Football and I have a strange relationship. At the drop of a hat, I would probably tell you that I hate football. But that wouldn’t be entirely true. In actuality, I don’t understand the sport, and have never seen the attraction of watching several lines of guys in strange uniforms run into each other repeatedly. I prefer to play sports than to watch them, but since I can’t get my hand to grip a football, I can’t throw one properly. Much rather throw a frisbee.
I’ve never had anyone motivated enough to explain the game to me, make me see why it’s so interesting and exciting to them. I figure there never will be someone that motivated, unless I marry someone who’s crazy about football. Meanwhile, I fell in love with rugby league football, while watching the State of Origin games with my Aussie friends. Now, there’s a sport that keeps moving constantly, with the players being a cross between the swift soccer players and the beefy gridiron football players. How do they do that, and survive?
But my curiosity has begun to grow. Despite living in Clemson, where people bleed orange and breathe football fanaticism, I’ve been relatively untouched by exposure to the sport. In fact, it’s been almost 20 years since I’ve been inside Death Valley Stadium. And over the years, I’ve begun to think that football is more of “America’s pasttime” than baseball, but I can’t take that to the bank.
Along with that, when watching The Dark Knight Rises trailer, and I realized the bad guy bombed a football game (no, I haven’t actually seen the movie yet), I felt the slam against America that it represented. It’s a sport that is supported by families, and I have friends that have been attending those games since their mom’s were pregnant with them. Children wave excited hands, wearing their “spirit fingers” (gloves with pom-poms on them), caught up in the excitement of their parents and siblings.
So, I took a walk on Saturday, and went into Death Valley. The last time I was in there, I was about 13 and had been dragged unwillingly to a game. I was bored out of my mind, too hot, and unable to understand why these people wanted to watch this sport.
When I entered the stadium, it was empty. I was amazed by how small it seemed in there, but maybe that’s just because the stadium was empty. It created an optical illusion, from where I stood, that I was closer to the field than I thought. I couldn’t escape the feeling that I’d be able to see the players clearly, even if I was in the “nose bleed section”.
So, I walked down the steps to the ground level, and tried to take in the whole place. Tried to picture all the crazy fans that I see on television. Picture the huge guys barreling down the field. Visualize the whole scenario. And I’m afraid my curiosity continues to grow, wondering what it would be like to see a football game live. When I think about it, I realize I’ve never been to a baseball game (or any other live sports game, for that matter), either. It’s strange to realize, but my younger brothers are less interested in sports than I am, last I checked. We’ve always preferred to play than to watch.
But despite my growing interest, I won’t be buying a ticket for myself any time soon. I know full well that you don’t experience it properly, if you go see a game by yourself, one that you don’t understand. And I will not play third (or fifth wheel) to anyone that doesn’t genuinely want me along. So, that first game day may have to wait a long time.
As I left the stadium, with my legs screaming after all the stairs, I made a beeline for the front gate that faced the new Memorial Park. I was unaware of the new dedications on the wall, under the sign for Memorial Stadium and Frank Howard Field, for those Clemson Alumni that made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Plaques from all branches of the military are displayed on this wall, though I don’t have room to show them all.
My other purpose of this walk was to see the new Scroll of Honor Memorial and Memorial Park. Crossing the street, and guarded by the tiger statues, is a Memorial to all those alumni that gave their lives for their country. The reflection stones are arranged like the points on a compass, with stones to mark north, east, south, and west, as well.
I watched the flag for a while, hoping to get a gust of wind to blow it out, but there was very little wind that day. I love the reminders that freedom is never free. As I circled around, reading some of the unfamiliar names on the stones, I wondered how many generations of these families still send their children to Clemson University, and they can now point out their heroic relatives, remembered in the stones.
Exiting the Scroll of Honor Memorial, I walked up the street, and then entered into the Memorial Park (I think they’re separate, though they share the same block of property). You could walk through the grass from one to the other, but that would’ve felt wrong. Besides, when you go in at the proper entrance, you can read the words that are written into the path. How many of us think about the sacrifices of our brave soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines?
I was stopped in my tracks by these questions, “What will you give to? What will you commit to? Who will you protect? Who will you respect?”. “What will you give a life for?” Would you even do such a thing? These brave men did. When I reached the center of the park, my eyes were drawn towards the Scroll of Honor Memorial, which the Memorial Park was built to highlight, it seems. And then I spotted the words on the rocks. Can you see them?
As I left the park, I saw that the pathway of questions on respect, bravery, commitment, and sacrifice was repeated on that side. No matter which way you enter the park, you can’t escape these thought provoking words. And shouldn’t we be confronted with them? As the 71st anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack has just gone by, shouldn’t we remember what the great men of our country have sacrificed, that their children and grandchildren should continue to walk free?
And so, though I may never understand Clemson University’s favorite past-time, I support their quest to remember the sacrifices of our predecessors, and to build up men and women that understand the principles of freedom and love of country. I salute our military and those who have given their all for this country. And I salute those that support our armed forces, and Clemson is certainly on that list.