Stanford 17 — Oregon 14
So that was a touch unexpected. The Ducks, used to clocking up around 55 points per game, managed 14 against a stalwart Cardinal which kept them to a round number of points in the first quarter. Round like the O in Oregon. It would be tempting to bill this as a battle of the birds, an avian struggle in which one feathery flapper triumphed. But sadly I understand “Cardinal” is a reference to the colour, not to the bird, so we’re left with other puns. “Oregon Quack Under Pressure”? “Stanford Displays Cardinal Virtues”? “Oh Oregon, Don’t Be Biretta”? My personal favourite, given the fact that Oregon were ranked #2 and Stanford #14, is currently “Ordinal Disrupted By Cardinal Numerals”. Which is about the only math-based joke you are likely to see in this column, so make the most of it.
Stanford didn’t have it all their own way: they dropped behind in the third quarter, and the game eventually turned out on a shoot-out between the two kickers. The American variety of football quite properly avoids the barbarous custom of penalty shoot-outs as an unsuitable and unfair means of deciding contests, but some curious impulse deep within the game’s lizard-brain, some crude and blunt twist of sporting DNA, arranged matters so that it came down to Alejandro Madonaldo and Jordan Williamson both taking a crucial kick apiece. Determined to make this as tense as possible, the ball hit the upright for Madonaldo and went clean through for Williamson. And that was it. Upset, reversal, “The Curial Case of the Collapsing Canards”. (I’ll stop now.)
As Gene Wojciechowski pointed out over at ESPN, galling on several levels for Oregon. Throws a spanner into their title plans, gives their rivals a bit of running-room, and for the players, a sod to lose at home on Senior Night. (For those unfamiliar with the term, Senior Day is the last home game of the season, during which the team are lauded and made much of. It is not, despite the name, a species of longer and murkier Senior Moment.) The last comment struck me because it reminded me what a lot of different perspectives people will have on this game, and how distinct they might be. For the players and students, the game is embedded in Senior Night, and somehow reflects, sums up or ironises the previous season. Like the couplet at the end of a Shakespearean sonnet, it has the potential to validate or twist away from the meaning which has been built up through the preceding weeks. And the game itself is only a few hours – though surely some of the most important – in the festivity that surrounds it. This may be one of the unexpected moments when cricket fans have more natural understanding than soccer fans of how football works. Despite the very obvious surface differences in tone, there’s a sort of commonality of basic structure between the two experiences in their classical form: “Dispute not with the people of the picnic” etc.1
That’s one context within which this game was watched and appreciated (or not appreciated, depending on what colour you were rooting for), but of course a much larger number of people will have watched it on TV. Philip Auslander’s scholarship on the notion of “liveness” has cast attention onto the ways in which TV is perhaps the dominant medium in our culture – to the extent that it structures how we read non-TV events. So, to pick an obvious example, going to a concert will frequently involve being in a stadium with a few tiny figures on a stage half a mile away, whilst you watch them being projected onto massive video screens above your head, and possibly intercut with sections from their own music videos. Which occasionally will project pictures of the crowd, or particular people in it (particularly if they’re sitting on someone else’s shoulders and singing along whilst possessing physical features which suit the choices of the camera crew.) It’s difficult to avoid a sense that at big concerts we’re sometimes being shown a TV programme about the exciting experience of being at the concert we’re at.
Certainly when watching a football game, TV seems curiously uninterested in replicating any pre-existing experience of the game: the angles it presents to the viewer aren’t an attempt to give you the view of a spectator, or even of the players. You frequently find yourself watching the action from angles which are better (or at least clearer, more exciting and comprehensible) than those which could be got by actually being there in person. We seem sometimes to be watching the game from an invisible set of points swooping around above the players’ heads. Which made me think this week that perhaps another mode of watching is becoming important – though perhaps not as significant as TV yet. Because when I replay bits of the game in my head, I find myself translating what I saw into the camera angles from Madden…
1 And, though this really is taking us away from the game in question, I have witnessed cheering common feeling between followers of the two sports. On quoting the opening lines from Redneck Woman about how “I ain’t never/ Been the Barbie-doll type/ No, I can’t drink that sweet champagne” but would rather drink beer at a tailgate, a cricket-watching friend of mine agreed heartily that sweet champagne was an abominable thing to bring to a game, and you wanted something dry and crisp, like a Freixenet. But I digress. (He’s right, mind you.)