by Niall Doherty

Today’s post is of the guest variety, coming courtesy of my buddy Dave Gladow in New Orleans. Dave recently published his first book, in which he tells of his somewhat crazy quest to attend a different college football game every weekend for an entire season, while arguing that the sport is, in fact, good.

Dave and I have had several discussions about the importance of sports in people’s lives. As you may know, I was once obsessed with basketball, to the point where I moved to New Orleans for three years to be closer to my favorite team. And now, less than two years after leaving NOLA? I couldn’t even tell you who coaches that club.

I talk a bit about that change and the reasons behind it in the above video, while Dave also touches on the meaning of sports in the post below. Once you’re done watching and reading, I’d love to hear your take in the comments.

And now, over to Dave…

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An empty vodka bottle shatters precariously close to my newlywed wife, while a man dressed in pajama pants and a cut-off football jersey circa 1992 dances and taunts the night away, kicking in my protective husband instincts and making me wonder why I’m even subjecting myself (or my wife, Cait) to this nonsense in the first place.

And then a flock of fighter jets streams overhead, blasting the eardrums and skin follicles of the crowd of 80,000-plus, a crowd I am part of, with the sound of rockets firing and adrenaline pulsating, creating the kind of chain reaction you can only experience at such a place of extreme bliss. The entire madcap stadium erupts into a sound equally dense (but much more joyful), and suddenly I am in full-on game mode, ready for people I’ve never met to play a game on a field, the outcome much more severe than a simple win or loss, or any other number of on-field circumstances — such as conference jockeying/positioning/prestige — you can imagine. No, this game is going to become the determining focus of my entire evening. This game will decide my happiness. This game will mean everything.

And nothing.

An individual’s personal relationship with sports defines his or her own reality within that spectrum, which is really just a fancy way of saying that sports don’t mean anything unless we allow them to. For my own part, I have allowed them to mean a great deal. I am not a macho musclehead, nor am I guy who feels the need to memorize the most inane of statistics (not anymore, anyway!), but I am still a guy who feels. Who cares.

And I am completely comfortable with that.

This is important to know, because without that kind of awareness, my journey to see a different college football game every weekend would seem nonsensical. Well, more nonsensical anyway. However, I suspect some of the impulse is relatable for any audience. Like my friend Niall, I too have taken to the road to find my happiness. I too have been bitten by the travel muse. (The fundamental difference, as I see it, is my journey was a contained one, a short 16 weekends or so, sandwiched around a static existence in my hometown of New Orleans — complete with work and other drudgery interrupting as only those kinds of things can. Niall’s journey is still going, and if it has an end, I’m not sure of what that end might be.)

My trips were much less ambitious an undertaking than Niall’s, but they were not short on drama or hilarity. They revealed much to me about the world, and perhaps more importantly, about myself.

Niall’s stated goals of finding meaning, purpose, and identity through traveling ring true for me, because I’ve seen that self-growth personally. I have pushed my limitations, learned about my place in a larger world, and changed that place. Before my journey began, I was not aware of the differences a specific region can have on the type of football played (or how it is celebrated), or how I could eventually play a role in educating people on those differences (and perhaps how to break some barriers down). I was not aware that ringing a cowbell could provide me such joy. That there’s such a thing as “Lafitte’s Treasures” and how much mirth it would provide me. That Brett Favre’s mullet can be a fantastic conversation piece. That I could work my way through such an ambitious travel schedule. That my marriage wouldn’t shatter into a 1,000 pieces. That I could even author a book.

The spirit of a good journey is a great deal like the rush one can get from a good sporting event. You learn basic facts and truths in both scenarios, and one’s ability to grow or learn is not hindered in either situation. But I wonder if the pure exhilaration itself is underrated. Why should we deny ourselves this? Why should we arbitrarily decide that one form of pleasure is fine, but another isn’t? And should we put a cap on these experiences, so that the lows don’t feel quite so bad?

I want to feel good. I have, at times, found myself in depressing moments. But these are the times I most cling to this want, this desire to have my senses overloaded with pleasure. And for me, the essential harmlessness of a sporting event is a wonderful release for this passion. Sports provide me tremendous natural highs. They are not self-destructive. They even allow me to grow. And in these ways (and others), I can find a natural connection to the inherent good of travel (with or without the vodka-spikers and pajama pants men).

What I set out to do with my book was talk about my football trips in a funny or entertaining way, but more importantly, I wanted to see what larger life lessons I could learn from those trips through self-reflection. Over time, this led to a discovery that I could talk about the sport of college football at large, and further, that led me to understand that I was tired of it being dragged through the mud. That I was tired of the negative. I wanted to be positive. I wanted people to know that college football can be positive. I wanted the cynicism of criticism, the kind of thing I’m neck-deep in every day, to melt away in the interests of knowledge, humor, and friendliness.

I do not know if I accomplished all of my goals. Ultimately, the reading public at large will determine that for me. What I do know is that I still like college football, I still like traveling, and I now have a book out there to prove both of these facts.

Sometimes the simplest lessons are the most important.

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Dave Gladow is a web sports producer at NOLA.com and also a fan (often a dirty word in the business) of his alma mater, Kansas State University. He has had his work published with NOLA.com as well as on NFL.com, on CBSsports.com, and in The Miami Herald. He lives in New Orleans with his wife, Cait, and daughter, Olivia (with two stampeding collies to boot). Eyeblack Odyssey is his first book. You can read the first chapter here.

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