Igot an email from a dad of a girl I coached in basketball a few years back. I have to say that he came close to being the perfect sports parent. He would show up to the games, root for his daughter and her teammates, not say anything to or about the refs, and never forget that no matter how heated things got, it was still just a game. Of course, the fact that his daughter was a starter on a team that went 25-4 her senior year probably made it easier for him to remain even-keeled.

The thing that kept him from achieving a perfect score? He had this really annoying habit of asking me why my team didn’t have anything resembling a set offense. (None of my teams ever do. I want them to play basketball, not play plays.)

Anyway, he wanted to share with me (so that I might share with you) his experience at the Arizona-San Diego State football game. Everybody knows that the Wildcats took a serious whuppin’ that night, but that wasn’t the bad part. Well, it was a BAD part, but it wasn’t the worst part.

I thought that the ad campaign this summer involving Arizona football was brilliant. They made subtle mention that the Wildcat program is at perhaps the lowest point in its history, but the focus was on a new vibe, a new intensity, new leadership. It sounded and looked really good, especially considering what it had to work with. 

The San Diego State game would be the first in Arizona Stadium with a live crowd since 2019. COVID-exhausted fans were raring to return to the mass ritual of emotional release. The relatively close loss to BYU in the opener in Las Vegas added to the (guarded) groundswell of enthusiasm. 

“I was really looking forward to it,” he recalls. “I’ve been a season-ticket holder for decades. It’s one of the few ‘luxuries’ that my wife and I have indulged in. We’re not wealthy, we can’t afford to sit up in the skyboxes. Our family vacations have always been to pile the kids in the SUV and drive to the mountains or a lake.” He pauses, then adds with a chuckle, “One time we went to a lake that was in the mountains.”

He and his wife arrived at the game about 45 minutes before kickoff. In the past, they have walked around the tailgate, soaking up the sights and smells, but the recent resurgence of COVID made them skip that part of the festivities. (They knew that they would still be sitting in a crowd, but it would be among people with whom they have sat and cheered for many, many years.)

It turned out that there was no need for concern. By the time they finally got to their seats, it was like a ghost town. With a nod to technology and a blind eye to customer comfort, the University switched to an electronic ticketing system, eliminating printed tickets while requiring digital tickets that have to be scanned.

“It was a nightmare,” he explains. “My wife and I are both college graduates, but like many people our age, we lack the ability to navigate our phones. A 16-year-old could do it in their sleep. A 50-year-old, not so easy.”

And there was another issue with the ticketing system. A hardcore and sentimental fan, he has kept the ticket stub for every game he has ever attended. He writes the score on the ticket and files it in a shoebox in the garage. That ended last week.

“We were in line for more than an hour trying to get into the stadium. Lots and lots of people were having trouble getting the ticket on their phone. That’s probably user error, but somebody told me that the WiFi around the stadium is sub-standard.”

There also weren’t enough people working. After the COVID year, some workers didn’t come back. Others weren’t properly trained and the UA may have underestimated the crowd size (which was the smallest opening-night crowd in decades). 

By all estimates, hundreds—if not thousands—of people just left out of frustration. “There were some really angry people, swearing that they’d never come back.”

They finally got to their seats shortly before halftime. The UA was losing by about a million. He decided to go to the concession stand, but when he got there, somebody told him that they had been in line more than 20 minutes and the line had barely moved.

He went back, empty-handed, to sit with his wife. The stadium was three-fourths empty, the Zona Zoo long gone. He remembers that he laughed and said, “Well, at least there isn’t a plague of locusts.”

And then came a horde of those crunchy black beetles.

And then, a week later, NAU came to town...


EXTRA POINTS: The Marana Tigers continue to be the surprise football team in Southern Arizona, if not the entire state. The Tigers moved to 3-0 on the season by throttling Tucson High, 48-7. Marana led 34-0 at the half and then just cruised… It is possible that Marana could be 8-0 heading into November, when they would close out the regular season with home games against powerful Cienega and Ironwood Ridge… The Ridge improved to 2-1 on the season with a tight 13-7 win over non-conference foe Campo Verde… Last week, Canyon Del Oro lost a tough one by the score of 35-28… This week, it was another loss by almost the exact same score, 34-27… The Dorados are 0-3… Flowing Wells got its first win of the year, 37-21, over Empire. The Caballeros face Marana this Friday, with the game being played at Amphi… About one-third of the way into the season, Canyon Del Oro and Flowing Wells have the best records in girls volleyball among Northwest schools. CDO is a perfect 7-0, while Flowing Wells is 5-2…

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