Thursday, May 17, 2007

You Won’t Need Your Raccoon Coat Here

Our Town downtown
August 28, 2006

You see Texas Longhorn hats on the street. They are the popular hats now. The burnt orange is faded just right. The popularity could be a result of Vince Young. It could just be that they’ve always been the coolest college hats and now they’re finally in. Like the blue Michigan hats with the big yellow (maize, actually)’M’ were in for years.

It’s good to see out-of-state college stuff in Manhattan. It’s like seeing the Montana license plates on that old Subaru in the East Village. If we’re from everywhere here, the hats and shirts say where some of that everywhere is. A red Nebraska hat is very cool. So’s a Florida gator hat. An IU shirt says you lived in Bloomington for four years. A handsome Asian woman used to run in the East River Park in a perfect blue-with-yellow/gold-script-Cal hat on. There is no finer look than she had in that hat.

On Saturdays you see it most. Guys up early for a paper and a coffee. Girls heading to the gym. Wisconsin shirt. Tulane sweats. They look interesting in their fading school stuff. Connections are implied to their old friends, their school, sports teams, some major that was more interesting than the field they’re in now. It’s like a campground sticker on a rear bumper. There’s something un-plugged about an old college shirt. That’s why Bill Murray slept in a classic gray one in Lost in Translation. In plastic, screaming-light Tokyo, his college-guy shirt said he had some plainer, more idealistic past.

You hardly see any local school shirts or hats here. Yankee caps for sure, many Giant hats, but not many of NYU or Fordham or Columbia. And those might as well say Vassar for all they resonate, compared to say, a UNC hat or the Kansas hat with the Jayhawk on it.

Which is to say that New York is missing something without big-time college sports. Imagine if Vince Young or Brady Quinn or Adam Morrison played here. Or even came here to play against a big NYU team. Fordham used to play football in Yankee Stadium. NYU when we were young had a guy like J.J.Redick and two teammates who went into the NBA. The first sports magazine we remember had a basketball player from Fordham named Ed Conlon on the cover. Now what do you have? Name a college athlete in this whole big city. Cincinnati has stars at Xavier, Philly has big hoops at Penn and St. Joe’s and Villanova. Atlanta has Georgia Tech, and the Georgia Bulldogs are nearby. Chicago has DePaul and Northwestern. Boston had Flutie and still has his BC.

All that is better than pro stuff. Ask the kids in the T shirts. Ask yourself, you went to school somewhere.

On a drizzly fall Saturday afternoon a few years ago, we were sitting with a buddy drinking beer at the bar at the Corner Bistro. We’d had the great burgers and were watching, let’s say, Michigan State-Michigan on the TV. And as we watched we could also see, when we looked around the bar, the way the streets looked outside the window. With the game on and with the trees of the West Village set against a gray sky and with a couple beers in us, it looked like we were near campus in Ann Arbor and the game was going on a few blocks away and when it was over girls in camel hair coats would come into the Bistro. But of course we weren’t and they didn’t. No victory march, no pennants above the bar like there should have been, no blow-up of a ticket from the 1976 game when the team went to the Gator Bowl. No bartender who knew the coach. There is no coach here, no Bear, no Woody, no Joe Paterno, no Charlie Weis. There are no sophomore tailbacks. There is no school song.

It’s the time of year for all that. We’ll see it on TV. Game Day will set up its traveling show anyplace but here.

Why can’t Fordham be big-time again? NYU against Syracuse would be a natural. Violet pompoms might look cool. You think it’s neat to see Law & Order trucks filming around town? Imagine seeing the ESPN trucks and hearing a marching band.

-- Bill Gunlocke

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