Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Surging Bulls

I wore green yesterday, a white-based shirt with light green orthogonal lines superposed and a green pant. Not by design, it just ended up that way. But it fitted yesterday’s mood in Tampa to a T. You see, the Bulls of the University of South Florida (the college football team, the American one) was hosting the 5th ranked Mountaineers of the West Virginia U at the Raymond James Stadium here in Tampa. For Bulls’ meteoric rise (the program started 11 years ago and that’s still considered fledgling compared to other in-state brethren, say the Gators) to being ranked 18 in the country, a noted first, this was it, in front of a national TV audience.

I got a taste of what was in store earlier on Monday morning when I was driving Chea Ee to school (I mean, USF). Our usual route takes us around the Sun Dome, the beehive of the athletic program of USF. Usually at this morning hours, this part of the campus is relatively deserted, save for some briskly walking students heading toward the center part of the campus, which is the area around the Library.

But that day was different. As I was rounding the corner, the first sight that met my eyes was the littered grass verge skirting the Dome, paper debris strewn all over the place. Then the throng of people waiting in line, and the car park brim-filled came into view. Chea Ee commented that these were the football fans who had camped probably since last night just to buy a ticket to the Friday football game. “Somebody better clean off the unsightly litter after this,” I commented, the enormity of the game had yet to strike me. And the next day I passed by the same place, it was sparkling clean. Talk about campus cleanliness.

On the way back from work yesterday around 6pmish, I noted that the incoming traffic into town on the opposite side of I-275 was unusually heavy, the seemingly endless stream (caravan dragon, as the Chinese would like to term it) stretching for miles all the way to the Fowler Exit where I turned off into the local road homebound. Could it be that all these are Bulls’ fans, I wondered. Later on I learned that it was a sell-out, 67,018 to the last digit. This may have bettered even the attendance in the best Buc’s game (The Buccaneers is the pro football team of Tampa, and Raymond James Stadium its home field.)

The good thing for people like me who like to watch the game in the cool comfort of home, away from the cacophony, mayhem, and the boisterous fans, not to mention the frustrating traffic bottlenecks during the start and end of the game: the game was televised life on ESPN. And thanks to the Basic Cable service that comes with our HOA dues, I was able to settle in for a great adrenalin-filled ball game. Well, the reason I’m starting to add the Bulls to my favorite college football teams (The Gators, The Cal Bears, and maybe the Ducks) is because we live next to the campus, and Chea Ee spends four days a week somewhere in that sprawling campus, the Tampa and the main one.

Instead of sitting on the sofa, I sat on the coffee table, electing to be closer to the action, albeit marginally. Every first down, every fumble (by the Mountaineers) recovery, every interception, and every touchdown, by the Bulls, brought out a loud cheer from me, much to the consternation of wify. Conversely, every fumble, every loss of yardage, and every defense lapse (luckily there were not many), elicited a groan, a sigh, a classic case of my mental state being governed by externalities. Only for the duration of the game, I rationalized. It was as if I was tele-ported back in time, reliving the youthful exuberance of rallying for a loved team. (Here a Bull's mom is game enough to hold up the T-shirt featuring the Coach and the Surging Bulls: This is OUR HOUSE, the first U with two horns.)

I’m not sure whether it was game time jitters or the loud and hostile home crowd, but the Mountaineers were uncharacteristically careless, dropping catches seemingly at whims. And the frustration was written all over their coach face, pacing up and down along the side line, at times grimacing, at times spotting a resigned look [the TV lens can be both a wonderful thing, and a revealing one if you're the target, not missing a bit for the world to see]. Obviously, he was more into it than I was, albeit not enjoying the outcome the slightest bit.

But I would like to credit the Bulls defense for its tenacity, not in awe at all by the high-powering offence of the Mountaineers, garnering 37 points per game, on average thus far this season. At the end, to cut the blog short, the Bulls prevailed 21-13, handing the Mountaineers its second defeat in as many meetings between the two. Yes, the Bulls beat them too last year, at their home field.

This is certainly no flash in the pan performance. A pattern, a winning one, is beginning to emerge. And that is anchored on the change in the team’s mental attitude. The players now believing in themselves, and belief opens up a whole new set of possibility. Would this be the Cinderella team of the season? Would the Bulls go all the way? Would the national championship game feature two teams from Florida (the Gators is the other one of course in my book)? But I’m getting way ahead of myself, echoing the same guarded tone of the Bull’s coach in a post game interview while still in the field.

But they can dream? Can’t they?

[The blog title was inspired by the Headline in today's St. Pete Times, the Raging Bulls. Others similarly evoked are the Sitting Bulls, not like the Sitting Ducks (no pun inteneded) but sitting as in the power of concentration achieved in a sitting meditation, and there is no other way to explain the single-minded focus of the Bulls last night, and the Marauding Bulls for they seemed to be everywhere in the field like a stampede in a certain town in Spain at a certain time of the year, but that would seem a tad uncultured. So surging it is, like a tsunami, inundating the field.]

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