I was a sophomore at the University of Virginia, and several bunches of us road-tripped from Charlottesville to see the Cavaliers play in the Peach Bowl. It was the team’s first-ever bowl appearance, and nobody quite knew what to make of its chances. (The announcers had barely heard of us; when the team stormed onto the field, Verne Lundquist roared, “And here come the Cavaliers from Charlottestown!”) Purdue had a star quarterback and was heavily favored, and we were 1) young, 2) stupid, and 3) full-blown acolytes of New Year’s Eve = Drink Yourself Stupid.
So we had this brilliant idea: let’s do a shot of bourbon for every first down Virginia gets. I remember supporting this fervently, because I wasn’t much of a drinker in high school and was determined to catch up all at once.
To our amazement, we got several first downs early in the game. Which means I don’t remember much of anything else.
All I can summon is the rapture of victory and the ecstatic stampede onto the field that abruptly ended when a rent-a-cop took my legs out, cuffed me, and marched me to the paddy wagon outside Fulton County Stadium. I also remember the smell of the guy next to me, an acrid confluence of Brut cologne, beer, and vomit.
I don’t remember how long I was in custody, but I made bail in time to watch the ball drop. I had to appear in court on Jan. 2, so we spent New Year’s Day crammed into our hotel room watching bowl games. My friends were great and supportive, but I spent the whole day feeling like the a-hole that ruined their New Year’s Eve.
Worse, I was petrified of what my parents would say when they found out, and that I would never outlive their disappointment. So I never told them.
Now that I’m a parent, that seems just pathetic. I mean, kids hide stuff from parents all the time, but I want mine to know that, if they ever do something so stupid that a huge loaf of excrement hits the fan, they’ll know that we’ll talk about it, and there might be some punishment involved, but after we put the teachable moment to rest, it’ll be over. Life will move on.
Tonight, Virginia is back in Atlanta to play in the Peach Bowl. (I will never acknowledge its Official Sponsor because of how its name and ad campaign assault the English language.) And 27 New Year’s Eves later, I will watch with my boys, if they choose to pay attention, and toast the very distant memory of that scared, half-drunk kid in handcuffs with a glass of bourbon. In far greater moderation.