Aug 29 / Todd

On Homecoming. Together.

We made it through “the other part of the year.” Now another JMU year, and with it a football season, are upon us. And this one feels special to us for some reason. Not that every year doesn’t have its own charms, but as we enter our 10th season of this pure, beloved dork-hobby of a project, something is different and requires both acknowledgement and gratitude. This thing has been there for us through illness and death and children and spectacular personal-life successes and failures (all mine, Rob’s navigated adulthood brilliantly). Maybe it’s our inspiration Spencer Hall hanging it up over at Every Day Should be Saturday and us knowing there won’t be his annual kickoff column to read; something that always meant so much more than sports.  Maybe it’s not knowing what our own future looks like with this thing we’ve both come to love but which isn’t always compatible with middle-aged life. But whatever it is we’re gonna try, and likely come up short, to say a thing about what makes this all so special.

Homecoming. A word college football fans know and love so much that we probably don’t ever think too deeply on it after years of knowing “it’s the big game.”  The one where the school rolls out all the good stuff and old folks like us act like undergrad fools for a few hours or a weekend. But the act itself – coming home – is more than that, and feels different for Dukes. It probably does for other fanbases too, but all we know about is Dukes. What does it fully mean to come home to JMU? Does it have to be in Harrisonburg? Or could one come home in Morgantown, West Virginia or Chattonooga, Tennessee or Kingston, Rhode Island, or even Frisco, Texas? Needless to say, it’s a whole lot more than black-out games or conference rivalries, or even class reunions. And it doesn’t happen once a year, but at least eleven or twelve times and hopefully more if things break the way we all hope.

If you’re reading this, you probably know that much of our JMUSB engagement with other fans has migrated over the years from the comments on this here site over to Twitter. We run that account – the JMUSB Twitter account – together, and I know I speak for both of us when I say that it has become one of our favorite things. And you know what makes it great? It’s all about JMU and that just makes us happy. It’s the closest thing to “sticking to sports” in a world where that’s not possible. We each maintain separate “Individual” accounts on that site, and others, where we follow family and friends and the outside world. And in talking to each other over the years, we’ve realized that we sometimes see two different worlds on those other accounts given our often divergent views on all kinds of things. I imagine that’s the way it is for many folks out there. And while I may check those other accounts for breaking news or family photos or event information, it also seems to makes me sad and angry and unhappy and anxious.

But every fall, the JMU tribe gathers back up and we come home. Together.  

Throughout the long offseason, I often find myself on those other accounts growing steadily angrier at some members of my JMU tribe. I’ve thought a lot about my own anger, and where it comes from. I’ve thought on this a good deal more than is healthy; of that I’m certain.  And you know the only thing I’ve come up with? The very thing that pisses me off or makes me sad – sad like the very snowflake I’m probably being accused of being at this very moment – is how much I love those folks in my tribe. I know them, I love them, I respect them. And you know why? Because when we come home every fall, we grill brats and we roast oysters and we share too many beers and bad brown liquor. And we throw bags, and play 2×4 jenga, and yell “it’s Bo Time” at the chicken, and share streamers, early mornings, and late nights. On the very best days, we even rush fields in Williamsburg or Harrisonburg (ASU) or Chatty or Frisco. Together. And somewhere in all that frivolous debauchery, my tribe has graciously and unconditionally been a healing salve on the gaping wounds left by some of those personal failings I mentioned. They’ve been an undeniable force for good in service of others from the Valley to Seattle and back. From Crab Feasts to Food Pantries. They know me. All my flaws and happiness and many of them know darned sure that none of us as individuals are all one thing or another. None of us are all good or all bad, all one party or another, all right or wrong. They’ve put me up in Charlotte or Wilmington or Albuquerque when I needed a weekend away from the world. We know each other well enough to know that none of us believe in an across-the-board ideology on anything. Except one thing that is: Dukes! And I’d like to think that occasionally I’ve been able to return the favor with support and friendship and joy. Especially when I know them a bit too and have learned at least a teensy bit about their own heartbreaks and tragedies and joyous occasions.

But we always come home to this one thing we share. We share a love and passion and experience that brings us back. There may be no real chance of “sticking to sports” anywhere, and there shouldn’t be, but there is believing, together, in this singular grand, silly, loving, and delusional thing that brings us back.

When Start Wearing Purple begins and visiting fans are bewildered at the song choice, we are together. When we lovingly laugh at alumni-band day when the first few notes of Bill Chase’s “Get it On” blast out, we are together. When we smirk knowingly when someone sneers “Party in the EndZone,” we are together. When we giggle asking a stranger “You rootin’ fer Dukes, bud?” we are together. And when we all come together on the Twitter cesspool to celebrate a random night in August of preseason NFL featuring former Dukes, we are together.

It’s enough to make us wonder if maybe we all stepped away a little more often from all the “screens” in our life, if we couldn’t find some more “together?”

College athletics, in particular the type of big-time college football that JMU plays, brings with it all kinds of problems and issues and wildly irrational contradictions. At least if we’re honest about the endeavor it does.  And I’m not suggesting for even a minute that whether the issue is college football or altogether more important things in the world, that we shouldn’t question or challenge – or when necessary even call out – our own friends and fellow tribal members to be better or think differently. But the thing I think we love the most about loving this insane endeavor that is JMU football is that when we do those things, we do so after we have first recognized each other as “Dukes.” When we are Dukes first, we’ve already acknowledged each of our members’ humanity in a way we so often don’t in other forums. I’m not saying JMU football itself is even the best thing in the world to bring us together (but come on, it is!), but I would scream the same full-throated defense of this silly thing at the elitist liberal faculty member AND the equally clueless anti-higher-ed conservative legislator who can’t grasp why “athletics is the front porch of the university.” I think there is one thing they both miss in not understanding the place this thing holds – however anachronistic on a micro level – in the cultural landscape at the macro level. This thing, this coming home, is one of the last spaces where we come home “together,” and that keeps us coming back year after year.

Dr. King once remarked – and I’ve always supposed he did so plainly and sadly – of worship services, that “Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America.” More and more, the same could be said of so many of the group civic and cultural activities we voluntarily elect to participate in, even when the exact types of segregation may continually shift. But you can’t say the same about this one thing we love, and for that I am filled with gratitude. When we come home to JMU we sign up to share fellowship with others who may only agree with us on this one thing, Dukes, but that thing makes all the difference in the way we talk – and more importantly for loudmouths like me – the way we listen. And I’d suggest to all the fellow members of our tribe that we celebrate this as a strength of this crazy thing we love, not a weakness. Most of us don’t just cheer 19-yr olds, or bitch about playcalling, or pour countless hours and dollars into this thing we love because we deeply care about the beauty of a finely-tuned spread offense or because we don’t believe in concussions. Rather, we do so for something deeper, maybe even something that involves connection with others. Once a year, when we ask our old pals from over Massanutten to share “the good stuff” with us, they send us their tailgate spot. And they don’t ask for any shibboleth other than that we bleed purple and we imbibe together, when we’ve come home.

Or who knows, maybe I’m full of crap? After all, my favorite recurring character in literature, Travis McGee, is a guy who always claims to be “wary of all earnestness.” Maybe with all the acrimony between us humans today I should do the same and this whole bowlful of words I just tried to write is all too earnest to be taken seriously. But the deeper truth with my guy is that McGee is actually full of it when he acts the cynic. Despite his own spectacular failures, he always comes home to his friends, sometimes in open and vulnerable and yes, earnest, ways. So with that I say let’s do this thing – coming home again – one more time! Together. Go Dukes!

Home.

4 Comments

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  1. Chris / Aug 29 2019

    GO DUKES!!! Well written.

  2. Drake / Aug 29 2019

    I usually make it up from Atlanta once a year for a game and this year I get a bonus with the Chattanooga game. It’s not close to the feeling you get when you’re driving up 81 and see exit 245, but it will sure feel great to see a ton of purple in Tennessee.

  3. Zac / Aug 29 2019

    Can’t wait to come home a couple times with all you other purple rootin Dukes this fall!

  4. Bruce Osborne / Aug 30 2019

    Thanks for your moving, thoughtful, earnest, inspirational words. I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments. During a highly divisive time, it’s wonderful to have something that brings us together. Go, Dukes!

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