The bye weekend is always a weird weekend, mainly due to the fact that there's no football game to recap, no game to travel to, no undefeated record on the line.
It was made weirder, too, by "Sandy".
The epic "Frankenstorm" - as it's been dubbed - that was headed towards my house and the Lehigh Valley ultimately dwarfed my weekend, even pushing - gasp! - football to one side as I frantically did everything to get the house prepared for the storm.
It seemed to parallel a similar storm that hit a couple top teams in FCS - thus making, for the time being, the Mountain Hawks the only undefeated team in all of FCS.
It's weird not having a game to go to on Saturday. But that didn't mean I wasn't busy.
It seems like every project that comes on hold once Labor Day happens - cleaning up the yard, moving in the lawn furniture, making room in the garage - normally would be undertaken on the bye week anyway.
But with "Sandy" coming on Sunday, cleanup efforts all took on a new intensity.
Suddenly, things that might be done more leisurely, like shopping for food, charging up phones and mobile devices, and the like, needed to be done now. Now. Now.
Did this stop me from following the games that were important for Lehigh this weekend? Hardly. But it wasn't the main focus of my weekend. "Sandy" was.
The first step was, strangely, to clean out the garage, as there was no space for all the outside things, such as water hoses and lawn furniture, that needed a home indoors.
While I was doing that, I was DVR-ing Delaware at Old Dominion on NBC Sports Network, and catching part of Eastern Illinois against Eastern Kentucky, which was on FCS Atlantic.
I saw Panther QB Jimmy Garoppolo lead Eastern Illinois on a fine drive to take a lead they would never relinquish, a 24-7 win that clarifies the OVC title chase a little and might be the final death blow to the Colonel's chances for the postseason.
Later, through the magic of time-shifting, I'd watch part of a back-and-forth affair between the Monarchs and Blue Hens, won by Old Dominion 31-16 when S Devon Simmons finally ended Delaware's final shot at the win with an interception. The Monarchs' are hoping their win will be enough to clinch them a postseason berth, and while Delaware's postseason chances are not completely dashed yet, they no longer have any room for error.
Once the garage was arranged enough for me to fit something else inside, I went out and took in all the outside stuff and found a spot for it inside. I also had to make one final mow of the lawn and clean out the gutters, too, in anticipation of a mammoth storm that could dump more than 6 inches of rain on our house.
I would occasionally come inside to check on some key scores in the Patriot League. Bucknell made a go at Colgate on their homecoming, but ultimately fell 47-33 to the most powerful offense in the Patriot League, led by Colgate QB Gavin McCarney.
I also listened to part of Fordham vs. Holy Cross, a thriller that ended in favor of the Rams 36-32. Fordham RB Carlton Koonce scored the game-winning TD with just 11 seconds left, but the story for Lehigh fans has to be the Crusader offense, led by QB Ryan Laughlin, who sliced up Fordham's defense for 488 yards and 4 TDs on Saturday. They'll certainly be an opponent not to overlook next Saturday.
When our house was done, it was time to head down to my mother-in-law's house. They were in Florida, but there was plenty to do to prepare their house for the hurricane - lawn furniture to put away, stuff to clean up, things to bring out of the basement to higher ground.
One the way down and the way back, I tuned in the Villanova/Towson game, a critical matchup in the East between teams that could still win the CAA title, or could quite possibly be a first round opponent for the Mountain Hawks, should Lehigh be so lucky to win their next three games. I listened to the Wildcats' rally from two touchdowns down - one of four ties in the game - but ultimately it would the the Tigers who would prevail 49-35 in an exhausting affair. The Tigers, led by QB Grant Enders, piled on 590 yards of offense on the Wildcats, including an eye-popping 321 yards rushing on one of the best rush defenses in the CAA.
The Tigers, battling off-the-field distractions this week, kept their CAA championship and playoff hopes alive, while Villanova now probably has to win at least one of their last two games, if not both, to make the postseason or win the CAA championship. Their game against nationally-ranked James Madison on November 10th looms very, very large.
Another game more directly affected by "Sandy" was one of Lehigh's opponents earlier in the year, Liberty, who fell 36-12 to Coastal Carolina in rain-soaked Conway, South Carolina. Watching the highlights showed some of "Sandy"'s potent force as a hurricane, but again, oddly, I was in denial about the power of the storm headed our way.
Then it was off to pick up my son from his birthday party. The hosts, in his goody bag, packed him something for "Sandy" - an LED flashlight. We knew it would come in handy the following day.
Back home, it was time to run to the scoreboard to catch two more scores on the day.
First was Georgetown, who would once again force seven turnovers against a Patriot League school. This time, though, the victims were Lafayette, and it would be the Leopards on the losing end, 20-17. Hoya CB Cameron Gamble would nab the seventh Leopard turnover on the evening with 32 seconds remaining to give Georgetown a big upset over Lafayette and also makes Lafayette's game next week against Colgate a must-win for the Leopards to stay relevant in the Patriot League title chase.
Then there was the other big game for Lehigh fans - the final game on the night, as the only other undefeated team in the nation, Cal Poly out of the Big Sky, traveled to Sacramento State to take on the Hornets. As the Mustangs' late comeback fell short, 35-29, Lehigh became the last team in FCS to remain undefeated, and one of only seven teams in Division I to be undefeated at this point of the season.
Thanks to a career day by Sacramento State QB Garrett Safron, who completed 31-for-38 passing for 303 yards and 4 TDs, Lehigh joined programs Ohio State, Oregon, Notre Dame, Alabama, Louisville and Kansas State with their undefeated record - an awesome lineup.
All things considered, it was a great course of events for Lehigh on the football field. Not only were the Mountain Hawks the only undefeated team left in FCS, Lafayette's loss means a Lehigh win over Holy Cross and a Colgate win over Lafayette next week would set up a Patriot League champonship game on November 10th at home against Colgate. And should Lehigh find a way to win their last three games, the Mountain Hawks couldn't put up a better resume to the playoff committee to ask for a seed - which means, if they win out, home games in the playoffs.
Of course, in 24 hours, I wouldn't be thinking much of football.
On Sunday, we awoke. We, of course, knew "Sandy" was going to be coming, but it sure didn't feel like an epic storm in our midst. The morning came, and we did some other prep for the house. It wasn't even raining, though that would start coming later in the afternoon. My wife and son went to the local supermarket, and got the last of the Parmalat.
But no inclement weather was stopping us from doing anything. Heck, we were even able to score some rolls to allow us to make chicken cheesesteaks for dinner.
Though prepared for anything - by definition, when you have Parmalat, you are prepared - doubts were certainly creeping in that this would be a storm that would affect us that much. Might this whole thing just blow out to sea? Will "Sandy" actually make this sharp left turn into our area, like every single computer model and weatherperson worth their salt was telling me?
Sunday night, the rain came down, and the first winds of Sandy started to howl. But nothing more than the worst storm over the summer, certainly. While flicking on and off QB Peyton Manning humiliating my Saints, even with LB Jonathan Vilma back, we did catch the many local news reports of what was to happen tomorrow with "Sandy". School was closed. Work was closed. We were here, devices charged, canned goods ready.
Yet in some ways, we were also cavalier. We thought the power might go out, yet we still blithely did plenty that relied on power Sunday night into Monday, even though the power might have gone out at any minute. My son and I played Playstation 3. Pancakes were made, and eaten. We put out Monopoly, and fired up all the computers in our house. I voted in my polls, and put in my Player of the Week nominees. I took a hot shower. We were "getting ready" for Sandy, though somehow my brain was preparing for an epic miss from the weatherpeople.
As the afternoon picked up, oddly, the rain, which had poured down most of the last 24 hours, lulled a little, but the wind started howling a little more. But we still had power, so I kept posting Facebook statuses to let our far-flung family know we were OK.
Calls started to roll in from concerned family members, but in the back of my head I downplayed things. We're not in a floodplain, so I'm not concerned about flooding, I told them, just a little bit concerned about the wind. "But I had seen winds like this before," I thought, remembering a Connecticut hurricane in the 1970s where the power was knocked out. This didn't come close to approaching that storm (though surely my kid memory of the storm made that one larger, and more fierce, than the one coming at us.)
At 5 PM, we still had power, so we made a proper dinner -- frozen tilapia, probably the first thing to go should, cooked in win and garlic, with wilted spinach and buttered noodles. Hardly hurricane fare, but we all enjoyed it. Afterwards, winds still howling, even a bit more now, but still plenty of time to do the dishes and watch the first hurricane reports on TV of terrible things down in Atlantic City, and, to a lesser extent, Delaware and other areas.
Reports rolled in concerning the Lehigh Valley, with wind gusts above 80 MPH. Lehigh had already cancelled classes, too, reminding me more that the storm was affecting lots of people up and down the coast.
At 8:00 PM the dishes were done, and full-on denial had set in. Why not bake some banana bread, my wife said, as the rain and wind audibly picked up some more, and the lights flickered once again? Sure, I said, lighting a fire in the fireplace, on one level denying that "Sandy" was going to be a big deal yet on another acknowledging that yes, it was, and we'll need a fire.
8:10 PM. Big flicker. Power goes out. 8:11 PM. Power comes back on. Run to the computer, put in one last Facebook status. 8:30 PM. The power goes out, and doesn't come back on again on this day.
My wife - bless her - knows how to prepare for emergencies. She not only knows where all the flashlights are, but also drags out the 30 year old short-wave radio and puts on the radio - thanks to the fact that she remembered to get the "D" batteries, making the 7-11 gal open up a pack of them and sell them to her for $2.50 apiece. That was $10 very well spent, let me tell you.
My son, in the dark, and the winds picking up to 50, 60 MPH outside, started to get scared. He and my wife huddled on the couch, while I went upstairs to get a birds-eye view of the proceedings. I had never appreciated the fact that we live on the top of a hill before, but now I could see all the way up the hill, seeing emergency vehicles roaming up and down the roads around our development. Lord knows what emergencies they were responding to - fires, medical emergencies, or lost pets - but I spared a thought for those guys, in this epic storm, doing their jobs.
I saw some big lights coming from the sky. It was hard to tell if they were, say, transformer explosions from power lines, or lightning strikes from the storms, but they didn't make any noise from where we were, which was eerier than it seems. Your mind races. Are there fires? Do I need to throw the family in the car and get out of here?
I stepped outside, and you can hear the hum of diesel generators in many houses. Candles flicker where electric lights generally are. Kids are outside with flashlights - looking for a lost pet? A lost family member? The smell of burning diesel and fireplaces, that almost smells like paraffin, fills the air. Leaves, pine needles, and debris are everywhere. And the wind continues to howl.
I went inside, and the three of us huddled around the radio, wondering what was happening. It seemed otherworldly, like that moment from my youth, huddling around a short-wave radio in a storm in Connecticut. These days, power-less, Internet-less, were supposed to be a thing of the past - and, yes, it was different, since we had our phones, could check them, could text. But it felt like 1975 all over again, a young family, listening to news radio, trying to get some information.
My wife and son finally fell asleep, and I put out the fire, naively wondering whether the power would come back on later in the night.
It's now Wednesday, and the power is still out in our house. We did get out, and saw that the expected flooding never happened, but the power was out to everyone in our development and many people in our driving radius. Many, many trees were blown over. We were lucky that none blew over at our house, just a lot of leaves and pine needles that would need to be cleaned up once we get the power back.
There have been some neat benefits. With the power out, playing an 8-hour epic game of Monopoly with my family is an easy call. Suddenly, there's plenty of time to carve that pumpkin before Halloween, which looks like it's going to be delayed a week due to the storm. Meals, sometimes an afterthought, suddenly become a three-person effort, trying to get things cooked before the sun goes down. (Good thing we have a gas stove.)
We're just inconvenienced, not in desperate straits, like some in New Jersey, New York, the Lehigh Valley or Delaware. But "Sandy" took a football weekend and made it into something not soon forgotten for us.