to ask someone what it is, then I put the sousaphone on, then I fish my mouthpiece out of my pocket, then I unsuccessfully look for the music in my flip folder, and look at that: we’ve already 10 bars in. I guess I’ll just watch the fingers of the guy next to me and listen to figure it out.

It’s halftime, and we’re on the field again. There’s another uninspiring performance by the Trojan Band, and then it’s our turn. I march on with the “Spirit of Stanford” band, trying to high step (though I was later told by my friends that I wasn’t doing it close to the same degree as anyone else). At the beginning of the next song with a loud opening for the 3 toobz on the “Spirit of Stanford” side, I horribly crack one of the notes. My lips don’t feel bad, but I’m definitely tired after the morning rehearsal and pregame shenanigans. I resolve to play the rest of the notes with sforzando.

I scatter at the end of the last song, then remember that I was supposed to skip off the field. Whoops.

We form up around the tunnel as the football team reenters the field. The “William Tell Overture” is next, and it’s actually really hard as we’re moving quickly to our corner, and I can’t see our drum major or hear anyone. In the future, I’ll reserve all criticism for how it sounds.

We get food vouchers after half-time, and I get food. While eating the garlic fries, I feel like a normal fan for a few minutes. The game appears to be going well, though it’s been very low scoring.

We have the ball back with about 8 minutes left on the clock and up by a touchdown. The clock cannot possibly count down fast enough, but we’re definitely burning up the rest of the time. We get a few first downs, though we do stall. The Trojans get the ball back deep in their own territory with just a few minutes left.

Sack. Sack. Incomplete pass. I, along with most of the stadium, is freaking out. What I thought was an unwinnable game is looking to end with us on top. So much for Matt Barkley looking for revenge. It’s hard to believe that a class of Stanford students went through 4 years without having lost to USC.

We start playing the victory mix of “All Right Now”. Thankfully, it’s not a hard piece, and I can play it without music. It’s the end of the day, so I’m playing full volume since I don’t have to save it for anything else. We play the alma mater next, then play another set of songs.

Meanwhile, the crowd is on the field, though I don’t really notice them. I’m either trying to watch someone else’s fingerings or fumbling through my flip folder. It does look like there’s a big party going on, though, and I’m absolutely a fan. Right now, though, I can’t imagine a better way to party than playing tuba and dancing as part of a band.

It’s over. Security begins ushering people off of the field, and the band ranks up to leave the stadium. My friends wander over to meet Ben and me and plan our escape. We decide to skip ranking up and head straight for the Shak so we can move on to post-game food at our usual dive.

We’re sitting around, and most of us have burritos. I myself am not very hungry and just have the largest cup of horchata they have and to rehydrate. I had forgotten how much playing takes out of you, though I’m still very amped about the result of the game. We talk over all the details: the amazing scrambles from Nunes, the USC wide receivers, stats from the game, results of the other games, and where might end up in the rankings.

After hanging out a bit longer, I’m back home past midnight. Although I’m quite gross after a day of running around and playing, I can’t quite settle down, so I surf the web. My ears are ringing a bit, and I still have a couple of my parts stuck in my head. Getting a chance to play with the band was amazing after being away from an ensemble and the instrument for about 3 years and away from marching for almost 6 years. With the surprise win over USC, this is definitely one of the most personally fulfilling days I’ve had.

I’m glad I decided to come back to tuba for this one game and have no regrets about it. Maybe this will be a one-and-done experience. Over dinner, someone asked me whether I would do band again. “Maybe,” I said. At the moment, I’m not thinking I will, but having used just about every excuse and reason to avoid it for the 5 years I was still a student at Stanford, maybe is non-zero.