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FAN OF THE HOUSE

Football field may be the only common ground left

It's back, and it's as if we are a nation again. The love of the game and its rituals are shared experiences, drawing us together to partake and yell.

September 15, 2010|Chris Erskine

What do I love about football? When the home team runs out on the field, through a paper banner painted by the cheerleaders the night before. Where do you even get paper like that? When I die, I want to crash through a banner and into the arms of some animal mascot, preferably a mermaid with rum on her breath.

What do I love about football? When the linebacker takes off his helmet and his bald noggin steams like a giant bowl of vermicelli. I love the way the Ohio State tuba player dots the i.

What do I love about football? The way a new season renders lesser sports invisible. When football starts, it's as if we are a nation again. Football, corny as a county fair, may be the last thing we all still have in common.

Like Moses, I'll follow football almost anywhere, even to the tougher parts of town. Last week I was in Burbank, for example.

How crazy-popular is the NFL when a town like Burbank, with so much to do, treats the opening of the season like the coronation of Zeus? Far as I know, Burbank doesn't even have an NFL team of its own (yet) but it celebrates the season anyway.

Truth is, having an NFL team is overrated. Who can even afford one anymore? Besides, it's not like the police need the extra work. I mean, how many cops do you have to add when a dozen defensive backs move into your downtown?

Anyway, in Burbank the other night, I watched as 200 strangers toasted the season opener by getting lightly toasted. By the time it was over, the 200 strangers were still strangers but happy, in that way that shared experience draws folks together. Jury duty and creative-writing class are just two other examples.

What do I love about football? The roar in a Burbank drinking establishment when something momentous happens. The ceiling lifts a little, and the wine glasses jiggle on the shelves. Primal scream therapy is back. And you can thank football for that.

Wandered down to the Coliseum last Saturday too, just to check out if they still love football there, after all that's happened. Evidently they do. You'll be pleased to hear that life goes on at USC (University of Sanctioned Children).

It's all about family over there. For instance, USC has a coach who hired his dad. I'm no genius but that seems like a pretty good idea. In that same vein, I'm thinking of hiring my mom. She'd be a good editor, inspiring yet firm. Of course, if she didn't work out I'd be the first to suggest her ouster.

"Sorry, Mom, we've chosen to go in another direction."

At USC, money never sleeps, but it does drink a fair bit. In the quad, many of the young scholars had taken breaks from studying to honor the start of another football season. One thing they do to relax is bounce pingpong balls into cups of beer. More than 100,000 years of human evolution, and this is what we've come to. I'll tell you, I couldn't be more proud.

Fun? You bet. I'm serious by nature, but when the Trojans marching band, some 20,000 strong, comes roaring down Trousdale Parkway, my goose bumps get goose bumps. I had my kid on my shoulders and he let out some sort of rebel yell usually associated with cattle drives and mutilations. Trumpets trumpeted. Troms boned. Football had arrived and life was loud again.

Over in the Coliseum itself, the mood was just as raucous. As you'll recall, the concrete in the Coliseum was poured by Roman slaves in approximately AD 70. I don't want to oversell it, but sitting in the Coliseum on a football Saturday night is like sitting in an aging birdbath of beer.

Yes, that's heaven for me too. The mood was alive, at least till the game started and the Trojans sputtered against some East Coast school best known for soccer and Thomas Jefferson. When the marine layer moved in, the game began to resemble the last act of " Les Miserables."

Let me just say that Matt Barkley deserves some sort of Nobel Prize for patience. He seems destined to spend the entire season watching his receivers spike perfect passes directly to the earth. If it were me, I'd go all Nicholson on those guys.

I'm all about personal growth, so watching Barkley keep his cool this season is bound to be inspiring. Also, if you like penalties, USC football is the sport for you.

Was it a total blast? I'd say yes. When it was over — a mercy killing as much as a game — my 7-year-old told me it had probably been his "best day ever."

He thanked me by planting a big old Monticello-sized kiss on my sunburned neck.

What do I love about football?

Everything.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

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