A thousand miles from home


by Glenn Brownstein

I spent my New Year’s Eve in Houston, Texas. A thousand miles and a thousand dollars from home. To see a college football game ignored by most folks. Doesn’t make sense. Or does it?

What drives us to travel across a country or halfway around a globe to follow our favorite team?

I’ve been to baseball World Series and Stanley Cup finals and NBA finals. I saw Carlton Fisk hit his iconic home run in the 1975 World Series from the center-field bleachers in Fenway Park. I felt the RCA Dome shake – shake! – when Joseph Addai scored with a minute left to put my Indianapolis Colts in their first Super Bowl. I was in the lower corner of Madison Square Garden when an injured Willis Reed limped onto the court to inspire the New York Knicks to rout the Lakers and win their first NBA title.

But what I didn’t get to see in person was Northwestern’s trip to the Rose Bowl 16 years ago. I went undergrad to MIT, but got my journalism degree at Northwestern, just north of Chicago. I owe a lot of my professional success to my 15 months there. And as I’ve explained before, I love underdogs, lost causes.  Give me the star-crossed instead of the star-filled. (Is it any wonder I barrack for St. Kilda?)

When I went to Northwestern, the football team was dreadful. Shortly after I graduated, the Wildcats lost 34 games in a row, a record that still stands. After that, years and years of 2-8 and 3-7 seasons until in 1995, the pieces magically  came together. It started with an opening-game victory at legendary Notre Dame and ended with a Big Ten championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl to play Southern California. But…I couldn’t go; the finances and logistics seemed  insurmountable. So I drove up to Chicago and watched the game in a sports bar a quarter-mile from campus. A rowdy, wonderful atmosphere; we were on Chicago TV as the local place to watch the game. But THE place to watch the game was in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl. Northwestern hasn’t been back. I screwed up. Never again, I vowed.

So the next January we went to Orlando to watch NU lose to Tennessee and its quarterback, Peyton Manning, soon to become a hero for my Colts; then to San Antonio in 2000 and a 66-17 loss to Nebraska (ouch!). Three years ago back to San Antonio for an overtime loss to Missouri; two years ago another overtime loss, to Auburn in Tampa. And then each time we spent a few days sampling the local sights and soaking up the warmer weather.

And so to Houston this New Year’s Eve for something called the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas (named for an auto-repair company) against Texas A&M. And the Wildcats lost again. Sigh. (Their only bowl win came in 1949.) But no matter; we got our photo taken with the Chick-fil-A cow, sampled some free barbecue, grabbed our purple-and-white pompoms, listened to the pregame country music concert, enjoyed two of the best college marching bands in the nation, clapped for past football stars honored by the bowl organizers, cheered every great play along with 60,000 other fans. And then spent four happy days wandering around Houston, result be damned.

Because there’s no substitute for being there. Win or lose. Maybe the 2009 Grand Final loss would have been easier to handle from the upper deck of the MCG instead of with about three dozen American footy fans and Aussie expats in a Chicago pub. (Although in the States you’re never reminded of the disappointment unless you want to be.) Someday I hope to find out.

I know Colts losses are easier in person – we’re season ticket-holders and happily drive two hours each way eight or more times a year to attend all the games, decked out in our royal-blue jerseys with 60,000 fellow supporters. I can’t go to St. Kilda games – 10,000 miles would be a looooong, soggy drive – but I can be a member and wear the shirts, hats and scarves. (And let’s just say that wearing something that reads St. K.F.C. is an attention-getter in Louisville, the home of the Colonel; I once convinced someone that I was a company chaplain.)

I can’t be there, so  I bring “there” here. Brendon Goddard’s astonishing mark from the 2010 drawn Grand Final – against a red, white and black backdrop — is my home desktop’s wallpaper. I never tire of seeing it.

And then I can watch every game live on my computer (usually no problem for this night owl). Or it’s archived for later. And then after the game I can commiserate with all of you. Almost like being there, because many of you have been. Sometimes at considerable expense. And worth every penny.



About Glenn Brownstein

I'm a red, white and blue supporter of the red, white and black who became a footy fan through ESPN telecasts in the 1980s and a buddy who founded the American version of the game. Yup, I chose the Saints, but I'd like to think they chose me, too.


  1. Nice one, Glenn. Supporting a perennial underdog makes you a special kind of fan (take it from me – I’m a Doggies barracker) and taking your support on long distance road trips makes you even more so.

  2. John Butler says

    Glenn, at least you don’t have to worry about playoffs for the Colts any time soon.

    Frees up your Januarys. :)

  3. Happy New St.Kilda Year Glenn(and Gigs and John), it was a lovely article and a good read. I have to say from the outset, being in the stands together with all the other miserable Sainters doesn’t feel any easier than you describe, because at the same time you have the OTHER HAPPY team that is not yours. They are everywhere. I still see Premiership posters at different sites. They get stickers for their cars that read “Cats Premiers 2009” “Pies Premiers 2010” and they are always the car in front of me. Especially when the game was ours to lose both times. (as seems St.Kildas destiny). Following disappointing football teams (or other sporting teams) seems to be alike all around the world, we share the experience with so many others and yet it remains so personal too. And all we have is the memory of the game, our friends and family, the stories that come from that year, and now our writings. This year, 18 teams will vie for that cup, 18 teams are hungry, 18 teams of supporters all desperate to be the ones to bask in the extended glory of being a supporter of a Premiership winner. We all dream on……and on….and on…..Here’s to actually living the dream, being it following our respective teams or travelling around the world to watch other teams with the same purpose….that elusive final win of the year.


  4. Yvette,
    I’ve been a Boston Red Sox baseball fan since I was little — close to 50 years. When I found them, they hadn’t won a World Series since 1918. Since then, they occasionally would make the postseason only to lose in the most excruciating, heartbreaking way possible. A particularly horrific finish in 2003, losing to the hated Yankees in Game 7 of the American League playoffs, ruined my whole winter. The next year they won the World Series. From agony to ecstasy in one year. At that point I vowed I would never take my teams’ fortunes as much to heart, and I’ve been largely (but not completely) successful since. But…I have never seen such despair after a loss as that of the Saints after that 2009 Grand Final loss to Geelong. It was impossible not to be moved. And at that moment, I knew I had chosen the right team. I know diehard Saints supporters ache for that premiership as I did for the Red Sox all those years.
    I love being a part of that group, even though 2012 brings a new coach and a new system and a changed list and a palpable fear that the premiership “window” has closed and that it may be years before the Saints go marching in again. But something made you want to go to the beach for the “Draw a Line in the Sand” TV commercial. I’d have been there too if it was a little closer.
    The results are important, but it’s the journey — and the shared experience — that makes it special. And brings us back year after year.
    Happy New Year, and here’s to a happy March through September. You never know.

  5. GlennB, great piece.

    And I understand your sentiment in your last comment. Before 07, Cats fans were very much there, and the insecurities we developed and injustices we felt through the 90s brought the Cat community closer together and created a peculiar persona that I think we became attached to.

    In a way, it was a source of pride that we barracked for a flawed team; I would get together with my mates and we would laugh about how the Cats found ways to lose, and we looked forward to future uncertainty and expected heartbreak with a perverse sense of anticipation. “Only Geelong” would be the consolatory line.

    The Cats have been super now for the best part of 9 years, and in no way resemble the flaky free-wheelers of the 90s in anyway, and yet some Cats fans still hold on to the insecurities of the past, still worry about losing from 6 goals up at 3 quarter time, still worry about inferior teams beating us in important games.

    I would not trade the 3 premierships for the world and I love the Cats of the past 6 years, but barracking for a team that is dependable and wins most of the time is an altogether different experience to barracking for a team that keeps breaking your heart. Its a different kind of attachment.

  6. David Downer says

    You’re a man after my own (and many around here’s, be they St Kilda or not) heart.
    I’m heading over to the US in March myself – LA Saint who sat through the StK Grand Finals alongside me is getting married. Can’t vouch for the GF pain away from the stadium, but from within the walls, it wasn’t pretty!
    I have a few days to spare between various nuptial-related obligations while in the States, and looking to fill it up with whatever sporting events of note are transpiring. As a fellow Saints/sporting tragic, I’ll drop you an email for some more detailed advice.

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