Sunday, December 13, 2009

Introduction to American Culture 101: Watching My first American Football game - A Baptism by Rain


Photo courtesy of Linda Herman.

Photo courtesy of Linda Herman.

Photo courtesy of Linda Herman.

Photo courtesy of Linda Herman.

Photo courtesy of Linda Herman.

Photo courtesy of Linda Herman.

The Bulldogs fight to recover one of six Mt. San Antonio College fumbles, in their 7-6 loss on Saturday Dec. 12. In a game that featured eight turnovers, CSM accounted for five, the last one being their last offensive play on the year ending on an Pelesasa's second interception of the game. Photo courtesy of Linda Herman . Caption by Bradley Davis/The San Matean.

CSM's defensive linemen Matongi Tonga takes down Mt. San Antonio running back Lancer Iosefa, for one of his five tackles, earning Most Valuable Defensive Player honors. Photo courtesy of Linda Herman. Caption by Bradley Davis/The San Matean.

I landed in San Francisco Airport on June. 21, 2009, my first time on U.S. soil, a child of two countries where people are more interested in betting on sports than in watching the sport itself.

As a result of America's hegemony over the world, more popularly known as Cocacolonization, I did not suffer any particular culture shock, having always lived in countries where I could find a McDonalds restaurant at almost every corner should I hunger for "all-American food."

But living in a sports-loving country like Australia has taught me one thing; I wouldn't really get to know about American culture fully until I have, in one way or another, taken a deeper look at the American sports obsession that is football. Here I have to thank my Australian friend Peter Cope who introduced me to the world of Australian football. When Pete is not busy keeping the Footy score for the Curtin Office pool, he competes with the weeds in a game of shoveling and raking on the Curtin's Vegie Garden which he started a few years ago. Like I said, Australians are nutty for competitive gardening and sports.

My opportunity to get to know The American Game came when the CSM (College of San Mateo) Bulldogs won the NorCal Championship and were playing the Junior College State Championship on Dec. 12. We knew we had to cover it for the last fall semester issue of The San Matean, come rain or shine. As the new managing editor, I felt it was my job to tag along with my sports editor to cover the game.

As a result of some miscommunication the day before, I was not allowed to cover the story in the press box, nor did I manage to find my sports editor. I was understandably upset. As I wandered despondently among the stands, who should I find but my International Students Services Coordinator, Ms Maggie Skaff, who came a hour early to nab the best seats in the stadium. Dear sweet Maggie offered me a seat beside her.

In retrospect that was the best spot that a reporter could ever possibly have. On my left was Maggie, who has been watching the Bulldogs play for 21 years since she came to work at CSM in 1988. In her spare time Maggie acts as a mother hen to us international students. Maggie was dressed in a green raincoat and spotting a green umbrella. For Irish luck, I thought, reminded of Ireland winning the Quidditch World Cup in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, with their green shamrocks and green-decked Leprechaun mascots.

On my right, was the father of the lineback coach for Mt.SAC (Mt. San Antonio College), the team that CSM was playing against. He had been playing football since he was fourteen and used to be a football coach. He drove six hours from his house to watch the game. I told him that he must be very proud of his son. He told me, only half-joking: "I love football. I don't love my son."

Sitting right in front of me was the Bulldogs quarterback Matt Pelesasa's mother Joann Pelesasa and the rest of his family who came to watch him play. The jolly dame, whose good cheer was not dampened one whit by the drenching rain, left us constantly convulsed in laughter throughout the game with quips like "We will all need to spend at least a half hour in the hot tub after this," referring to the torrential downpour. And boy was it pouring. The weather forecast predicted two inches of rain and wind gusts of up to 30mph. In sunny California it could pretty much be considered monsoon-like weather.

Before the kickoff at 12.15 p.m., everyone suddenly stood up and I did too. Four men in military regalia marched smartly onto the center of the field, one of them holding the American flag. One of the Bulldogs' sister sang the Star-Spangled Banner, the American national anthem, as the rest of the stadium stood in respectful silence or sang along in a wisp of a whisper that accompanied the steady pitter-patter of the rain on a sea-drum of umbrellas. Halfway through the song, the songstress' microphone failed, probably as a result of the pouring rain. There was an awkward few seconds of silence as her lone voice competed against the mighty rain. As if on cue and orchestrated by an invisible conductor, thousands of voices joined together as one to complete the song with her. It was a pretty heartwarming moment.

Throughout the first half of the game, I was in capable hands as Maggie and Quatran (not sure if I spelled his name right) took turns explaining the game to me. And boy had I a lot to learn. I did not even know what a touchdown was. My idea of a touchdown was someone holding the football throwing himself down onto the ground after passing some invisible boundary and scoring. Basically, to me, a touchdown was just something that the players generally like to do in the game. That was how ignorant I was. The wet bedraggled crowd erupted into loud cheers when Bulldogs quarterback Matt Pelesasa scored the first touchdown of the game in the first quarter; none cheered more loudly than his family, if my ringing ears were any indication. It was the first touchdown I ever saw in my 20 years.

During the game Maggie and I was also on the lookout for one of her international students, No. 51 defense lineman Sosefo Maka, who is from Tonga.

At halftime Maggie-okasan (Japanese for mother) treated me to a Polish dog. I ate the dog while watching the Bulldogs cheerleaders perform. "These girls are tougher than the boys," Quatran told me. Then the CSM Dance club came out to perform some of the same dances they did for the Fall Dance concert that I had watched only a week ago.

As I was sitting down to wait for the second half to start, a young boy in Mt. SAC colors, maroon and white, came wandering around where we were sitting. He was looking for his mother, who he said was supposed to be waiting for him there. He walked through our row and not finding his mother, began crying. I was at a loss for what to do. We tried to console him but then he tried to leave the stands. I couldn't very well leave him alone and followed him.

I asked him where his mother or father was. He, tears streaming down his face, told me that his father was one of the coaches on the field. I couldn't very well go running to the field to look for his father as by then the second half had begun.

Was he sure he was looking at the right place, I asked. He said she was supposed to be in the first row of the stands, so we went to the stands to the right of us then to the stands to the left of us. I asked him what was the color of the clothes that his mother was wearing. He told me gray, which didn't help much. We were essentially trying to find his mother among a crowd of 3,723 people.

I was getting increasingly desperate. I would have considered barging into the Press Box to ask someone if they could announce a missing child over the PA system to say that there was a boy whose father was in the field and who could not find his mother. But the game had already started. Suddenly the boy started running over to the very left side of the stands. Finally he pointed to a tent area in the stands and told me that he found his mother. I was relieved, and made my way back to the stands, coughing and sputtering (from all the running around) to find that I had missed the first two minutes of the third quarter.

As the third quarter drew to a close, I was beginning to think that the Bulldogs might win the game after all with a score of 6-0, when Mt. SAC scored a touchdown seven seconds to the end of the third quarter. Quatran was jubilant. I was distraught.

The Bulldogs valiantly attempted to steal back their lead in the last quarter of the game, but the Mt. SAC defense wasn't going to let that happened. We lost. Yes. We. At the start of the game they were the Bulldogs. By the end they became we. That was how emotionally involved I had become. That was my baptism by rain.

I was soaked to the bone, dressed only in a wet T-shirt and even wetter pants that could more appropriately be called a raincatcher just then. But, it was my heart that froze. How much harder was it, I wonder, for the Bulldogs themselves to have victory snatched from their very jaws? By just one point, one measly point?

I congratulated Quatran on his son's team winning the game. Then I went back to the Mt. SAC's side of the stadium to check up on the little boy. I found him sitting on his mother's lap, eating Cheetos. I smiled and waved at him. He smiled and waved back. My heart thawed a little.

During the award ceremony, they announced that CSM No. 17 defense lineman Matangi Tonga won Most Valuable Defense Player honors. My heart thawed a little more.

During the fall semester at The San Matean, I had written over 20 published articles which ranged from cosmetology stories to budget stories. Trust me, the CSM Bulldogs State Championship game article, with which I shared a byline with my sports editor, was the hardest to write; writing that article ended my first semester at CSM on a bittersweet note.

As a journalist I am supposed to emotionally detach myself from the stories I write. I have managed to do so, up until this moment. Who am I kidding anyway? A match between my journalistic need to be detached and a game where OUR team is PLAYING THEIR HEARTS OUT? No amount of Irish luck could ever hope to win me that battle.

Big game, check. Polish dog at half time, check. Helped child lost in large crowd find his mother, check. Proud of our team, check. Going to the next Bulldogs State Championship game? To borrow a quote from Humphrey Bogart's Rick Blaine in the 1942 American film Casablanca: Bulldogs, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

This article is rightfully dedicated to the CSM Bulldogs Football Team who fully embodies the great tenacity of our CSM mascot the Bulldog. Congratulations to the whole team for playing such a terrific season; the team to win CSM's first ever NorCal Title Championship since the CSM football program began in 1922.

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