September 20th, 2010

Sports fan

On the field

So this weekend, I was in a halftime show for a professional sporting event. On the field of play. On the jumbotron. The announcer even called out my name.

Graham's birthday was this week, and instead of doing a party at our house or a bar or something, he decided that he wanted to put together a group of friends to go to the Houston Dynamo game closest to his birthday. That turned out to be on Saturday against Toronto FC. This was actually quite a feat of organizing, as our friends aren't exactly prompt in their replies or organized in their gathering. But by Wednesday, he had 22 tickets secured under 8 different names at will call, and he more or less managed to herd a pretty unwieldy group of cats. We only had one cancellation and only two people owe us money.

This being Graham, though, we had to get to the stadium a little early just to ensure that things were going smoothly. Our friend Stephanie came with us, and after we got our tickets, we sort of lingered in the parking lot for a bit. There was the usual activity outside the stadium. A band was playing on a nearby stage. Lots of companies had tents up with promotions and/or goodies for the kids. And lots of fans were milling around.

At some point, my phone rang, and I went off to talk to Buttery and relate details on how to get to the game. While this was going on, a guy walked up to Graham, complimenting him on his old school Adidas Samba soccer shoes. The guy, it turned out, worked for the Dynamo in their sponsorship department. And he was looking for people to be in the half-time contest sponsored by Home Depot. The guy had just explained everything to Graham when I got off the phone and walked up to them.

"Do you want to be in the half time show?" Graham asked.

"Sure!" I said before thinking the whole thing through.

The guy looked elated. He handed two tee shirts to Graham, showed Graham some place we were supposed to be on the stadium map at the 35th minute of the game, and took off. It then occurred to me that I should have asked what we were doing before saying yes.

Oh well.

Our friends showed up and we found our seats inside and had a great time watching the game and/or socializing. We were all grouped together over three rows of seats, so it was fairly easy to talk to one another. We were sort of paying attention to the game, but it wasn't the most engrossed I've ever been at a sporting event.

At the 35th minute, Graham and I put on our Home Depot tee shirts and headed down to the field. We met up with the guy who'd recruited us in the parking lot, and he was standing with two other Home Depot clad men, who turned out to be very nice. Apparently we were to be in a head to head competition and the prize would be two $50 gift cards to Home Depot.

Our task was relatively simple: Put on a pair of work gloves, carry a narrow piece of plywood a quarter of the way across the field. Put four soccer balls on the plywood and carry it back to the goal line. The team with the most soccer balls wins. If there's a tie, the team that goes fastest wins.

It was actually pretty cool to watch part of the game from field level. There were a few minutes on the field until halftime, and we got to see the Toronto players very up close and personal as they walked off the field. They were very sweaty. And very well built.

At some point, I told Graham, "We're not here to win. We're here to humiliate ourselves," thereby taking some pressure off. Graham agreed. We walked over to the goal, and while the cheerleaders were doing some sort of performance, we discussed strategy. We knew we were slower than the other team. Graham was the only gringo. We needed to keep the soccer balls on the plywood. We discussed using my boobs for leverage. We discussed the foot crossing pattern we'd use. Graham did some knee bends and other stretching exercises, and he knelt on the field and grabbed a piece of grass.

Then we heard our names on the overhead speakers, and we were off! I'm pretty sure we were on the jumbotron. We knew we had at least 18 cheering fans. Most of the others, hopefully, were off getting beer.

We were much slower getting to the balls than the other team. And all strategy disappeared as soon as we got to the balls. Get them on! Get them on! Pick up the plywood! Go! Go! Go! My boobs (aside from remembering on the run out that they weren't clad in a jog bra of any sort) had no impact on the game.

Two of the balls almost immediately fell off. We just kept moving, slowing up a little and keeping an eye on each other to ensure we were going at the same pace and the same level. But we knew that the other team had lost two balls too. Almost halfway to the goal line, the announcer said that the other team dropped a third ball. I think that's when Graham got a little competitive. He started staring at the balls, willing them to stay in place.

The announcer got more excited! They were ahead of us! But we had more balls! Will we keep the ball advantage?!?

The next thing I knew, we were across the goal line and were declared the winners! We hugged and kissed each other, and then we congratulated the other team. Because really, this was a silly competition that could have easily gone the other way. They were really cool about it.

As we were walking off the field, a soccer ball flew into my hand, knocking the gift card out. One of the Toronto substitues was practicing and flew a ball my way. Graham tried to get the ball to give it back to him, but he was in game focus mode and just sort of pushed Graham aside. Every Dynamo person in the vicinity came over to make sure I was ok. I was perfectly fine.

When we walked off the field, random fans congratulated us for our victory. How strange.

The rest of the game was fun. The Dynamo ended up losing in the 93rd minute on a free kick, but there were fireworks after the game and we got to have our group photo taken on the field.

Afterwards we went to a bar and hung out for a few hours. Graham said it was exactly the birthday celebration that he wanted.

$100 at Home Depot! We're bickering about how to use it. I want to buy paint for the two bedrooms. Graham has his eye on some powertools. I'm sure we'll work it out eventually.

It was a lot of fun, even though we looked ridiculous. It's not the type of thing I would have thought that Graham would have volunteered for. I'm more likely to get us into silly situations than he is, but I think he was just sort of rolling with anything and everything for his birthday.

Last night there was another birthday celebration with my family, and tonight we're going to see Anthony Bourdain, which was a birthday present to him from my mom. A full week of birthday celebration.

I can't think of anyone who deserves it more.