Family and community are two words that are flung around like confetti nowadays. We’re a football family. We are a community of like-minded individuals who like a certain musical group. We think of community not as something where we are actively involved but where we are brought together for short periods of time. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing bad about this. It’s just that the meaning of the words has dulled with overuse.
Take this past weekend as an example. As many of you know, my husband and I are rabid, and I mean rabid, Navy football fans. We’ve had season tickets for about 15 years, beginning when we lived in Northern Virginia and games were a lovely day trip to Annapolis. When we moved down to Smith Mountain Lake, it never crossed our minds that we would cancel our tickets and stay home to watch games on television. It was just too much fun to be in the Navy-Marine Corp Stadium with upwards of 33,000 fans five times a year.
We tried once to make this a day trip. Too long a drive, too much traffic, and two grumpy people in one car. We started staying overnight, meeting up with friends we’d left behind when we moved further south. We made these five weekends away our time to play. Limited access to social media, except for an occasional posting on Twitter or Instagram. Mostly, we stayed in the moment with a group of like-minded fans who all sit in the same seats every game. Our group has changed over the years, but at the same time it has also stayed pretty much the same. Every year we have about 50% turnover, so we get to meet new folks all the time.
Last weekend was a zoo at the stadium. Navy hosted Air Force. Sellout crowd of over 38,000 people. Way too many cars for the parking lots and surrounding streets and lawns. The day starts with the March On when the Corp of Midshipmen march into the stadium in winter blues, even though it was 80+ degrees. It was after October 1, so winter blues it was. Everyone stands when the colors pass. Everyone stands for the National Anthem and then the fly-over. The game begins after both teams run onto the field, the coin toss at the center tells the teams which one gets the ball first. By now, the fans are “ready for some football.”
Our boisterous group cheered, moaned, and jumped up and down throughout the game. It all came down to the last 15 seconds when Navy held on to beat its rival of 50 years. Only Army and Notre Dame have played Navy for more years. Parents whose children go to the Academy go wild; fans like my husband and me go wild. There’s little like the pageantry, the unabashed patriotism, the symbolism of an academy game.
So, Navy won and the 38,000+ fans clogged exits to get to their cars. It took us over an hour to get out of the stadium and onto the highway that would take us to our hotel, the same one we’ve stayed in since we moved to the lake. It was so late that I went straight to the restaurant before checking in. We were starving. Never did it cross my mind that the two men at the front desk would be worried because we were so late. When we finally dragged in, Sam, who was on duty, called out to Ivan who was in the back area, “They’re here. They’re safe.” I didn’t realize that they would be so concerned. Ivan charged out of the manager’s office, around the counter, hugged me. He shook hands with my husband.
We’ve come to know Ivan over the years. We’ve prayed when he struggled with cancer and cheered when he was pronounced cured. We worried for his family in Puerto Rico after the recent hurricane. He told us, “they are all alive.” No running power, no electricity, no telecommunications, but his family was alive. We rejoiced in the news.
Okay, so it sound silly, but that little group of fans in Section Two, Blue Side is like a community that gathers together five times a year. And the two men at the Hilton are like family, because who else but family worries if you stay out too late.
Maybe the words aren’t so overused after all. I’ll keep my Navy community and my Hilton family, thank you very much.