Last week hundreds of Miami Heat fans prematurely exited Game Six with several minutes still remaining, only to discover in the parking lot that their team had valiantly fought back from the insurmountable nine-point deficit that convinced them to beat traffic instead.
Predictably (or at least as predictable as a lead quickly evaporating in any NBA game) many of those diehards scurried back to the American Airlines Arena to try and convince security to make hundreds of exceptions to its once-you-leave-you're-gone-for-good exiting policy.
And just as predictably, they were wildly unsuccessful at getting those security guards to basically fire themselves. The videos of their pleas - delicious failure diaries of adults in basketball jerseys - hit the Internet quickly. This is why the Internet exists.
So I watched several clips and gleefully savored the angst, up until the moment a distraught fan appeared in one video with his glum-looking child in tow. Then my schadenfreude came crashing down.
That kid did not choose to exit the game prematurely on his own. His ride made him leave. I've been that sad kid reluctantly leaving a full stadium, and I don't remember how many times it happened because it was damn near all of them.
Game after game and season after season throughout my childhood, I routinely left tie games, good games, close games and big games as they were still being contested because I had to, rather than chose to.
That’s because I was introduced to college football by my father, who for as long as I have known him - almost 40 years, though the first few are admittedly hazy - has never had the interest or the spare time to consume anything, let alone a four-hour football game in its entirety.
It's not just football games. He will open a beer and drink only half of it, on purpose. He will leave food on his plate, which a discipline I absolutely did not inherit. He regularly watches only some of a movie. I don’t think he’s had a full serving of anything in his life, and it's all quite deliberate.
In college I lived next door to a Ben & Jerry’s. One time while visiting, I watched him purchase four cups of ice cream, try one spoonful out of each flavor, and then - before I could stop him - dump the tray that held them into the garbage can on his way out the door.
“AAAAAHHHHH DAD!” I shouted, witness to his willful ice cream massacre. “WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?”
“I just wanted a taste,” he said, smiling.
“They have free samples,” I protested. “There are little spoons specifically so you can taste the flavors without having to buy a whole scoop.”
“I liked buying it,” he shrugged, still smiling.
At the time I was working three jobs while a full-time student - McDonalds on weekends, waiting tables on weeknights and tutoring foreign exchange students on how to speak proper ‘Merican almost every day - so watching ice cream that would have taken me two hours of menial work to pay for being thrown in the trash was almost offensive. So wasteful. So unnecessary.
It was similar to the way he treated his Ohio State season tickets during my childhood. We went to every home game and always arrived prior to kickoff - because there are few things more inelegant than being late for a big appointment.
But just as we would arrive early, we would also leave early. Even worse, we would depart the stadium and walk right across the intramural fields to his building at the medical center so he could get work done while I hung out with him.
I could clearly see the South Stands from his office. Alcatraz was once the world's cruelest prison because its inmates on the island were close enough to the shore to still hear girls in bathing suits happily frolicking on the beach - while they were locked up in cells. Old Upham Hall was my childhood Alcatraz.
Whenever O-H-I-O made its way around the stadium, I could envision the people we had been sitting near an hour earlier doing the first O as we had done in the first half. Each time the stadium erupted, I could feel the euphoria from a thousand feet away as I cringed and imagined the two, silent vacated spots on that B-deck bench where we could have still been.
Every cheer. Every big play. Every dropped pass. Every groan. When they won the game, I was crushed that I missed it. Whenever they lost I felt personally responsible.
My father is, at best, a casual fan - meaning he doesn’t ask will Ohio State win tomorrow as often as did Ohio State play yesterday. But he fortified my formative years with father-and-son trips to stadiums across the country. Not a year went by when we didn’t dutifully attend several first-halves of football or five innings of baseball games.
Granted, our premature evacuations were never of the surrendering variety that occurred as the Heat were cheating uncertain death last week against the Spurs. They were very predetermined. Years later I figured out what is completely obvious now: The games were background noise. Sitting in Ohio Stadium was an expensive, clairvoyant, and very deliberate setting.
Those days in the stadium really had nothing to do with consuming football. By halftime, the tickets he had paid for served their higher purpose. The game was secondary.
Miami is routinely vilified for being a lousy sports town wholly undeserving of anything good at all - the fucking Marlins have two World Series - but there is not only great variability to the community importance of sports teams across the country, there's individual variability.
People find different utility in attending these events, based solely on their own demand. Some people go for the actual game. My father went to be with me, in a place for us. Leaving at halftime was just him being consistent.
Those days in the stadium really had nothing to do with consuming football. By halftime, the tickets served their higher purpose.
That little Heat fan was unintentionally thrust into the worst kind of sports sadness this side of the civic larceny of what is now Art Modell’s corpse: Childhood sports trauma. It will pass. He'll tell his buddies about it over drinks in 20 years. My dad pulled me out of Game Six to beat traffic! HAHAHA CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT?
It's a story that will eventually render itself to being a fun memory he had of going to a game with his father, which just like everything else we take for granted in our youth, someday won't be a possibility. If he's fortunate, he'll get the opportunity to take his own kid to a game, or at least half of one.
My dad always worked his ass off, bought Ohio State season tickets, and took me to games. We almost always left at halftime. The second halves of so many games always ended up in the trash, just like so many half-beers and just like so many other things. I've tried for years to figure out why he's like that.
He grew up in squalor. Maybe, because of his poor childhood, he now enjoys having command of his possessions instead of them having command of him. Maybe he just prefers to stay unsatisfied. Maybe he likes that instead of going to sleep hungry every night as a child dreaming about ice cream cups, he's now throwing them in the garbage.
And maybe there was an important lesson buried in all of those halftime stadium escapes. Maybe that's why I think you should do whatever the hell you want with your game tickets, sports fans. And maybe that's why I love college football so much.