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Sunday's Word: Missing

There have been a lot of movies called "Missing" over the years, but none are as powerful as the Jack Lemmon/Sissy Spacek movie from 1982, still one of the best political dramas brought to the screen.

It's not an easy watch from director Costa-Gavras, but it's a gripping political tale, based on a true story about a leftist sympathizer who disappeared in Chile in 1973 in the run-up to Augusto Pinochet's military coup.  Lemmon plays the father who travels to Chile to find out the truth in a place where the truth is hard to sort out.

My own version of "missing", involving the Lehigh game this weekend, is a whole lot less dramatic.  It was no modern tragedy. It was not as important.  But from this strange experience of "missing" a Lehigh football game, I learned a lot more about myself that I would have ever imagined.

"Miss" the home opener?  Unthinkable, right? 

Here I am, a guy who has a passion about Lehigh football that borders on insanity, trying to work out this Labor day weekend so I can do it all.

The beginning of the football season is sometimes tough to plan for as a family.   There are three days off from the day job, and the truth is you have to make them all count.  There's my football things, there's family things, and there's things specifically for my eight year old son, and it's a very delicate balance.

There was only one time when my wife could see her extended family up in Connecticut for the rest of the year - Labor Day weekend. 

There was only one time when my son and I could go fishing, uninterrrupted, with my Dad the rest of the year - Labor Day weekend. 

And, of course, there is only one opener of the 2012 Lehigh football season, which happened this year - as you well know - on Labor Day weekend.

My wife, of course, saw all this coming a few weeks ago. 

And, to her immense credit, she tried to plan things out to make me happy.  "You can't 'miss' the opener," she tells me two weeks ago, trying to scheme a way for us to plan it all - to, say, go to part of the game, leave early, and head up to Connecticut.

Way too late, I determined the math wouldn't work. 

There were only so many hours in the three-day weekend and give everyone the time and energy they all deserved, and the truth is, the football game got pushed to the side - as it should have.

The truth is, there will be many, many football games I will hopefully be able to enjoy in the future.  But my son will only be eight years old once, and a finite number of times when eight-year-old-son will be able to fish with me and his grandfather.  Similarly, I have no way of knowing how long my wife's family will be around.  We need to make these trips to visit family, and cherish those visits.

Even if they do happen during the home opener.

*****

So I've talked myself into "missing" the home opener.  It's the right thing to do, right?  Family first.  Do the right thing.  You'll be blessed for it.  Right?

My plan was thus: to visit the extended family Saturday for lunch, stay incommunicado for about six or seven hours, then experience the game in the comfort of my mother and father's house via Lehigh's streaming solution, Stretch Internet.  (Preferably with a gin & tonic, or a Yuengling.)

Logically, the plan was worked out.  But emotionally, I was miserable.

It is probably hard to understand, for the layman, what it means to miss the home opener when you literally can't remember the last home opener you've missed.  You go to the home opener because it's what you've always done.  You go because it's what you do


Furthermore, when you cover the team like I have over such a long period, it becomes expected that you go, that you give your Facebook and Twitter commentary, that your recap comes on Saturday, the "Word" comes on Sunday, and the highlights of the press come Monday.

I don't think that many people really understand that there is actual pain involved with this process of "missing" a game like this.   You end up feeling like you're letting everyone down in some way.

You go in the car - doing exactly what you should be doing, which is go see the family - but inside, you know you're missing it, you're missing the anticipation of a seemingly-interminable offseason.   Your Twitter is off.  Your Facebook is shut down.  Your voice is silenced.  And it sucks.

Opening weekend for football fans is like Christmas.  All year, you've received hints of the gifts along the way: an announcement of the incoming class, a Spring football game that is just a taste of the fall team, hints of the team's composition during preseason camp.  And when Christmas comes, you are ready to receive your gifts.

Being in that car on the way up to Connecticut was like being told that Christmas for me was instead coming on February 3rd.   With the phones turned off, visions of people enjoying their gifts of imaginary touchdown passes from senior QB Mike Colvin to senior WR Ryan Spadola while I sat in blessed, but frustrating, ignorance. 

The rest of the fans were there, either at the stadium in the 90 degree heat, watching it live on their TV screens, or streaming it over the internet. 

And I was not one of those people. 

As a result, I was miserable - even though I signed up for it. 

While part of me rationally tried to remind myself that not only is it the right thing to do, most any other sane person in America would do the same thing, there was this persistent, mopey kid inside of me that couldn't let it go.  I should be there!  I am "missing" everything!  Why on Earth did I say to my wife that I would simply see the game later? 

It's times like these when I remember how well I married. 

Any other human being would have probably left me on the side of the road in New Rochelle, New York after spending a sulky several hours with me in the car.  (Hell, I'm not even sure I wouldn't have left myself on the side of the road.)

But I also came to a realization: some version of this struggle happens with every single sports fan to some degree.

In every single sports fan is this sulky kid that wants it all.  If they see four Lehigh home games, they want to see five.  If they see the FCS playoff win in the Round of 16 over Towson, they need to fly out to North Dakota in December to see them play in the FCS Round of 8.  If they see Lehigh beat Duke, they have to see them beat Xavier.  It's a monster that never seems to completely be fed.  The fan wants more and more, and it never really stops. 

Unless you're paid very large sums of money to attend the games, there is a constant tug-of-war between one's sports desires and one's family needs and obligations. 

Yet if you're a working person, there are only a limited amount of three-day weekends, and your kids are only eight years old once.  You have to make every moment count. 

In more areas than just sports, life is a balancing act between the desires of that sulky kid inside of all of us and the responsible adult that tries to come out.  In this tale of "missing", while the first quarter saw the sulky kid jump out to an early lead, fortunately for everyone (or at least my family, anyway,) the adult came through with the victory in the end.

When we did ultimately end up seeing my wife's family at the Greek festival, I did manage to put football out of my mind for a few hours and enjoy myself, along with my wife and son.  We got to stuff ourselces with Greek treats, and got to enjoy the presence of my wife's aunt, uncle and cousins, and learned more about this side of the family.  (I even got to talk to a couple ex-pat Lehigh folks about Lehigh/Lafayette and the Nation as well.)


When I did go fishing with my father and son, we had a blast on the lake.  We went out on the boat, caught and released about a dozen fish between us, and just missed the thunderstorm as we left to have a fantstic dinner.  (My father even cracked open a 30 year old bottle of wine for us to enjoy.)

It's funny: I acknowledge the hurt of the "missing" game and everything that it entailed.  But at the same time, I wouldn't have "missed" the weekend with my family for anything.  It was more important, which I knew in my brain all along.  It just took the sulky kid a lot longer to accept it than everyone would have liked.

*****

Little did I know, however, that I'd still be "missing" the game late Monday night.

As we pulled into my mother and father's house, I unload the car, and shake hands with my dad.

"I don't know who won the game," I tell him, gently telling him that I want to be surprised about the outcome of the game.

"Lehigh won," he told me immediately, not missing a beat.

So I then checked the score, and indeed, I saw that the score was Lehigh 27, Monmouth 17.  While a bit irritated that my "radio silence" was busted, I was at least releived that Lehigh did win the game, though I was surprised that it was a low-scoring affair.

I checked to see if the video stream was available from Stretch Internet.  It was not.

After hamburgers and wine for dinner, I checked again.  Still no game.  I emailed Steve Lomangino over at Lehigh and he said that Stretch Internet was still archiving the game.

I checked for the game feed like a hyperactive rat looking for his meal pellet for the next three hours.  No on-demand broadcast of the game.  No highlights, except the ones in Lehigh's official recap of the game.

The next day, the game popped up in the Lehigh portal.  Unfortunately, it was only the audio track of the game, without the video - i.e. utterly useless.  (Note to Stretch Internet - when was it ever a good idea to release this?)

Sunday and Monday came and went, and still no video feed of the game.  (And as of right now?  Still no video feed of the game.  I'm looking at you, Stretch Internet.  It can't possibly be this hard.)

I accepted the fact that I would need to wait to watch the game on Saturday, but I had no concept that I might not be able to watch the game at all more than 48 hours later.

To a more casual fan, the official recap, with the video highlights provided, are probably enough for them to get a taste of what went on. 

For me, though, the more insane Lehigh fan, I still need to actually watch the replay of the game to fully appreciate what went on.  (Yes, even though I know the final score.)

There are things about a game that go beyond a two minute highlight reel or reading over drive charts.  It's not just the tipped pass that junior LB John Mahoney picked off for a crucial interception - it's the two, three, plays before it that matter as well.  It's the missed tackle not in the statistics, the yelling by head coach Andy Coen on the sidelines, the missed substitution, the missed coverage.

What I found very interesting was how the lack of a video stream disrupted my writing rhythm so much that I didn't write at all on Saturday and Sunday, save a three sentence attempt at an explanation about what happened.

I have learned that journalism and blogging thrives on routine and deadlines you set for yourself.  Saturday evening, you recap the game.  Sunday, the "Word".  Monday, you recap the press.  Tuesday, it's "Hawks of the Week", and Wednesday, it's the start of next week's preview.  It's a work-a-day thing.  When it's the season, you stick with your routine.  If you break it, you could break the whole thing.

It was amazing how easily my writing routine was wrecked with one decision to visit the family and the delay by Stretch Internet to make the game available on demand.   Only now am I trying to "catch up" to some degree with a "Word" describing what happened this weekend, and putting it in perspective.

Am I right to write on such a routine, and to try to do everything to not break it?

In this life, you have to adjust.  Things will happen.  When they do, you have to gather things up, move on, and regroup.  You have to jump right back in, because the alternative is unthinkable. 

I this is also true of my writing for Lehigh Football Nation.  I need to do a better job of rolling with punches.

Eventually, the Monmouth game will be available to watch.  I'll get a recap out.  And then, I'll get back into the routine. 

After all, I only "missed" one game.  I don't want to "miss" the season - or life, for that matter.

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