Beneath the joy and pageantry of a September Saturday lay something else.
With the roll-off of a center snare, Fansville sprung to life. It was gameday. A fall Saturday dominated by the joy and pageantry of college football fandom. Fans of State and Tech streamed through the streets, decorated head-to-toe in their colors. Maroon and White. Blue and Gold. Banners flew on flagpoles posted upon truck tailgates, fight songs blared from novelty bottle openers, fans regaled each other with tales of bowl games and upsets past.
Soon, the ball would be kicked, whistles would blow, and student sections would leap in joy. Cans and bottles of Dr. Pepper and Diet Dr. Pepper would be cracked open in celebration and commiseration. Fansville. This was Fansville.
Fansville seemed to live every weekend in a state of euphoria brought on by the competition of collegiate football teams. The town’s two Universities – State and Tech – seemed to be at a constant feverish state of competitive bliss. Each day was judged by its proximity to the final rivalry meetup of the season, when the town came together in the central stadium for a joyous battle upon the gridiron – A clash underlain by the conjoined excitement of a city brought together by rivalry. It defined the town’s ultimate paradox – two groups of people so similar that their minute differences – Gold and Blue versus Maroon and White, Normal versus Diet Dr. Pepper, Charcoal versus Propane grilling – became the blades which defined the razors edge between them.
Every fall weekend was defined by a joyousness, an uncritical acceptance of the importance of cheering on the home team, matched with an euphoric imbibing of 23 flavors of spicy cherry soda. Perhaps this sounds too perfect, perhaps their engagement with the great American sport should be considered in conflict with the enhancement and progress of the society itself. Indeed, you might ask, in a small town of two universities, why do we know so little of their academic prowess? And even knowing football’s importance, why do we know so little about the coaches and players who make up the teams at the center of this carnavale? Ponder this if you must.
But if I haven’t convinced you of this town’s glory, at the least you should know its particularity. Surely people from all parts of college football come out to witness and experience Gameday in Fansville. They come from Gainesville, East Lansing, and Tempe, knowing only of their Autzen Zoos, Fargodomes, and Wildcat Power Towels, making pilgrimages to Gameday in Fansville in a way not dissimilar to those made to Mecca, the Vatican, or the house from Breaking Bad.
The two marching bands have now led the fan caravans (carafans) to the ticket gates. Anthropomorphized Dr. Pepper cans and school mascots lead them to the bleachers, the whistle of gametime beckoning them.
Some who come make the pilgrimage ask why the town has this aura about it. Typically, upon first asking that question, they are told not to worry about it, not to get too curious and to simply enjoy the game and a cool sip of Diet Dr. Pepper. But if the curiosity sticks around, if the delicious 23 flavors of Dr. Pepper does not sate the naggling at the back of the mind, the feeling that all of this may be too good to be true, they can learn the truth underneath it all.
Within the town, there lay a locker room. This may be the away, or home locker room. It may be at either the Tech or State practice facility, or in the stadium itself. It may be part of the abandoned A&M University practice facility before the town shunned it at once for hiring the bastard Richard Pibb Junior as University president in the 1980s.
Some light slips into the room from a dusty window alongside the ceiling. The floor is grimy, the showers drip acrid water, the hooks and locks of each locker damaged and rusted from years of misuse. Barren helmets, shoulder pads, and facemasks pock the floor. Old gameplans of years past – the wishbone, flex-option, the 46 defense – remain fading on old blackboards.
But on the floor, underneath a beaten-down wooden bench, sits Les Miles. He is nude, malnourished, and covered in years of grime. He mumbles phrases to himself – Insight.com Bowl, Ryan Perriloux, Big Twelve South Division – phrases which may have at one point meant something to him but now have little to nothing. The door to the locker room never opens, it remains shut from the first practice to the playoff finals. Except for when it is not, for when it is thrown open, when people – sometimes familiar, sometimes strangers – come to see him. They may kick at him to get him to stand up, they may throw him an old can of Cherry Chocolate Dr. Pepper Ten, and they then leave hastily.
Every fan in Fansville knows of him. Tech, State, they all learn it at some point, normally during Freshman year before the first game of the season, and they never forget the sight. They feel frustration. They would like to help the coach, but they are all too aware of the fact that helping or freeing him would change everything. For this gilded beauty of this late autumnal day, all the fans in Fansville know that there he must remain.
The terms are strict and absolute. Nobody may speak a word to the coach.
When they learn, they may leave tearfully, or in immense rage. They go home and brood, angered at the thought of the lie in which they’ve grown up, the pageantry and celebration of the gridiron battle built upon so much pain and squalor. But they soon logicize it all out. If he were to be let out, the future would be very limited for him. His best hope would likely be to coach a team from a basketball school to three wins. Most move on and return to the tailgate. They sip Dr. Peppers, eat hot dogs with mustard and onion and tell themselves it’s okay.
But others still… They cannot put it behind. From the day of learning forward, they cannot shake the thought, they cannot taste the Dr. Pepper, they cannot hear the whistle blow or the cheerleaders’ chants without remembering the sight of the coach. In the offseason days, during March Madness or the Frozen Four, when football is off of the mind briefly, and when the Dr. Pepper twelve packs remain on the shelves, they decide to leave. They are the ones who walk away from Fansville.
The final ceremonial piece of the pregame celebration is happening. An elderly man in a suit has put the head of the Tech mascot atop his own. The blue and gold contingent of the crowd cheers in elation, with a noise and joy inexplicable to those who haven’t experienced Gameday in Fansville.
If either the barbecue wife or the guy who played the Tech mascot in last season’s ads wants to hang out please hit me up on Twitter. this is a lengthy parody of this ursula leguin story