As soon as we entered the Traverse City Thirlby Stadium press box, it reminded me of an air traffic control center. Lit monitors and screens illuminated the space. Serious-looking men wearing head phones talked seriously into microphones. Cameras were set up on tripods. Sound proof rooms were separated from the rest of the important people. Smells wafted through the air and on the far wall were long aluminum chafing dishes filled with food, to feed the important men. Assorted shapes of unidentifiable foods- breaded and fried, filled the containers. Red spicy smells rose up from them. Not a crisp vegetable or a lettuce leaf was on the menu. A glass-fronted cooler of unnatural colored sports drinks lined the shelves.
The press box was filled with broad-shouldered focused men in expensive sneakers and short-sleeved polo shirts, who all looked like they had played football in a past life but had not maintained the sprints and calisthenics. There would be no need for a high energy, electrolyte-filled sports drink from this group, who would not be taking the two flights of stairs necessary to reach the press box but opt for the elevator instead, but it is the drink of choice.
I was a foreigner. Clearly these folks live for football, as do many Americans. I had not been to a football game since I tossed my baton into the air at the half time game my senior year. That was back in 1973. Still, I was here for a cultural experience and because I wanted to be in my good friend’s company. Mover and shaker Tim Brick helped raise the money to complete this amazing high school stadium, which seats 7,000 fans. It is the only one like it in the north, and boasts artificial turf. Tim himself was a high school football star in this very town many moons ago and then went on to be a college football star for the University of Montana Grizzlies. I was also curious to see what had changed in this universe and what had remained the same.
Back in 1973, my poor Pennsylvania Catholic high school had a small wooden box on a platform which served as the announcer’s box. Room for only him with a single mic. Only the folks in the stadium could hear the plays of the game. It was not broadcasted on a live radio or tv show like here at Traverse City. We were not so focused back then, nor so serious.
I went to the football games in my high school because my boyfriend was a football star and because I was a majorette and part of the half time entertainment. I watched my #44 run with the ball but my attention often wandered.
There is a photo of me in our high school year book taken at a football game. I am dressed in my homemade red corduroy, short skirted outfit and a white satin vest with red rick rack around the edge that my mother sewed for me on her machine. My feet wear white lace-up fashion boots. In the photo, we majorettes are all lined up on the white line, hands on our hips, baton in hand looking at the camera, except for me. My attention is elsewhere. The caption in the yearbook reads, “Ross hears the call of a different drummer.” I was not focusing on the task at hand. Little did the editor know that that would become my life song. Forty years later, I am here in this press box, trying to focus and watch this football game.
In the bleachers, waiting for the half time show, is the band and the band front. Few are watching the game either, even though it is a fast-moving game with closely matched teams. The dorky, pimple-faced clarinet player is turned completely around, his back to the field, attempting to flirt with the mousey-brown haired female flutist. Not staying focused on the football game either. This hasn’t changed.
I was personally looking forward to the half time show. This high school did something unusual for me- they ran onto the field, big tubas and all, and then resumed their positions. They also seemed to do a lot more choreographing too, moving in and out amongst the band and band front members that you could only appreciate from a spot high in the bleachers or in the press box in the sky like where I watched from.
The band members still wore the same high helmets with chin straps and feather plumes and jackets with brass buttons. That did not change.
The football players did not seem to have changed much, either. They did wear assorted colored shoes instead of the standard black only spikes that the guys wore in my high school days. I could make out their different body shapes, unlike the professional players who looked like muscle bound robotic action figures. Here were skinny, small running backs, fat linemen whose bells clearly hung over their pants. A few looked as if they were men already, maturing early or perhaps held back a year, focusing more on football than their studies.
I did go to one football game between this one and my own high school games and that was a professional game played by the Philadelphia Eagles. I received very expensive tickets as I was doing a magazine story on behind-the-scenes stadium tours. I found the fans around me on all four sides even more fascinating than the game taking place on the field however, as they drank and sang and hollered and laughed and bonded with the huge men around them. They stood up the whole game and I could not see over them even when I stood up for they were so tall and broad. So I resolved to remain seated and focused on them instead, which proved to be a study in human psychological behavior. They behaved differently than any other humans I had ever observed.
This Traverse City high school football game was not nearly as entertaining as the one in Philadelphia but certainly worthwhile, although there were many home runs and the game moved swiftly. Besides people watching, I also busied myself by watching a three minute egg timer that my two talk show hosts use to remind themselves to tell radio listeners what the score is, as he gets very focused on the game and forgets to announce the score for new listeners. When I saw the last grain of sand run through, I flipped it and pushed it in front of his face so he could see it and announce the score.
It was interesting to hear my friend Tim live on the radio talk show, reporting plays and making commentary about the players, which he and the host constantly referred to from a cheat sheet of numbers and associated players. It sounded like they knew them personally. On second thought, he probably does know a lot of the home team players, their football loving fathers too. He studies and watches clips to learn about the two teams playing so he sounds smart on the air.
At Tim’s home, he has University of Montana Grizzly paraphernalia decorating inside and out. A banner waves from his porch, his vanity license plate announces his love of his team, black painted griz prints cross his driveway. Inside his home are many pieces of art depicting bears, predominately grizzlies. He loves football but he also loves cycling, which I do too and he loves people, all kinds. Me too.
When it comes to my friend here, I think of the characters in “The Little Prince.” The Prince and the Fox are both from different planets but find a beautiful shared friendship regardless. They look for similarities not differences in their friendship. They share the same heart.
Tim and I don’t need to have football in common and really when it comes down to it, that’s one of the things which makes humans so interesting- all the different passions we can focus on and still find ways to care and connect to one another. And every now and then we get to share their view of their world, like here in the football stadium press box in Traverse City, and I am grateful.