And indeed, "family" was how the game felt out in New Britain, Connecticut, where Lehigh took care of business against Central Connecticut State, 20-14.
The Blue Devils averaged 3,078 fans per home game in 2014. With a Friday night opening, the presence of a lot of family members, and a healthy-sized Lehigh contingent, packed Arute Field held more than 5,100 people in the stands.
Everywhere you looked at the game there was family. Including my dad.
Every year I always try to get my family to a Lehigh home game. Though it can be disruptive to my schedule at the game (since I'm working media), it's worth it to share the experience with those closest to me.
This weekend, with the football game a short 1 1/2 hour drive away from my mom and dad's house, I knew I wanted to bring my dad up to New Britain to watch the game.
On Friday morning I hopped in the car and tried to beat the Labor Day rush up to my mom and dad's house in Connecticut. I did so, where my mother had made one of my favorite meals of all-time: steamed mussels and fries for a late lunch. They were delicious.
After the meal, my dad and I prepared to head up to the game. I checked on my mom to figure out if she were going to be OK; she assured me she couldn't tear herself away from Narcos on Netflix, so her evening was going to be set just fine.
I allocated about two and a half hours to get up to New Britain. "You'll run into traffic getting up there," my father warned. He knew from whence he spoke; he's driven all over the state at one time or another on music gigs. Still, we left on the late side, where we proceeded to sit it traffic at about Waterbury, just as my dad had predicted.
I called my wife and son from the road on the hands-free handset, where I learned karate practice went very well and that my mother-in-law made it to the house to stay overnight. I wanted to bring them to the game, but with my son having his best friend have a birthday party on Saturday it would have been impossible to get back in time for that and have them come up. I was glad they were OK.
On the way up my dad and I covered a lot of topics. Our beloved Red Sox occupied a lot of the discussion, as we were trying to figure out whether OF Hanley Ramirez truly had a spot on this team anymore for the future. We were both excited about the new, young outfield, and wary as to whether P Rick Porcello would be a viable starter next year. We also had a moment of silence for the Phillies, whom the Red Sox were playing against that evening.
We talked a bit about the Hardware City Rock Cats, too.
For those not up on their minor league baseball, New Britain for years had a minor league affiliate of the Red Sox who competed there. We used to call them the "BritSox" and frequently caught a game or two yearly, looking at the material that may have been headed to Pawtucket, the Red Sox' AAA affilate. The BritSox also sometimes needed a band, and they would hire musicians, including my dad. Some days he'd let me tag along.
Today, it was the opposite. It was me heading to the press box and my dad tagging along, a fact not lost on me.
Eventually New Britain's AA team would lose their affiliation with the Red Sox and toil with a different set of major-league affiliations, most recently with the Minnesota Twins. This season is supposed to be their last in the Hardware City, playing against teams like the Phillies' AA affiliate in Reading - next season they will be competing in nearby Hartford instead, cementing that city's status of the home of minor-league franchises.
I never went to a Hartford Whalers' game with my father - his fan allegiance never translated to the NHL - but I was a loyal fan before owner Pete Karmanos packed up the team and moved to Carolina, where their NHL franchise became death to me. Karmanos is the reason why Hartford is now a minor league city today, moving the franchise after saying he would keep the team in Hartford if the fans met certain sellout and attendance standards in their final season. The fans kept up their end of the bargain, but he moved the team anyway.
But we did talk Brady, Patriots and DeflateGate, of course. "I think it's ridiculous," he told me, "that everyone is spending this much time and energy on this," his opinion representative of a lot of Patriot Nation. As odd as it may seem, his love of the Patriots did not extend to me, even though his Red Sox fandom did. The Pats had their one chance for me to be a lifelong fan in 1985, when QB Steve Grogan could have beaten the Chicago Bears in one of the biggest upsets in NFL history, but they blew their shot with me. The Saints, for me, were always the better choice.
We didn't talk the whole time about sports, but it did take up a significant amount of time. It has always been a very convenient intersection between us conversationally, and it's always fun to compare perspectives. Especially in regards to the Red Sox, we share victories and bounce frustrations off each other. We always did that well before that historic 2004 World Series win, not to mention the 2007 and 2013 world titles, but it's even more so these days, with the Red Sox struggling.
We found the parking garage next to the stadium and walked over to the entrance of Arute Field. The sun was starting to set and as it went down it made for a beautiful scene. I left him in the stands, his iPhone with full reception for the Red Sox game, simultaneously watching and following both events.
I found him again at halftime, where he gave be an update for the Red Sox game and said how he was impressed with QB Nick Shafnisky. "He's only a junior?" he asked me, and I responded that he indeed was. We agreed that the first half was a bit sloppy with mistakes, but the Mountain Hawks overall looked pretty good. I added more about the defense, whom very much impressed me.
Arute Field is a nice, modern stadium, a comfortable place to watch a game and fairly spectacular on this night, with perfect weather and a beautiful sunset to drink up from the home side.
I was a bit disappointed that my dad really couldn't sit over with the Lehigh contingent on the other side of the stadium. Lehigh fans are a "family", too, and my brought-together-too-late plans to try to meet up with other Lehigh folks were thwarted mostly by the traffic, but also with the layout of Arute stadium. Had my dad sat over with the Lehigh crowd, it would have been difficult for me to sweep over there to get him and do my post-game interviews.
As we went down to field level, I got a chance to see even more of the Lehigh family in action.
Family members of the players were greeting their sons as they were coming off the field. To a person there were smiles everywhere, and it seemed like it was about more than just a simple win.
Around us were the family of LB Colton Caslow - we knew because the family were wearing t-shirts with his number "5" on them. They couldn't have been more pumped after seeing him get 17 tackles, a performance that would win him Patriot League and national Player of the Week honors. It looked like they were going to bounce out of the stadium on their own power.
It was finally a chance for the Lehigh family to talk about something else other than last season - to talk about a stifling defensive effort, a game-clinching drive on the ground, some strong special teams play. They could have been talking about the team effort that seemed like a family working together to get something done.
As I was interviewing head coach Andy Coen, one of the members of Lehigh's staff, Eileen Biro, football secretary, stopped by to talk to him to say how she had to cover her eyes before every big play, only finding out through the cheers that something good had happened. Sometimes these games can be tough on the family, but when good things happen, like they did this weekend, it all becomes worth it.
It's a family-like togetherness, it must be said, that didn't feel present last year. We don't know how this season will turn out in the end, but if this game were any indication the family bond between the players and this team are very strong. And that is a very encouraging sign for the rest of the season.
I drove back with my father, both of us all smiles. My dad got to see what I do, we had a great experience, and we both saw so much about the Lehigh family on the field and off. For this Lehigh football family, too, it seems like it was a very good experience, too - and one that bodes well for the upcoming season.
The schedule after Central Connecticut is no Sunday family dinner. James Madison looms next week. Nationally-ranked Fordham, who upset Army 37-35 on the same Friday, looks to be a daunting foe, something I talked my dad's ear off about. Yale won't be easy, as my dad, a Dartmouth guy, knows.
But family can take you a long way in Division I football. I can't wait to find out how far it will take these Mountain Hawks.