Monday, December 8th, 2008 was a watershed moment in my career as a die-hard sports fan. A few weeks ago I blogged about a pair of tickets to the Panthers-Buccaneers Monday Night Football game in Charlotte that the Normal Mormon Wife gave me as a gift on my 34th birthday. Few things in life get me giddy anymore, but the anticipation I felt leading up to that game was like the last day of school, Stake Lagoon Day, Christmas Eve and finishing the last chapter of Alma all wrapped up into one.
But there was one downside to the whole evening - the NMW could not come with me. Our lovely six-month-old daughter unilaterally decided two days before the game that it was a good time for her to quit nursing. Cold turkey. No warning. She ambushed us with as much surprise as when the machine-gun laden Cuban-Russian paratroopers begin landing in the empty field behind the high school in Red Dawn. Needless to say, this caused much travail for both mother and daughter, so I ended up taking the 7-year-old Normal Mormon Boy to the game with me. (Hey, sweetie, just remember that there are NFL games on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Feel free to get me the same gift next year if the Panthers play on a non-Sabbath-Day-breaking evening so that we can go to a game together. I'll act totally surprised. I promise.)
So what do you get when you send the NMH and the NMB to an NFL MNF NFC South game? I decided to keep a running diary to chronicle one of the most enjoyable sporting events of my life.
5:30 p.m. - Get dressed in my Panthers shirt and hat. The game kicks off at 8:30 p.m. and will not end until close to midnight, so I tell the NMB to dress in layers, including two pairs of socks. I ask the NMW, "Hon, do you know where my earmuffs are?" I then punch myself in the face for even considering wearing earmuffs to an NFL game. But I will go on the record and say that I like earmuffs. They are my preferred method of keeping my ears warm. The problem is that they make you look like a pansy. Pansies do not go to pro football games. The earmuffs are staying home tonight. This is exactly what it means to "Cowboy Up!"
7:00 - Quick dinner at McDonald's in Charlotte. The NMB goes pee. I splurge and we each get a $1 hot fudge Sunday. No earmuffs and dessert at Mickie D's? I'm a wild man tonight.
7:40 - Pull into a parking lot three blocks from the stadium. There is no visible price posted anywhere. I ask the guy who is directing us into the lot how much is costs to park and he replies, "Twenty." Twenty bucks to park! Don't they know I just dropped two extra George Washington's at McD's? After throwing up in my mouth, I park my car and we join the throng of Panther faithful walking toward the stadium.
7:42 - Nobody took my $20 and I don't see any parking lot attendants. Odd.
7:43 - The NMB tell me he has to pee again. It will take us at least 15 minutes to reach the stadium and we are currently smack dab in the middle of Booneyville. I ask him how bad he needs to go and he emphatically tells me that internal organs will explode like liquid yellow pipe bombs if he does not immediately relieve himself. Using my outstanding parenting skills, I direct my son to go to the bathroom in a vacant lot. Somehow I doubt this would have happened if the NMW would have accompanied me tonight.
7:46 - As we are walking to the stadium, I look down and notice that instead of wearing shoes the NMB decided to wear his crocs to the game! Those things have more holes in them than Plaxico Burress' legs. When I told him at home that he should wear two pairs of socks I assumed he would also understand that shoes would be a good idea. Oh well, I've heard frostbite can be an effective teacher.
8:09 - We take our seats way, way, way, way up in the top section. The atmosphere is already electric. The Panthers and Bucs are both 8-3 and battling for first place in the division. It feels like the playoffs. Or a Stake Championship men's basketball game. It's about the same.
8:11 - Hey, there are a few guys wearing earmuffs. Dang it!
8:14 - A pastor gives a pre-game prayer. I had no idea that pre-game prayers happened before NFL games. What is this, BYU? And what do the pastors say in the prayer before a 1:00 p.m. Sunday kick off? "And please forgive us for gluttoning ourselves on bratwurst and beer for the past four hours while tailgating in the bed of Jimbo's pickup instead of attending church on this Thy holy day?" The prayer helps me to remember that this is just a game, it does not matter who wins or loses, and hopefully nobody will get hurt tonight. I vow to remember these words of wisdom for the rest of the game.
8:16 - Oh, man, I hope the Panthers kill the Bucs!!!!! I will be so mad for the rest of the week if we lose!!!! I hope Julius Peppers tears Jeff Garcia's head off in the first quarter!!!!! Send him to the ER, Peppers!!!!!!! Kill!!!! Kill!!!!
8:18 - Player introductions begin. One by one the Panthers starters run out through a tunnel amid fireworks, smoke machines, and flames being shot into the air while their names are hollered over the PA system. I have goose bumps. Thousands of people are cheering these guys for coming to work tonight. This is their job, after all. I wish this was how my day at work started off every morning. Instead of just opening my office door and booting up my laptop, I would run through a smoke-filled tunnel with a PA announcer yelling, "A 6'6", 215-pound MBA from the University of Arizona. Your Regional HR Manager - The Normal. Mormon. Huuuuussssbaaaaaaand!" I would then slap fives with my plant manager, fist bump my controller, and chest bump my IT Manager. That would be cool.
8:25 - Is it possible to get a second-hand contact beer buzz from people sitting around you? If so, I'm in trouble tonight. You know the scene in Strange Brew when Rick Moranis goes swimming in a vat of Elsinore beer? I'm pretty sure he ended up smelling like the guy seated directly behind me.
8:30 - Kick off. Yeeeeeeeeee Haaawwwww! I'm at Monday Night Football. Surreal.
8:43 - A public service message comes over the Jumbo tron. It features five little kids who essentially say, "Please enjoy yourselves tonight, but don't get too drunk and belligerent because a number of reckless parents are keeping their kids up until midnight on a school night to come to the game. Please don't swear, kids can hear you." They even give us a text message number we can use to report (read: snitch) on people sitting near us who are being too profane and/or drunk. I think there will be nine of us left in the stadium by the end of the third quarter.
8:45 - I am sooooo tempted right now to send a text message to the snitch line to report an unruly, belligerent, inebriated fan sitting next to me. He is white, wearing crocs, is between the ages of six and eight, and looks kind of Mormon-ish.
9:09 - Another commercial comes on the Jumbo tron during a timeout. It is from a heating and cooling company and they give us an easy quiz that asks, "Is it most cost efficient to seal your windows with plastic? Raise two fingers for yes and one finger for no." Most people are voting for "No" by displaying one finger. Take a wild guess at which finger most of them are waving.
9:19 - The NMB has to go to the bathroom for the third time tonight.
10:00 - The halftime show begins. To this point the NMB has been mildly interested in the game but has spent more time reading the "freaky facts" in his game program than watching the action on the field. This changes immediately with the halftime show which consists of six-on-six full-contact football between local pro mascots (Panthers, Bobcats, etc.) and college mascots (UNC, NC State, etc.) These mascots are just KILLING each other out there. The Panthers mascot, Sir Purr, breaks loose for a 50-yard touchdown run and the NMB is screaming louder now than at any point during the real game. At the end of halftime the NMB looks over at me with a smile beaming on his face and says, "I wish we could watch mascot football for the rest of the game. That was awwwwwwwwwesome!"
10:01 - Wait, the Panthers mascot is named Sir Purr? What is he, a pampered, snooty, British housecat from a Barbie movie? That has to be the most sissy mascot name I have ever heard. Why not call him something manly, like "Pan-Thor" and let him wield the hammer of doom? Or Pan-Thunder? Or Panic the Panther? I could think of a million better names than Sir Purr. Pansy! I bet he wears earmuffs when it gets too cold. What a girly-man.
10:02 - It is the random parenting moments like watching your kid's face light up during a mascot football game that make being a dad so much fun. I love this kid. I am so glad to be here with him tonight and make this memory with him.
10:19 - The PA announcer just reminded everybody that alcohol will not be sold after the end of the third quarter. Unfortunately, 2,389 people are killed in the stampede to the concession stands.
10:27 - Touchdown, Steve Smith! The Panthers are pulling away. While all of us sitting in the stands are complete strangers, we begin high fiving each other in a display of spontaneous jubilation. I turn around and attempt to high five the drunk guy sitting behind me, but we fail to connect. It is always dangerous to have white guys high five, especially when you are strangers. And one of you is drunk. The "High Five" would be a cool field sobriety test for police to use. Instead of making people count backwards or walk a straight line, the cop could just hold up his hand and say, "High five me." You miss, you're spending the night locked up.
10:38 - The NMB goes to the restroom for the fourth time tonight. He is in world-record form right now. I think he has surpassed his previous record of three bathroom emergencies during Stake Conference.
10:55 - The NMB points up to the sky and says, "Look, dad, you can see the spotlights from outside the stadium hitting the bottoms of the clouds." Well, it's either spotlights or the alien invasion is beginning. I am going to be so mad if the aliens decided to blow up the earth right in the middle of my first NFL game! At least let us finish the fourth quarter. Maybe I've just seen too many commercials for "The Day The Earth Stood Still" and have been reading too much of the Ender's Game series.
11:07 - Touchdown, Panthers! We are up 31-17 late in the game and will overtake Tampa for first in the NFC South. Yesss!
11:28 - We begin walking back to the car when the NMB says, "Dad, I've got to go really, really bad." He is hopping up and down like he's jumping on an invisible pogo stick. Once again we are in the middle of Booneyville so I instruct the boy to urinate in a different vacant lot. I am now convinced that my son is actually part jackal and is instinctively marking his territory.
11:46 - Pull out of the parking lot, and once again, there are no parking attendants to collect my $20. Score! I just had a great evening bonding with my son, I saw my first NFL game, the Panthers won a crucial divisional match up, and aliens did not blow up the earth. And now I don't even have to pay for parking! Life does not get any better than this.
Man, twenty bucks. Do you realize how many earmuffs I can buy with that kind of money?