In South Dakota, seeing hordes of people wearing orange only means one thing—opening weekend of pheasant season. In a certain part of southeastern New Mexico, seeing hordes of people wearing orange only means one thing—opening weekend of football season.
For whatever reason, possibly including its proximity to Texas, where high school football is less a sport than a religion, this is a town that takes its football seriously. How seriously? Well, the windows of all the downtown businesses display pictures of the players, the cheerleaders, and the orange bulldog mascot. And if Halloween happens to fall on the Friday night of a home game, they postpone it (Halloween, not the game) to the next night.
It pretty much goes without saying that on game day, practically everyone in town wears something orange. Even though we were going to the game, I didn't exactly have a dog in the fight. Nevertheless, trying to be polite and blend in, I dug through my suitcase for the closest thing to orange I had, a coral-colored tee shirt.
As soon as we walked through the gate, I realized this was not high school football as I have ever known it. To me, a high school football field is just that—a field, with reasonably groomed grass, goal posts that may or may not have a fresh coat of paint, a few sets of bleachers, a concession shack, and maybe a couple of bathrooms.
This was a stadium—with tiers of seats on both sides, a high concrete walkway circling the field, at least two concession stands, end zones made up of orange and white squares of artificial turf, a giant inflatable orange bulldog mascot at one end of the field, and skyboxes, for Pete's sake. Plus fireworks at the beginning and end of the game. (Most of it privately funded, I should note, for anyone concerned about the wise use of tax dollars.)
And orange everywhere. Blaze orange. Tangerine. Yellow-orange. Ochre. Faded rust. Not just shirts and caps, either, though both were plentiful. Shoelaces. Lapel buttons. Seat cushions. Bags. Hair ornaments.
No orange hair, though, which I found surprising and a little disappointing. There were some kids with orange goop smeared on their faces and hair, but they looked less like football fans than members of a struggling wannabe grunge band called Zombies of the Pumpkin Patch. This may explain why that particular look was limited to a handful of junior high boys.
The moon came up, nearly full, at the beginning of the second half. It was—I am not making this up—orange.
Amid all this color, my well-intentioned coral shirt looked very, very pink.
On the other side of the stadium, supporters of the visiting team, from a town some 60 miles away, were out in force—and in blue. I kept my feet under the seat in front of me so no one would notice my potentially disloyal blue socks.
Oh, and the football game? The visitors made seven touchdowns, were ahead by 14 points at the end of the first half, and scored a total of 49 points. The bulldogs made nine touchdowns and ended up with 63 points. It was the best high school football game I've ever seen. Also the longest; the second quarter lasted an hour.
By the end of the game, I had a better understanding of why football here is such a big deal. It was almost enough to make me think about buying something orange. Not a tee shirt, though. A seat cushion.