Oh, me of little faith 

My baby brother brought his two-year-old up to Fayetteville this weekend for her first Hog game. I've been to sporting events with toddlers before, and I operated on the basis of two assumptions: 1). She'd be squirming by the second quarter, have wet her diapers by halftime and be crying by the third. 2). At least if we did have to leave early, this was the season to do so.

I was wrong on both counts.

For several reasons, this turned out to be the perfect season to bring her to her first ballgame. A couple weak-kneed season ticket holders came off their decent seats for pocket change; sure we were up for a slaughter. Apparently, other Hog fans felt the same way. The stands were packed but not too packed, rowdy but not too rowdy. My niece experienced awe at the largeness of the event and still had room to breathe. (The roaring flyover might have been a bit much.) She experienced the revelry without the drunkenness. And, of course, the Hogs made a game of it.

I've been steeling myself all year with a stirring premonition of just how joyous that first big win will be. And not just the win, but the actual moment we all realize that things are finally headed in the right direction. I believe we'll get there, and when we do, the collective emotion in the stands will be extraordinary. On the field, the coaches will likely feel relief and justification. For the players, who are obviously working very hard to improve, the moment will live forever. I'm no sentimentalist, but if I didn't believe that I wouldn't give a damn about sports.

I think we felt a touch of that emotion on Saturday. However grizzled the folks around us were about special teams and Casey Dick, when the sec-ond quarter was wrapping up and the offense was storming down the field and somehow the Hogs were still in it, everyone leapt to their feet. My little niece must have been feeding off that energy. She behaved like an angel until minutes before the game ended.
Later that night, apropos of nothing really, she called the Hogs. It was like witnessing her first steps. I'd been demonstrating our admittedly weird tradition all weekend while she looked on, puzzled and giggling, but her father and I had never been able to goad her into doing it herself. There's room for improvement. So far she can only get one set of fingers really going in the buildup. She's a little quick on the delivery. She saw Alabama playing on the television and mistook their red jerseys for our own. But my little brother's beaming face was no less proud. She'll get there. These things take time.

We'll get there, too, though maybe not this Saturday. Judging by our performance against Florida, the Hog defense can definitely keep us in the game against Auburn's tepid new spread, but I'm not sure we can get the ball into the end zone against the Tigers. Tuberville knows our coach well. Much has been written about Petrino's supposed betrayal of his former boss while at Louisville. I'm not certain how much bad blood exists between the two, but there's surely an extra dose of competitiveness. Regardless, more than wounded feelings stands in the way of victory. Both teams desperately want the win. Both teams are struggling under new systems. Who knows which one will get there first? These things take time.


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