Two weeks ago when K-State tipped off it's season against Eastern Kentucky I was in attendance with my wife, two friends and my youngest brother. This was his first K-State game day as a KSU student. A few weeks ago we helped move him and I wanted to also help break him in to the awesomeness of game-day.
This, of course, got me to thinking about my first game-day...
Itis 10:30 AM. I am just getting out of the shower. This is not a good thing. It is, of course, good that I have taken a shower. That makes me clean, less smelly and generally more pleasant to be around. No, the problem is not that I have taken a shower, but rather, that it is 10:30 AM and the rest of our group is arriving to leave for the game. We were supposed to have left by now, but we got held up doing some early morning work at the Circle S Ranch (a great place to have your wedding or romantic weekend, by the way).
So, we're already off to a late start, and it is looking like we won't actually be able to tailgate, which is also not a good thing. I love tailgating. I never tailgated as an undergrad because I was in the marching band every year; but once I started I was hooked. Usually, we can hook up with a group at the game who brings the grill, that way we don't have to drag ours an hour there and then drag it back after the game, unloading it in the dead of the night.
We line up outside Bramlage, preparing to march over to KSU Stadium for my first ever college game. Already my stomach is fluttering. The cadence starts and we begin our march. Halfway through somebody yells "WHAD'R WE GONNA DO?" and our response is, "BEAT THE HILLTOPPERS!" I have no idea what a hilltopper is but it does help me get pumped. We continue our march around the stadium, stopping at the North end to slap our directors hands and run down the hill back behind Varnier Sports Complex.
This year seems to be a turning point, though, as the group I normally tailgate with is getting old, moving far away and generally not attending the games on a regular basis. So, in part because we are running late and in part because we don't have a sure-fire tailgate option, we decide to eat lunch at a restaurant before hand. We choose La Fiesta because it was always my favorite Mexican option when I lived here (the food is top notch, the service is lightening fast and sometimes the margaritas are half-off).
I'm really excited about this game though. Not because of the Brown brothers (though I am eager to see them play) nor because of the football team even really. I am excited because today I am taking my younger brother (a freshman this year at K-State) to his first ever K-State Game Day.
That isn't strictly true. He has been to some K-State games before. He attended the Big 12 championship in 2003 with our mom to watch me play in the band and he came with us to New York last winter to watch the Pinstripe Bowl. This is, however, his first game in Bill Snyder Family Stadium. It is also his first game as a student. I want to make sure that he has such a good time that the purple will sink down into the depths of his soul and stay with him the rest of his life. I want to show him the awesome camaraderie of the grass-lot tailgating. I want him to revel in the craziness of Wabash cannonball. I want him to scream as we beat the snot out of some team that he has never heard of before and not get bored even though the game is safely in hand.
The band congregates in the ‘tunnel' in the North end zone, waiting for our part to start. I can see most of the stadium, and it is already half-full of people. The speakers begin to blare "LET'S GET READY TO RUMBLLLLLLLLLE!!!" and the whole band begins to jump in time with the music, pumping their fists and shouting ‘K', ‘S' and ‘U' at convenient breaks in the music. The song continues on for quite some time, and I am out of breath by the time it stops. I should have paced myself, because suddenly the band shouts "GO K-STATE!" and snaps to attention. I didn't even hear the whistle. Then the run-on cadence starts, THUMP THUMP DUH-DUH-DUH THUMP THUMP DUH-DUH-DUH, and we begin to run.
I don't even remember my first K-State game that well, actually. I don't remember who we played, just that they were the "Hilltoppers" (Western Kentucky apparently), nor do I remember the final score (48-3). I was a transplant who knew nothing of Wildcat football history. I went here because all my friends were going here, in-state tuition and to get far enough away from my parents who lived too close to that blight on the Kaw known as KU (I was sadly ignorant and did not think of it as a blight at the time). When I walked into the stadium for the first time, I had no idea who Bill Snyder was or why not knowing was even a big deal. I did not know that K-State had recently enjoyed some of the best success of any college football over the past decade, nor did I know that they had suffered the worst success ever for any team prior to that.
So I was not yet a true Wildcat fan. I am not the kind of person that usually gets into the whole "show-school-spirit-by-being-a-football-fanatic" thing. I still only half-heartedly cheer on my high school team, and that is mainly because my father-in-law is the head coach. So I never expected to become a football lover, no matter how good our team was. My first K-State game changed everything.
We stream towards the field. Things are moving fast now and I'm trying to remember where to line. Somewhere near the front. Frantically I search until I find the person I am supposed to be behind. I fall in line and start marching in place in high step. I am still out of breath and this isn't helping any. A trombone raises his horn high for a second, and then swings it down in a chopping motion as the band collective shouts, "ONE. TWO. ONE TWO THREE FOUR GO!" At go we start marching forward. Every two steps someone new steps onto the field. Am I supposed to lead with my left foot or my right? I can't remember, so I just lead with my left, which feels more natural. We are all pumping our horns, and many of the vets are whooping and hollering, a feral grin fixed on their faces. We reach our spots and march in place until the cadence changes. That is our cue to turn and come to attention. The drum-line immediately launches into Wildcat Victory and I just barely have enough energy to keep up, marking time in high-step and bringing my trumpet up to its playing position. The intro finishes and the time has come for me to play my first notes. Nothing comes out.
We finish up at La Fiesta and find a place to park before walking over to the stadium. We meet my brother there and find out he doesn't have a ticket. He didn't get enough student aid to cover all his tuition this year, and they won't give you football tickets until you have paid off your account balance. Great. Fortunately, I do still have some connections, so we wonder around the grass lot looking for a friend of mine that I am positive will have some tickets to sell. I am also positive he will be tailgating. Sure enough, we find the tailgate and he has someone with him selling tickets for $10 a piece (about $9 cheaper than our tickets). They aren't in the same section, but that isn't a problem, we've been to enough games to know how to get people into different sections.
We march down the field and I am trying to catch my breath so that I can actually play. This doesn't happen until we get to the turn at the start of the second verse of Wildcat Victory. Here we move into low-step and I can actually play my part. From here I am able to keep it together throughout most of the show, finding my spots without trouble and playing most of my notes. Until we get to Wabash.
After wandering around for a while and hitting up a few other tailgates we head to the stadium as kick-off is drawing closer and we don't want to miss pre-game. We sneak my brother into our section after paying $6.00 for a pop. $6.00! We are right next to the student section around the ten yard line in the North end-zone, so when the band came out for a little pre-pre-game festivities we were perfectly positioned.
My brother already knows all the moves. He performs Wabash flawlessly, and he even knows the words for the fight song (still working on his Alma Mater lyrics). In fact, it becomes glaringly obvious to me that he is already a die-hard K-State fan. Thanks in no small part to nearly a decade of brainwashing by yours truly, I'm sure.
We were warned before the game not to look into the crowd. It was described as nauseating, mesmerizing and disorienting. It starts off with the Leghorn. Basically, after the drum major whistles we begin marking time and then raise our horns on the down-step of the first beat. As we do this we yell, "Leg-Horn". Then the drums start. DUH-da-Duh DUH-da-Duh DUH-da-Duh DUH-da-Duh. Here we swing around towards the student section, and the crowd literally goes insane. I can barely hear the drum beat, and the entire East side of the stadium seems to be swaying and it is not long before I am out of step. I tear my gaze away from the teeming masses and focus back on my drum major to find the beat. I get to my spot, and as we play through the song the intensity never lets up. As I spread my feet and belt out the ending the power of the moment washes through me. 50,000 people have just gone bat-shit crazy because I played a song. I think I'm going to like it here.
It's game time. Let's Get Ready to Rumble starts to play and the blood gets to flowing. Nobody seems to jump anymore, but it s still exciting. Here comes the run-on, and we laugh as some poor trombone wanders around trying to find his spot. Some helpful vets point him in the right direction and he makes it there just in time. I don't think for me anything can compare to pre-game at K-State. During pre-game, anything is possible, no victory too far-fetched. As the stadium unites in song for Wildcat Victory, Star Spangled Banner and our Alma Mater, there is nothing we can't do together. The stadium lives up to it's name, we truly are a family.
DUH-da-Duh DUH-da-Duh DUH-da-Duh DUH-da-Duh
And then the crazy starts.