This Friday should have felt different.
I mean that in every possible way that I can. I really expected Friday morning football to feel weird, unnatural and not in a good way like a fun Thursday night game can be but in the way that it felt weird when I stumbled upon an Australian Football match happening live at around 3 AM when I was in high school. Sports shouldn’t be happening right then, and they certainly shouldn’t have been happening when I was in attendance. I combatted this ambivalence by forgetting that it wasn’t Saturday for most of the day.
In a more personal sense, I should not have enjoyed this Friday as much as I did. My last trip to a Kansas football game, back in September, for Homecoming, was ambivalent in an existential sense. In September, going back to the town in which I’d lived for years put me face-to-face with the knowledge that there were moments of my life that were better left untouched, pristinely placed in a different space and a different time. Last Friday, I went to a football game and laughed at the funny things that happened at the football game.
In a long, long term sense, I thought the final game of the 2018 season was going to be much different. Back in 2015, I genuinely believed that the 2018 Kansas team would be contending for bowl games and beating up on other Big XII teams, getting revenge for the way they used to blow the Jayhawks out. Back in 2015, I thought the end of 2018 would bring a fight for a seventh-or-eighth win. I thought the last game of the David Beaty era in Lawrence would be triumphant: Maybe he’d be moving on to a bigger job, boosted by the program he rebuilt. Maybe it’d be years and years from now, with a contending, successful program he rebuilt to his name like Gary Pinkel could boast at his retirement.
I also thought the stadium renovations were supposed to have begun by now but whatever.
All of those assumptions were proven wrong when I got there. The skies were gloomy as usual, the bleachers cold, the seating open and freely available, just like the Memorial Stadium – or, David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium – that I’ve always known. I watched the band march down the hill, waved to my friends, got into the stadium and picked up whichever seat suited me best, and settled in for some Jayhawk football.
I watched precisely one half of football. The first half of this game was among the most appallingly boring displays I’ve ever seen, which I’m going to blame on the 11 AM kickoff. There were, I think, turnovers abound and fumbles and whatnot, probably. Most of what actually imprinted itself on my memory were runs stuffed at the line of scrimmage and incomplete passes. I think Texas scored but I don’t think KU did. I left after half.
Back in September, I considered how futile and impossible it would be to try to go back to the Lawrence of my memory, one I think I’d situate sometime around summer 2016, when I was 21 and surrounded by beloved friends. If I could go back then, to the time when I for the first time in my life felt a truly fulfilling sense of joy at every day of living, would I? I wouldn’t, I determined then. It only feels the way because time has sanded away the rough edges, the muck and nettles that were so great then fell by the wayside. The ecstacies bolster while the agonies slough off as time progresses. If given the chance to speak to that joyous, appreciative 21 year old Joe, I determined that I wouldn’t.
I have changed my mind on that because I think it would be funny to tell the last real optimist version of me that David Beaty leaves the program with a 3-9 season and the games in 2018 are even more depressing than the ones I suffered through in 2016. Just to see what my reaction would be. I was strikingly optimistic – like, let’s look at some excerpts from that thing I wrote back in 2015 about this!
Holy shit! I really thought 8-4 was on the table! I thought we might stand to lose David Beaty to a better program after 2018! What a life I lived then.
But the funny thing about time is that it continues to progress at a normal rate. Coaches peak in very poor ways, players don’t reach the potential we thought they’d have, players do reach the potential we thought they’d have, I move to San Diego. 2018, though I thought it’d be different, came and went, and… well…
We’ve got Les Miles at the helm now, so whatever. Bird On.