Fans get pretty emotionally attached to their particular seats in college sports stadiums. Mine happened to be behind glass.
For 17 autumns, I watched nearly every home K-State football game from inside the Dev Nelson Press Box. For some, I was working, banging out stories from the fourth floor of the structure where the reporters sat to cover the game.
For most, though, I was lucky enough to have a seat in Suite 203, a “luxury box” with a perfect view eastward down onto the field of KSU Stadium. I had that seat because my parents had pitched in money to help build that structure in the early 1990s, and they shared the space with another local family that had done the same thing.
My wife and I moved back to Manhattan in 1996; I had been away for a decade. The last game I had attended was in the fall of 1987, before I left for my sophomore year away at college. K-State lost that day to Austin Peay State, 26-22, and then it rained on a Willie Nelson concert on the field after the game.
So when I walked into the suite, in a packed stadium, and watched K-State beat Texas Tech in the first game in the history of the Big 12 Conference, it was as if I had landed on the moon.
It probably sounds pretty hoity-toity to most of you: “Suite,” and “luxury box” are not words that most people utter as they’re headed out the door with stadium blankets and mittens to watch the ballgame. There are way more creature comforts in these settings – heat and a/c, a fridge, an adjacent bathroom (no lines!) and catering —than any self-respecting K-Stater can discuss without blushing. It’s sort of a climate-controlled tailgate party with the game going on right in front of you. Muckety-mucks drop in and mingle. And so on.
But when you get right down to it, at its heart it’s the same experience anybody else has. For most of those years, my brother sat on my right, my wife and/or kids to my left, and my dad a row behind. We sweated the nervous times and suffered the losses together. We also saw a generation grow up, we persevered through illness, and we mourned deaths together.
But to an astonishing degree, we celebrated. We high-fived on touchdowns. We yelled. We sat there (and occasionally jumped up and down), marveling at what was unfolding before us. Most of us had been through the really bad years, and we were simply giddy at all of the success. We saw Bill Snyder’s teams rise to the pinnacle, fall off, and then rise up again.
Those are experiences that help make a life. Family and friends, brought closer together.
So when I went up to the stadium a couple of weeks ago, I was a little taken aback at my emotions. It’s just a building, of course, and it seems as if something better is coming. But as we took the pictures off the wall, gathered up the stray forks and knives, and threw a couple of bottles of salad dressing in a bag to bring home, it was a little harder to say goodbye than I thought it might be.
Those were good days. I’ll miss them. And I’ll miss the place.