On a freezing Thursday in December, there I was: standing on the Navy sideline holding a large plastic bowl with a microphone in the middle, leashed to the bleachers via thick black cable. The temperatures were literally freezing (which I was reminded only needs to be below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, which still seems a little high), as evidenced by the rock solid case of water bottles outside of ESPN's production van. The University of Virginia's football team was to take on Navy's in these conditions. And I was the Parab guy.
I Ventured to Maryland with high hopes. My good friend Kristin lives in Annapolis and kindly housed me the night before, while also introducing me to "Godless" on Netflix. For the record, that show is wonderful and Jeff Daniels is an American treasure. God I want to be in a Western. But that's beside the point. After all, I was here for a football game.
I arrived the next morning and ran into a circus of road closures, UVA blue and orange blending with the Navy faithful, and the general commotion that would accompany such an event. After two wrong parking lot turns and waiting in standstill traffic for close to half an hour, I made it to the staff parking lot. And, as I would learn soon, I was actually the first to arrive.
I popped open the door to my practical 2007 Nissan Rogue hatchback and was met with the kind of chill that Edgar Allen Poe would put to narrative. (See what I did there? Poe was a Baltimore guy...). But I was prepared: layers, my friends, layers. But still it wasn't enough. This is the kind of cold that makes you turn around and go home. The kind of cold that freezes fingers in seconds. Everest cold. But I had a job to do and by God if I wasn't going to be the best parabolic microphone holder that I could be.
I introduced myself to everyone in the production truck. It was so cold they had to move the coffee machine inside. I fired it up and promptly blew a fuse, causing all the monitors to go black. Good start.
After unsuccessfully blaming the outage on the family dog (not present), all of us sideline guys were huddled together and given the safety speech. Major plot points: don't be on your cell phone and don't get run over. I successfully managed both once the game started, narrowly avoiding a Navy running play as the giant, armor-clad players came hurdling toward me. I can safely attest to this: there is absolutely no way to look cool while trying to run away from something and holding a parabolic microphone. No way. It's impossible. You have all the grace of a fat eight-year-old with an over-sized backpack, except the backpack is hanging around your neck in front of you. Somehow I managed to avoid the collision, though. There's footage of this somewhere.
I should take a moment to explain the parabolic apparatus: it is literally like a giant clear plastic salad bowl, about the size of half a beach ball. It's got a strap that hangs around your neck, with a little padded part that slides off your neck only moments after the strap is in place. There are handles on this salad bowl, and upon releasing said handles, the bowl flops down uncomfortably in front of you, essentially picking up audio from the grass in front of you and possibly the tips of your shoes. There are headphones here, and both the headphones and the mic are plugged into a little pack you wear on your belt. All of this attached by a cable which tethers you to the sideline and runs down the front of the bleachers to some unknown room in the nether-regions of the stadium somewhere. I imagine a room full of computers and TV monitors, watching over all the workings of the world at large, with one monitor exclusively playing re-runs of Oprah. I don't know why.
So this was my life for the duration of the game. Pointing this microphone at the action, and trying to figure out when my glove and toe warmers would kick in. Apparently they're activated by the air. But if they're in my shoe, how much air are they really getting? There are some mysteries I will never learn the answer to.
The game started with a bang: UVA returned the opening kick for a touchdown. I'd hardly noticed the game even starting. This was ironic because the jumbo-screen would soon reveal that this was the same thing that happened in the last Military Bowl that Navy played in 2015, with Pitt returning the opening touchdown that day.
Things did not look good for Navy. However, much to the chagrin of the UVA faithful, these were the last points their Cavaliers would score on the day. Navy responded with a fervor: taking over with their running game from both the runningbacks and the quarterback option. Navy's upstart defense played extremely well, constantly putting pressure on UVA and being generally dominant. It was clear that Navy was built for this kind of weather as well, as UVA's quarterback suffered frequent drops from his receivers and just couldn't get into any kind of rhythm in the first half.
UVA started to put together what resembled an offense toward the end of the second half, but by then it was too late, most of the crowd had dispersed save the most grisled fans, and I was fairly certain I'd lost up to three toes to frost bite. No matter. My time at the military bowl was one for the ages. I warmed up later that night eating too much at and Indian buffet and cuddling up with, of course, an episode of "Godless." Seriously, national treasure.