Thursday, October 20, 2005
The First Time I Was on ESPN Sportscenter
All of us have embarrassing stories. For some of us, they are simply interesting and humorous anecdotes used to amuse our friends at cocktail parties and break the ice during social situations. You get together with a group of your friends, you have a few beers… and before you know what’s going on, somebody at the table is commenting on the time that you ended up in your underwear on top of the roof singing the Oscar-Meyer Wiener song. These stories are a chance for us to remember the past, and to laugh at ourselves. We enjoy telling stories, even the ones that embarrass us…because some stories are just too good to stay hidden within the confines of our intricate minds.
I have one such story.
I have often said, that my freshman year in college was one of the best years of my life. It is my opinion that this story will help to show why I believe that to be the case. That year was filled with new experiences, both good and bad. Sometimes, the levels at which I succeeded in certain areas were only rivaled by the levels at which I failed. Freshman year can be hard on many students, but at times I felt I was having an easier time, than most. I loved being at school and I loved doing the things I did to be a part of it. The emotions and memories of that time seem so surreal to me now; as if they had happened to somebody else. Certain memories, however, are so clear in my mind it is as if they happened yesterday.
This is one such memory.
The year was 1996, my freshman year at the University of Kansas. It was when the weather was still warm, and the grass was still green. It was time for another home football game for the KU Jayhawks, and the atmosphere was buzzing with the excitement of college athletics. People were streaming into the stadium, their hands holding flags and beers. Families, students, alumni, sportscasters….the crowd seemed to get larger and larger with each minute that passed as I stood nearby watching. This was college at its finest, when the students ruled the school and not the other way around. We were the masters of our domain, and this was our time, and I was a part of it.
I was a yell-leader that year, and I loved every moment that I was a part of the squad. It was my way of being a part of something that was beyond control, beyond explanation. I was a part of something so special, so untouched by reality, that it could not be washed away by any flood or struck down by any wrathful god. As college students, our time was immortal, and we were warriors of our own destinies. For universities like KU, school spirit is not a subtle suggestion, it is a way of life. It was our religion. Game days were our Sabbath, our holy day…and I was a part of it.
The weather that day was perfect for the explosive emotional drama that was college athletics. The air was crisp and clean, and the skies were deep blue. The stadium had already begun to fill, and as I prepared for the game with the rest of the squad I began to get excited. I had already begun to get the nervous feeling in my stomach, as the moment when I would step out onto that field approached. Soon it was time, and I was running out into the stadium and cheering along with the rest of the school as our football team came charging onto the field of battle. Another college football game had begun.
The game itself was the same as always, which is to say it was chaotic and full of life. The stands erupted with each new play, and each first down brought out new life in us as we willed our team to victory with yells and cheers. The energy around me was overpowering as floods of emotional waves crashed onto me with each new cheer and back flip. As our team prepared to score its first touchdown of the day, the yell-leaders prepared for the lap of victory.
The lap of victory involved 6 yell-leaders and 6 flags. Each man would carry a flag with its own letter, spelling out K-A-N-S-A-S. We would then wave the flags above our heads, and run around the stadium track in a celebratory ritual that caused the students to erupt into louder cheering. It was almost time for our first victory lap, and we were ready.
As it turned out, we were not going to get a touchdown on that drive, and so humbly we went back to our cheer line to continue to rally the students and create excitement in the crowd. Suddenly, the stadium burst into applause as our team managed to get into the end-zone for its first touchdown of the game, and an un-expected one at that. My coach yelled for us to grab the flags, and run the lap of victory while we were still young. We each bolted towards the flags on the ground, and grabbed them quickly as we began to run around the track to the cheers of the stadium. I grabbed my flag and started after the man in front of me, holding my letter A proudly above my head. I was the 5th letter in the group, and so I was the 2nd man to start running the victory lap.
As we ran around the track, the cheers of my classmates rang in my ears in a deafening roar of college spirit. I puffed out my chest and held my head high, and I ran holding onto my flag as the wind whipped against it, trying to pull it from my grasp. I tightened my grip, and continued to run, keeping in line with the man in front of me and watching the faces of the crowd as I ran by them.
Soon I began to notice that many of the faces were not cheering, but laughing. They pointed and laughed and took pictures. The roar of the crowd filled the stadium as we ran along holding our flags, and yet the more people I looked at as I passed, the more I saw laughter and pointing. I began to feel naked in a room full of strangers, and suddenly the need to drop my flag and run away began to grow within me. As we neared completion of our victory lap, I saw my coach running towards us, waving her arms wildly and yelling something. The noise in the stadium was too much, and so we could not make out her words. As she got closer we began to hear parts of what she was saying, and from the tone to her voice, she was not happy. As she ran up to us, she yelled so loudly and gestured so perfectly, there was no doubt as to what she was now saying to us:
“You idiots! Drop the flags, quick! Don’t you morons realize you ran out of order? You spelled it wrong! Goddammit we’re on television right now…everybody is watching this! Drop the flags! You spelled Kansas wrong!”
I slowly looked up at my flag, and felt my stomach turn upside-down inside my belly. I was not holding the letter A, as I should have been. I was holding the letter S. Somehow, the flags for man #5 (me) and man #4 had be switched in the confusion, and we had effectively spelled out the word K-A-N-A-S-S for the entire stadium to see.
KANASS. We had run around the track triumphantly displaying flags that not only spelled our state wrong, but included a profanity at the same time. Everybody in the school who was watching that game saw me holding the wrong flag. Everybody who was watching the game on TV saw me holding the wrong flag. I spelled Kansas wrong, and even though it wasn’t my mistake, the blame fell on me nonetheless. I was “Kanass” for the next 3 years in college. My fraternity never let me live it down, much to their amusement. My mother was at that football game, taking pictures and being proud of her little Kanass idiot. My friends laughed at me, along with the entire stadium that day.
Later on, I heard tell that our little mishap had ended up on ESPN Sportscenter…college bloopers and blunders of the week, or some such thing. I never saw the broadcast, but to this day I look back on the whole thing, and laugh. I was on ESPN, and not many of my friends can say that. The story has become a mini-legend within my social group, and I’m sure one day I will proudly tell my children the story of the time their father was on ESPN for one brief, shining moment. I was KANASS the immortal.
It was just another reason that we were immortal in those days, and why my freshman year at KU was one of the best of my life. I don’t look back on that day with any sense of dread or embarrassment, but of fondness. That day was a great day.
Of course, that was only the first time I was on ESPN’s Sportscenter…but we’ll save that story, for another time.