Tailgating and my focus on college football took a major hit last week when my beloved Southern University Jaguars suffered a heartbreaking loss to our cross-state rival, Grambling State University.
It was a sour ending to the fun and friendly family feuding that always leads up to the annual Bayou Classic contest in New Orleans.
In the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, it looked like my Jaguars would pull out a win for the old blue and gold. But alas, all hopes were dashed in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome when the Tigers scored a late touchdown. It sealed their win and ended our season. No championship game for us.
I know my north Louisiana relatives can’t wait to give me the business on my next visit.
Damn you, GSU.
I ended my postgame second-guessing of the coach after just a few minutes into my hourlong bus ride back to Baton Rouge. The sadness had subsided quickly. (Admittedly, some libation was used to lift my spirits.)
My thoughts had turned to what lay ahead at home. What was I supposed to do the next day, and how was I going to get my work day started on Monday?
But something else had crept into my thoughts. Several months ago, my friend Brien died. He was a member of the tailgate group that my wife and I were so graciously accepted into a number of years ago. His name was actually O’Brien, but I was glad everyone called him Brien.
Brien’s death over the summer had shocked me because it was so sudden and unexpected. He was always so talkative and animated. He was like the Energizer Bunny of conversation.
I felt his absence at every home game. I know others in our close-knit group felt the same way, although it was not spoken about out loud very often. But you knew the feelings were there.
Brien was one of those guys who would get right in your face to talk about his Jaguars. Sometimes, like many fans, he would be upset even in a victory, often questioning the wisdom of certain coaching moves.
While he could talk on a number of subjects, football and his family were where he showed so much passion.
His wife, Lola, their son, Troy, and daughter, Sonja, were part of the tailgating group, too. I know they felt his absence, and their pain was far more than any of us could probably imagine. They didn’t have to say it. You could see it on their faces. You could feel it.
I admired the strength they showed on those Saturdays, to laugh, eat and try to have a good time. It’s what we did. It’s what Brien did.
This first season without him was like missing a member of your family. It was like looking at the empty chair at the holiday dinner table.
As if guided by some unspoken directions, the group allowed his family to guide us. We felt what they felt. We followed their lead. By the last home game, it was easier to mention Brien’s name out loud. By that time, the sound of his name didn’t fall on our hearts like a ton of bricks.
I missed my friend’s fried catfish and his boasting about how he had gotten such a good price on them. And I missed the way he would lord over his process of frying the fish. He wanted to be perfect. The, he would tell you how good he was at frying the fish. Admittedly, I kind of do the same thing with barbecue.
For a brief moment on the way back home from Saturday’s game, I wondered what would have been Brien’s postgame analysis and how long it would have taken him to get it off his chest. I know he would have stood right in front of me while providing his emotional, animated and detailed assessment.
It would have been cool just to hear the first five minutes. He would have begun with: “You know why they lost, don’t you?” And then I would have joined in and others would have followed.
Yep, I miss Brien.
Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman who writes a weekly Advocate column, at firstname.lastname@example.org.