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I was still foggy from the dozen beers. The sun was down below the horizon, but as I took another drag from the Winston pursed between my lips the thought dawned that nothing had really yet happened. The day had begun in a daze of smoke, fungal remnants in my teeth and sleep-crusted eyeballs at noon. A couple Bloody Marys and reunions with old friends swallowed the afternoon, one bottle at a time piling higher and higher until everyone wasNo better way to start a day... beginning to look Yeltsin red. They had snuck up on me, one becoming three becoming seven before I knew it... and then somebody filled my just-emptied hand with another. Now I was burping hops in a strange backyard somewhere near the Oregon-Washington border and waiting for people to emerge from the house to head toward the automobiles...

 

So it was that I soon found myself sipping Coca-Cola and trying to shake a headache in the absurd locale of a laser-lit bowling alley on a Saturday night in Portland. Now some will try to argue that bowling is not a sport... but try telling that to my right arm. There were eight of us spread across two lanes, and others in our party sat back downing pitchers of watery beer out of plastic cups and greasy nachos and pizzas. The four of us on our lane had taken to speed bowling, trying to get the most value out of the flat two-hour eleven-dollar fee we had plunked down per person. This "Cosmic" bowling was the saddest display I'd ever seen of the genre; but then beggars cannot be choosers, and how many bowling alleys anymore let people just walk in and bowl?

 

Not the alley near my house, for sure... every time we walk over there it is yet another league night. According to statistics from the National Sporting Goods Association, 41 million Americans bowl at least once annually, with nearly ten percent of that total comprised of dues-paying league bowlers. I don't get out much, but I at least fit within that larger demographic. The first game had finished sadly, our hurried pace seeing only one player surpass a hundred pins (I just missed being the second, getting stuck with a split to finish and 99 pins total). After a hurried cigarette two of us started throwing for two players apiece. Halfway through the second game, we had each thrown twenty full frames. As my forearm felt fit to fall right off at the elbow, my fingers swelling from the too-small holes drilled into the house ball, it was something different altogether which distracted my attention from the alley.

 

Jeremiah Johnson and the Ducks dance in the new season... Sitting as others took their turn, I stared overhead. The television was sending out flickers of the Oregon-Washington game. Just a hundred miles south of our seats in the bowling alley, Autzen Stadium was going insane as Jaison Williams caught a Jeremiah Masoli pass and covered the rest of the forty-eight yards to the endzone to put the Ducks up by twenty over their Pac-10 rivals. Bowling might, by the numbers, be the most popular participatory sport in the United States (with golf a close second), but football is king for American sports spectators. And it was with a 44-10 rout against a conference opponent to start the season that the college of my employment successfully started another college football season.

 

There's something about that turn of weather, the crispness of autumn on long tailgating game days, the bonds that tie fans and their teams together at all levels of football throughout the nation. Even for a guy who spends large swaths of his summer watching rail-thin guys straddle carbon fiber bicycles in flamboyantly-colored Lycra, some primal element reawakens the traditional American sports fan lurking within the non-traditional shell whenever the mercury starts dropping in the thermometer. Thoughts of sack totals and pancake blocks, of field goals and punt returns and go routes and power sweeps and all-consuming FOOTBALL start to take hold. The attention span is forced to grow to accommodate the influx of raw data.

 

Even the first trip to the bowling alley in months cannot dissuade this reawakening. So it was that a dozen people who had only seconds before been frantically bowling now stood still, eyes glued to a television in a dimly-lit bowling alley in northeast Portland, and witnessed two more touchdowns before the clock struck zero. Masoli, in for starter Justin Roper after his second-quarter concussion, showed all the poise that helped him lead City College of San Francisco to the junior college national championship last season. He tossed another touchdown, a twenty-five yard play to Jeffrey Maehl, before yielding to freshman Chris Harper -- who scored himself on a keeper in the final minute. It was good to once again feel the tingle of school fight songs coursing up my spine.

 

And as my esteemed opponent has pointed out, professional football is soon around the corner as well. The team of our mutual fandom looks to have an interesting time as it navigates into long-untraveled waters. But the NFL is rife with parity, with potential, and with the possibility that any one of thirty-two teams (or at least twenty of those thirty-two) have a quasi-legitimate shot at taking the title before the start of the season. This is the time of the year when sports begin to hit closer to home. Sure, a non-traditional sports fan still revels in the action from Flushing Meadows and from the roads of Spain and the pitches of Europe thisThe images upon which father-son relationships are built... time of year, but September calls back all the lapsed baseball fanatics back into a domestic mindset. I love Inter Milan and Newcastle United, but there runs a deeper history between my allegiances and the Packers or Badgers or Ducks.

 

Team sports, insomuch as my father saw them, began and ended on the football field. My birth coincided with a Brewers' tailspin; basketball never held much cachet in our house save March Madness when the Badgers went deep; and hockey was my own outlet of fascination. So it was that September simultaneously saw the workload drop on the resort and sports get more exciting in the Bigalke household as football took its annual grip on our consciousness. Bowling might be fun, but even a Raiders-Dolphins matchup is more exciting than a PBA final. Hell, televised football captivates the attention more than bowling with buddies. And as much as I would love to see the Brewers finally make the playoffs in my lifetime after reaching their lone World Series appearance two months before my birth, it was not the Sabathia trade but the Favre trade which kept my dad and I on the telephone with each other this summer...

 

The most crucial part of being a non-traditional sports fan in America is knowing just when the traditional takes precedence. Neither beer nor bowling can distract the true fanatic from the objects of his infatuation. The gridiron brings floods of childhood back, playground pick-up games in the afternoons and cold evenings watching the Sunday- or Monday-night NFL games or college on Thursdays and Saturdays. The venue may change but the feeling holds consistent. Just as Labor Day as a child meant the last day of summer before school started anew, so too does the start of another football season signify a recycling of the calendar. The weekend concluded with all three of my collegiate teams -- Wisconsin, Wyoming and Oregon -- taking victory in their openers. I survived the bowling and the ensuing boozy headaches... and a mellow evening is all that remains before work starts up again tomorrow. Now to just call dad and get his thoughts on that Badger victory over Akron...

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