Wake Up

Wake Up

I wrote this before the 2020 Football Season and am publishing it here because I can.

The story goes something like this.

In January of 1931, some cadets were on their way back to school at Texas A&M and hit a black and white dog with whatever rambling metal death trap they were driving back then. The dog was alive but injured, so they bundled her up and put her in the rambling metal death trap and drove her to campus, where they hid her in their dorm and tried to keep her quiet. As is so often  the case when college students try to do something sneaky, plans went sideways very quickly, and the dog blew her cover by howling when the morning playing of Reveille began.

Reveille comes from the French word for “Wake up”, but most likely if you’re in the military and the bugle call is serving as your alarm clock, you’re already in trouble for the day. The dog didn’t really know any of that, or that she would earn her name by barking wildly. She was just responding to that weird animal brain function that says, “Something is making noise, let’s make noise back at it.” Still, I can’t help but enjoy the translation, because there’s probably not a better name for something related to Aggie Football.

For a long time now, the football program at Texas A&M has consistently been referred to as a “sleeping giant.” Blessed with a good location for recruiting, rabid fan support, and more and more money being poured into the program, it’s bewildering that the Aggies have spent so much time struggling to break through into conference and national championship discussions. They won the Big 12 Championship in 1998, and still the giant slept. They hired a coach away from historic powerhouse Alabama, and the giant nearly went into a coma. They marched into the SEC with a Heisman quarterback and won 11 games, and the snores continue to echo off the walls of the Bright Complex. The athletic budget expands, the university rebuilds the stadium, hires another big name coach, and we spend the off-seasons pointing at recruiting rankings or discussing new assistant coach contracts. Whatever we do to fill the gap in between real games, it’s all just shouting into the void.

“Wake up. Wake up. Wake. Up.”

I wrote last offseason about becoming a parent for the first time, and the amount of joy that brought into my life. What I did not mention, was the amount of waking up it brings into your life.

I certainly don’t intend to be the guy who complains about what it takes to “raise” a child. Trust me, I’ve met that guy before, and I hate that guy. My son has been a relatively easy baby, and my wife does 98% of everything that is required to keep our house from collapsing on itself into a black hole of nothingness at the end of a cul-de-sac. So again, I am not complaining here.

The fact remains though, babies wake you up. A lot. For the first few months, they sleep for 2-4 hour stretches at night, and then they wake up thinking they’re starving. And then those stretches increase, until the first time the baby gets a 6 or an 8 hour stretch in.

You open your eyes, and you’re so happy and well rested, and then a little panicky, because well… sometimes the worst thing possible happens to a sleeping infant, something so terrible I will skim right past it. You see their steady breathing, and you relax a little bit. You pick them up and say, “Wake up” as you realize another small milestone has whizzed past you in the night.

And not long afterwards you’re racing your wife to the nursery to be the first person to wake the baby up. To get those “You’re still here.” smiles from a small human who hasn’t mastered object permanence. To hold onto a morning ritual that will eventually be replaced with a toddler standing over you at 5 in the morning to let you know that they put cereal in the dog bowls or flushed your Apple Watch down the toilet.

And someday they won’t wake up before you, and they won’t smile at you when you rouse them from their teenage slumber. Or they’ll just snooze their iPhone alarm instead and roll back over.

I’m not there yet... those milestones are still a long ways off. But occasionally I have to tell myself, “Wake up. Don’t sleep through this. It never lasts.”

The first First Lady of Aggieland was obviously not the last. She went from a mixed breed dog of unknown origins to a Shetland Shepherd and eventually the Rough Collie we have today. Every iteration of her has been beautiful and good, because she’s a dog, and all dogs are good dogs. Like an Aggie football season, each one has been wonderful and weird in their own way, and even the stories we’d like to forget are recorded somewhere in an old Battalion article or a post on the internet.

Students used to place bets on what yardline Reveille II would relieve herself on, which is objectively funny and proves that college students have evolved very little in the last 60 years. She once bit a TCU coach in the middle of a game, and had to be muzzled afterwards.

There was Reveille VI, who was kidnapped before the 1993 Cotton Bowl. She was taken by students of a school down in Austin which we no longer care about, even though the upcoming game had nothing to do with a rivalry that would be abandoned nearly 20 years later. She was returned when Texas A&M threatened legal action, which would seem to bode well for the football team. They lost to Notre Dame 28-3.

There was her successor, Rev Sev, who had multiple stints at obedience school, was banned from restaurants, fell off a building ledge, and was quarantined for two weeks after biting her trainer. She’s a favorite of mine.

Even the most recent Reveilles make headlines these days, like when a young cadet jumped in front of Reveille VIII to protect her from an SMU player who was having trouble slowing down.

There is also the picture that circulated not too long ago of Reveille IX attacking a coed who had knelt for a picture. The story was that someone stepped on her tail in the background, and the poor pup retaliated in the only way she knew how.

People, particularly those that care for the First Lady, don’t like that story. And I get it. The picture looks worse than the situation really was, and the school has a brand and an image to uphold, not to mention the unnecessary spotlight it put on a college girl who just wanted a cute picture for her Instagram. But I can’t be the only one that identifies with the “Reveille Bites” stories. Who amongst us hasn’t bitten the hand that feeds us, or been so frustrated the only reasonable solution is to bite Nick Saban?

I think about last Fall, when I took my wife (stir crazy from a couple of months of maternity leave) and my 8 week old son (cranky from his first round of vaccinations and from only sleeping in 3 hour stretches) to College Station for the Auburn game. We had no intentions of going into Kyle Field, but we have a great tailgating group that we were missing and it just seemed like fun. It could have gone horribly wrong, in fact, it probably should have. It was pure idiocy.

But it didn’t. The baby acted as if he was specifically born to be passed around to whatever woman had a freehand and a desire to get that newborn smell up close, and my wife had a blast doing something that didn’t involve sitting on our couch, scrolling past Netflix’s latest suggestions.

Yet at the end of the day, I was angry at a football team who once again let me down. And though I’ve gotten better over the years, sometimes I still take it personally. My wife finally pulled me aside and gently reminded me that we just had a great day with our son, his first time in Aggieland, and that I really needed to (paraphrasing here) “quit acting like an idiot.”

“Wake up. You’re missing the good part. Don’t sleep through this.”

My wife understood, she knows the truth as well as I do. Sometimes football lets us down. Sometimes we let ourselves down. Sometimes dogs bite.

She doesn’t hold it against me.

Perhaps the biggest flaw of any dog is their mortality. It’s not their fault. Dogs are good and wonderful, and nothing good and wonderful can last forever. The average lifespan of any dog is probably somewhere between 12-15 years. Rough Collies are on the higher end of that, small dogs can live forever (or at least 16-20 years), and big dogs like Mastiffs and Great Danes can average under a decade of knocking people over and eating like small horses. The simple fact is this, if you get a dog as a young healthy American, you’re probably going to spend some time living after they’re gone.

A handful of the former A&M mascots have pushed into that 15 year age range, and a few have passed unexpectedly closer to the 10 year mark. Sometimes ailments of one kind or another have brought them to early ends, but it doesn’t really matter when or how they go. When it comes to dogs, the bumper of a fast moving car and old age hit us all with the same amount of force.

We’re never ready to lose them. We bury them, we grieve, we accept that good things can’t last, and we try to move on.

The last time an SEC team played football, news of a viral illness spreading in the Wuhan region of China was a slight blip on most people’s radar. When LSU played Clemson for the national title on January 13th, Thailand reported its first case with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and other nations following in the next few weeks. Still, most Americans weren’t worried, and that’s fair. Despite what people tell you, there really is only a finite amount of caring that can be done at any given moment, and China is far, far away.

Within a couple of months, NCAA tournaments and activities would be suspended, restaurants would be closed, and shelter-in-place orders were handed down by city and state governments. As the summer drug on and fear rose like mercury in the heat, rumblings about college football started. Something that seemed utterly insane to discuss in February would become a legitimate talking point in only a few short months.

It’s understandable why people were worried. For one thing, college football is a money printing industry. And not just for the higher ups at the NCAA or the multimillionaire coaches. There is a lot of money at stake for athletic departments as a whole, for bars and restaurants in college towns, and for a number of people whose careers and livelihoods are entwined with college athletics. That doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the ramifications of a fall without football, but the fact is, money drives a lot of concerns, and we’re already starting to see some of those worries come to fruition.

Maybe heaviest on everyone’s mind, even though they couldn’t admit it, is that a lot of people weren’t ready for a life without college football. Sure, people would find ways to fill their time as they did in the Spring and Summer months, and life would go on even for the type of folks that spend their Tuesdays trying to get onto Paul Finebaum’s radio show. But exaggerations are always rooted in some truth, they always seem to have some basis in reality.

And if this fear of losing college football in the face of a global pandemic didn’t already seem a little like worrying about your swimming pool while a wildfire blazes 20 feet from your front door, the country was rocked with protests, riots, and general discord. All the messiness of the spring and summer months cannot even begin to be dissected by a simple post on the internet, so I will not try.

But I think it’s fair to say that something terrible happened, and a lot of Americans believe that something shouldn’t be allowed to happen again and again. Sometimes that message gets lost in everything else, and devolves into politicians and corporations putting out meaningless press releases while people on Twitter argue back and forth, as if there are winners and losers here. The optimist in me hopes that folks spent time looking in on themselves, their beliefs, their willingness to listen and sympathize with other people, and grow. I know I tried.

It certainly got more interesting when college football players did some introspection and realized, “Oh wow, we have a platform and a lot of power in our situation.” Stances were taken, demands were made, and suddenly the college football landscape shifted once again, as teenagers and young twenty year olds realized they are more than just a gladiator sent out on Saturday mornings to fight for our entertainment. I’m not saying everything these student athletes have written in the notes app and tweeted out is correct, or that public institutions of higher learning should bow to the whims of a star player. I am saying that they have voices, they’re being heard now, and that’s a good thing. Because their influence almost certainly won’t last forever, so they deserve the chance to get to use it while they can.

All of this happened, and yet somehow we are in the early stages of some sort of a 2020 College Football Season. It could be derailed at any moment, by a locker room outbreak, a coach being put in ICU, a massive flare up across the country in November. Who knows, maybe College Football goes on as the only thing remotely normal about 2020.

It’s certainly going to be weird and frustrating though, and people who have more power and responsibility than the rest of us (who wouldn’t know how to wield it if we had it) will make decisions we disagree with. Games have already been cancelled, whole conferences electing to ride this storm out until the Spring. Stadiums will limit capacities, and that tailgate group my family loves so much? They’re unlikely to get together at all this year. But that’s okay. I will take what I can get at this point.

College football has survived many things. An attempt to kill it in the early 1900s, world wars that exhausted the supply of young and fit 20 years olds to play the game, global pandemics, and who knows what lies on the horizon. The idea of fairness in amateurism and reasonable compensation, safety of the game being played, and other concerns are (rightfully) being examined every year, and they’re not going away anytime soon. These concerns may kill college football, but I don’t think so.

I think it will change and adapt, and we may have to bury parts of it. Maybe parts that we love. But this offseason reminded me to wake up. To pay attention to the things we love, because they will change, they will grow, and sometimes... they will disappear.

If there is any chance of the sleeping giant waking up, 2020 was going to be one of the best shots in recent memory. The Aggies return a good bit of talent, with a head coach and main coordinators in their 3rd year in College Station. A fairly easy 12 game schedule has been condensed into a much less friendly 10 game, All-SEC schedule, but it could be a lot worse. The chance to do something is still there, regardless of the problems that will forever be associated with this season. I hope they wake up. I hope they do something amazing, and I hope they get the opportunity to do it without risking the health and safety of the team, the coaches, and the fans.

But if they don’t... if the giant hits snooze and rolls over again, if the season gets cut short due to safety concerns, I hope I don’t sleep through it too. I hope I’m awake for all of it.

For the milestones in my son’s life, for enjoying time together with my family and friends, for other people’s causes that I might not fully understand but need to sympathize with, for wins and losses, for college football. I hope I take it all in, because the dog won’t live forever.

The good things never last.

I hope I remember that. I hope you do too.