Saturday, October 07, 2006

A great BALL game: UNH-Richmond

Today was a very special day. I went to a college football game for the first time in a long time. But it wasn't just any college football game. It was to be a record breaker.

The last time I went to a UNH football game, Billy Estey was running back kickoffs and punts for touchdowns and quarterbacking the Wildcats.

And if you don't recall the name it's because he was a three sport star at Portsmouth High before starring in football and baseball at UNH in the mid-60s.

(In the spirit of honesty, I admit to attending one UNH football game in the early 90's, but that was to watch CHS alum Debbie Brown cheer. My seats were so low in the old grandstands that I couldn't see most of the field. So in my mind, it didn't really count.)

Today, well today was a different story. I took the advice of old friend and voice of Wildcat football Jim Jeannotte and tried the Alumni Association parking lot. Sure enough a lovely young lady informed me that I could park my rig in the AA lot so long as I was out by 4:00......provided I was going to the football game.

A short walk on this lovely fall day and I found myself at the ticket booth outside Lundholm Gymnasium......without the ridiculous lines I normally encounter for NHIAA tournament basketball games.

Once inside I thought about where I wanted to sit and decided standing high above the fray would work just fine so I chose to stand on the concourse to the east (I think it's's on the side where the baseball diamond used to be......and that's a story for another day) of the main grandstand.

A perfect choice.

Perfect, too, becasue in the third quarter, history found it's way right in front of me.

With the Wildcats knocking on the door at the one yard line, driving towards the 1,000 or so students rocking the East endzone grandstands, David Ball was split wide left on the one-yard line. He did his customary point to the sideline with his outside (this time his left) hand, his own personal way of gauging the distance from his position to the sideline. At the snap he came a couple of strides straight across the line of scrimmage, juked his sole defender in the endzone, and then planted his left foot and sprinted parallel to the goalline a few yards deep, making a beeline for the opposite side of the endzone, trying to find separation between his defender and himself. (And how much of a buzz word is "separation" these days in the world of football?). QB Ricky Santos, knowing from three years of practice exactly how long it would take Ball to traverse the width of the endzone and confident that in this situation Ball would find the slice of space needed to receive his toss, waited and then laid the ball into the waiting arms of what became, at that very instant, the Division One-Double A all-time touchdown leader.

And Jim Jeannote made the call! After all the miles and miles he has traveled with this team, he deserved the honor of making this call. And I hope he nailed it.

Instinctively my arms shot up and I found myself yelling. Talk about the quintessential Johnny-come-lately fan, but I couldn't help myself. There's something about the significance of this kid from Vermont, who had hoped to attend UNH as a basketball player, and settled for joining the track team, and just how much he has accomplished.

Of course maybe the emotions surrounding today's event was embellished a tad by whose record he broke. No one would give two hoots about someone breaking a record held by Bevo Francis, Dickie Hemric and Frank Selvy. But Jerry Rice, for crying out loud. JERRY RICE!

I found a welling feeling in my eyes and couldn't understand why in the world I was so touched by this event. Just watching David Ball catch that ball.....well that was just at thrill.

I couldn't take my eyes off him the rest of the game, hunting for him as they set up their formation, watching him run his routes. And it wasn't just him. A few moments after her son had caught his historic touchdown pass, his mother came over to the area adjacent to the home grandstand, right below my perch. I saw her, dressed in a blue home jersey with her son's #3 and carrying the now famous football, accept congratualations from a number of well wishers hanging by the area where the players enter and exit the field.

Later, at game's end, and with most of the huge crowd leaving, I couldn't leave my spot. Ball was surrounded on the field by the media folks, and then his parents, all of whom wanted a few words with today's hero.

But I couldn't leave. Not until he left the field.

Not until the only guy in college football who can say Jerry Rice is in HIS rearview mirror leaves the field.

And finally, he did. Out through the same area where his record breaking touchdown pattern started. Through the crowd of well wishers amidst the cheers, high-fives, hugs, kisses, and autograph requests. Stopping only for seconds, David Ball found his way under the grandstands and into the bowels of Cowell Stadium.

No one knows what the future will bring for David Ball, and I, for sure, have no way of knowing. But for one postcard perfect autumn afternoon in Durham, New Hampshire, David Ball vaulted onto the king's throne of receivers in his division.

Who is the UNH wedge breaker? He damn near killed three Richmond guys on one play and then got up and pursued the kick returner.

Standing on the concourse just outside of the gym - and more importantly only a short hop to the concession stands - is a great place to watch a game. No one standing in front of you. No one squirming in their seat beside you. Only problem is that you can't hear the public address system.'.....word.

Only problem, part II: Until the sun gets over near right field (sorry, I still think of that area as a baseball field), the brightness on the scoreboard makes it hard to read.

I'm guessing that someone has a blast sending all those messages across the computer generated message board on the scoreboard. But they could find something else for the person to do because no one paid any attention to the messages.

Remind me not to advertise on that message board when I open my next business. (Don't worry about forgetting to remind me because I'm not planning on opening anythying but cans of Diet Pepsi).

Found Bob Cole (Ethan's dad) standing on the concourse. Says he stands there all the time. Chatted with him for the first half and part of the third quarter. Then he left to go to the Exeter HS game. Missed Ball's TD. He was a big star at EHS and says he has not been back to a game since when he left the field at the end of his last game of his senior year in 1966.

Couple standing to my left was the perfect example of why wifes get left home. She commented on every single damn play. Man was she annoying. But I'm just a guest here, so I kept my mouth shut.

But I had a laugh or two. A guy two or three people down from me put his head down to slurp some soup just as Ball was running his touchdown pattern and the guy missed the entire play. Why would someone bother with his soup when the home team is driving for a touchdown and has just snapped the ball at the one yard line?

And the guy on the other side of him left to take a leak and was really pissed (sorry, Freudian slip) when he returned to find out that Ball had caught his record breaking touchdown.

Later a couple shows up on my right at about the start of the fourth quarter. Both dressed as if they just popped out of a GQ catalog. Blue oxford button down shirt. Preppy v-neck sweater. $50 haircut. Designer glasses. Perfectly trimmed nails. And he spent the entire freakin' fourth quarter farting with his cell phone, trying to read and answer text messages and explaining to his wife who was texting him and why. I'm convinced he'll show up at some corporate headquarters on Monday and just gush about the UNH football game he went to over the weekend.

Oh, well. Enjoyed the afternoon. Got back to the parking lot before 4:00 and headed back to Maine. Hope the day was half as entertaining for you.