Friday, November 23, 2012

Organic vs. Manufactured Energy and Enthusiasm

Thanksgiving weekend for me has always been about football but not just because of the always-fierce rivalry games between universities in my native Idaho and adjacent states of Montana, Washington and Utah, first broadcast via radio and then later television.

It was also usually the last weekend of the year when one could get in one last game of touch of flag football, both as I was growing up and then continuing as an adult up through my late 40s.

Three things struck me last weekend, when on a spectacular but crisp fall day, I was the guest of some friends at a rivalry game in Durham, North Carolina, where I now live, between North Carolina Central University and North Carolina A & T.

When you enter O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium on NCCU’s campus from the southeast gate, where we did, you suddenly find yourself right at field level, just steps from the end zone, as shown in the photo in this blog.

I realized that it was the first time I had been at turf level on a field such as that since high school, even though in my part-time role with the office of tours and conferences while attending Brigham Young University in the early 1970s I had coordinated the President’s box.

The second thing I noticed was the organic energy exuded by the fans and university officials.  Unlike what so many places try to manufacture, both college and professional, this energy was genuine, authentic and contagious.

Finally, the game itself reminded me of something I miss from when I first moved to Durham more than two decades ago and the then-single-A minor league Durham Bulls were still playing in the city’s historic Durham Athletic Park (DAP) which coincidentally is now restored as the the home field for NCCU’s baseball team.

Back then, both the team and the facility still resembled what had been made famous twelve months earlier in the movie Bull Durham.  Nothing was taken for granted.  Every throw to first was an adventure compared to today’s smooth-playing AAA team whose players are only a phone call away from playing in the “Bigs” as they play in the city’s acclaimed, made-to-look-retro ballpark.

The only predictable parts of the football game last weekend at NCCU were the appearances of the acclaimed marching bands for both schools.  The game featured what seemed like half a dozen blocked kicks and missed snaps and the back and forth wasn’t settled until overtime, unfortunately in A &T’s favor.

It was great entertainment and proof once again that genuine energy and enthusiasm trumps manufactured enthusiasm and that quality entertainment is rarely measured by stadium size or skyboxes or being “major league.”

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