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Erskine: Heroes and Harvest Moons

The notion of afterglow comes to mind, in the wake of this ridiculous tailgate party we had the other afternoon, in the slanting light of late October. There was happenstance. There were kegs.
Old friends jostled for position at the bar as my buddy Miller fed them glass after glass of lime juice and tequila, a form of plasma in towns like these.
Look, when it comes to friendship, I’m a long-term investor. And a loyal and determined sports fan.
I’m still bummed about the recent death of legendary linebacker Dick Butkus, and when I read the paid obit in the Los Angeles Times last Sunday, I texted his son Matt, congratulating him on this tribute that saluted the devoted dad as much as the sports legend.
Matt wrote back that he was buying up every copy in Malibu, his dad’s haunt for the last few decades.
Dick Butkus and Malibu were an odd couple, to be sure. He liked it because they mostly left him alone there. That’s a very male trait, you know. Sometimes, we just want to be left alone.
Anyway, the tailgate was the opposite of that — a call to arms, a pep rally for autumn, a love letter to the Rose Bowl itself.
Time and again, the demise of the Pac-12 came up in conversation. What will be lost is a sense of regional pride. It’s as if we’ve franchised a beloved family restaurant, and now the corporate goons will ruin it somehow, bring in their efficiencies, steal its soul.
Joining the Big Ten is like marrying off your first born to a crackpot Prussian king.
Rest in peace, Pac-12. Rest in peace, Dick Butkus. Why can’t we love some things (and people) to immortality?
Well, I suppose the Rose Bowl represents forever.
There it sits, in a stream bed in western Pasadena. The devil is in the trees, but there’s a softness to the grass. As we are setting up, we find someone’s ancient tee shot embedded deep in the Brookside dirt — probably mine — just the noggin’ shining through. I played it with a 9-iron.
How many things do we do just for fun at our age? Well, this tailgate, for one. Know what it reminds me of? Unpacking for college. We drag kegs and sound systems out of the car. The cutest girls show up, some of them in their 90s.
I think that’s what tailgates represent. Eternal life. Mirth. Playfulness. Friendship.
“Remember that one bar up near church camp …” goes one conversation.
OK, so maybe I’m getting carried away here with the concepts of death and redemption and long-term investments.
As I tell my buddy Bittner, this day reminds me of a boys’ trip to Vegas “when I get to hang out all day with you idiots mostly doing nothing.”
It also reminds me of a failed fishing trip, with nothing in the boat to bring home.
But is there really such a thing as a failed fishing trip? Isn’t a fishing trip a success any way it goes?
So it is with tailgates.
Look, I’ve been around a little. I’m not about to wallow in self-help aphorisms.
I also know the difference between an underdog and an antihero. Trust me, never get the two confused, as do Raider fans sometimes, or these droll and joyless millennials (amazing as they are).
We now live in a hero-free society. Once, there were movies, where flawed men and women who didn’t spook easily fought for the common good. Those were actual heroes.
Now, we honor the anti-heroes, like Miller and Bittner. And this Colorado coach, Deion Sanders.
Or is Deion a flawed underdog representing redemption for these kids who bombed out at other schools, and now come to him — like players once did to Al Davis — looking for one last chance at football … at life?
That’s why “Coach Prime” favors a black cowboy hat, perhaps. He’s the antihero (and the hero) all in one.
Don’t like him much, but I can see the appeal.
In the end, I hope Deion Sanders is good for college football. He sure has added some improv, some jazz, to the tight-tushed, shallow-breathing coaching ranks that often exploit these kids left and right.
Ah, football. May it be the candle we light forever. May a harvest moon always high beam the stadium in the second quarter, as it did on Saturday. May the marching band bellow, may the fans laugh a little too much.
May we all live loud on autumn afternoons.
Ah, football indeed.

A harvest moon high beams the beloved Rose Bowl on Saturday night.

For past columns, please go to His best-selling book, “What the Bears Know,” is in bookstores now.

First published Nov. 2-4 in Outlook Newspapers.


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