Week 29: I Made That Star-Spangled Banner Wave [Score +10]
When I stepped on the field with 349 of my coworkers at the start of this year’s Indianapolis Colts’ home-opener, it took me back to the first time I stepped onto a major football field nearly 20 years earlier.
On New Year’s Day in 1999, dressed in a polyester ruffled square-dance outfit, face painted with outdated shades of thick red lipstick and blue eyeshadow, my stomach fluttered with excited energy. With a smile big enough to reach the folks sitting in the very top row, I danced the clogging routine I’d practiced for a week with my fellow performers while the Charlie Daniels Band lip- and fiddle-synced at center field in the Florida Citrus Bowl halftime show in Orlando.
Clad this time in my own navy shorts and a gray t-shirt, no special makeup required, the national-television pressure was as real as that day in 1999, but I only needed a couple hours of practice to play my part: hold on to a handle on the side of the field-sized flag, and don’t let go.
To take part in the pre-game flag ceremony, we arrived at Lucas Oil Stadium at 9:30 a.m. before the 1:00 p.m. game. After signing the obligatory waivers in case we fell on our faces (a very real risk), our excited chatter from the hallway hushed as we walked onto the quiet field in the empty stadium to surround the flag.
A couple rounds of practice was all we needed to be ready for game time a few hours later. It’s a simple idea—bring the flag in, stretch it across the field, hold it taut, then take it off the field a couple minutes later—but coordinating 350 people to do it properly and within the time limits imposed by the TV network did require some rehearsal.
At 12:45, we each lined up, hoisted our few assigned feet of bunched-up giant flag onto one shoulder, and snaked our way through the hallway toward the tunnel from which we’d enter and exit the field. Thunderous music designed to get players and fans alike pumped up echoed through the stadium and likewise amped up my own adrenaline.
Then suddenly, we were moving, and I took my first few steps onto the field. The sea of fans were cheering, the music was pounding, and the lights illuminating every inch of the field made me squint as I exited the dark tunnel.
I had only a minute to try to absorb the chaos before fireworks exploded and the Colts’ starting lineup took the field. As soon as the last player ran onto the field, the cheerleaders retreated, the fire-breathing, horse-shaped archway (yeah, kind of an odd combination) deflated, and seconds later we got our cue. For a second I worried that kicker Adam Vinatieri wouldn’t get off the field in time to avoid being run over by the unfurling flag, but then my focus quickly shifted to just hanging on tightly to my handle as the people opposite me started running backwards to do just that.
While four military representatives sang the National Anthem, I used all my bodyweight to lean backward and hold the flag as taut as I could. When they got to, “O, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,” our coworker at the designated corner began literally doing the wave: we each joined in, raising and lowering our piece of the flag from shoulder to hip level and back again, giving the flag a fluttering motion that gave me goosebumps even while I was part of it.
As soon as the last note of the song lifted, we had a mere 30 seconds to gather the flag and run it off the field. Of all the practice we did that morning before the game, the scoop, gather, and run was the most important and hardest to master. Our instructors knew the way to make it happen: hold onto the flag with your non-dominant hand, and scoop armfuls of the flag up with the other as you jog in to meet the opposite side in the middle of the field. Then immediately turn and run the flag out the tunnel—and do this while positioned just 1.5 feet behind the person in front of you and try not to either trip them or trip over them yourself.
If you don’t get it done in 30 seconds, the TV gods will smite you for not doing your job.
Or at least that’s what the implied consequences seemed to be.
Though I’d performed at a big football game before, this was actually the first Colts game I’d ever attended. For being a part of the pre-game ceremony, I got a free ticket to the game.
My free seat was in the area that made the nosebleed section look attractive: three rows from the non-opening window at one end of the field, as high as one could possibly sit in the stadium.
I won’t complain about a free ticket, but it didn’t make me feel like I was really engaged in the game. Following the action—particularly as a person with a competent but unenthusiastic understanding of football—was difficult. I left before halftime.
Someday I’ll sit in a better seat, but I’m sure I’ll never get another view of the starting lineup festivities quite like that again.
- Did something outside my routine: +1
- Left the house: +1
- Did something entirely new: +1
- Had a conversation with a stranger of at least 30 seconds: +2
- Had a conversation with a stranger beyond basics (i.e., work, hometown, what’s your dog’s name): +2
- Learned someone’s name: +3