Driving around in Bozeman, my eye catches the late afternoon sun glinting off a golden something ... a helmet, a football helmet, and in fact many football helmets. It's the Montana State University football team at practice in a large open field. I want to see that! I'm on the way to meet someone, so I can't stop now, and when I drive back two hours later they're gone. There's some desultory lacrosse practice happening, but I'm not nearly as interested.
Same time next afternoon, I go back to the ground to see if I can catch the practice. They are not on the field, they are gathered in the stadium itself. Even better. The pristine turf, cut just so, painted in Bobcat colours. Dozens of young men running intricately and purposefully about, some trotting off the field, some on, others arrayed along the sideline, coaches making peculiar signals with fist and body. I've always wondered, if a Martian was plonked down to watch American football, how baffled would he be by the comings and goings? by the shouts and gestures and patterns?
I climb into the bleachers for some photographs, then come back down to watch a series of fairly serious plays that result in a touchdown pass. They are not really tackling each other, but short of that they are playing pretty tough. This is the final part of the session, for immediately after the touchdown -- and the regulation high fives between quarterback and receiver -- the whole team gathers in an enormous huddle in the middle of the field. Their coach stands to talk to them.
It's so otherwise quiet that I can hear his voice clearly across half the width of the field. At one point, he says more or less these words:
There are some boxes in the dressing room with T-shirts in 'em. Two shirts are missing. Now I want you to know that these come to us from the guys in this town who support us, the restaurants and businesses. So I know just what those shirts look like. There's hardly anybody on this campus these days either, 'cause it's summer. If one of you took those shirts, you'll never be able to wear 'em, 'cause I know exactly what they look like. And if I see someone wearing one of those shirts, they're off this football team.
I've always told you guys, on this team we're family. Family, OK? Would you steal from your mother or brother? If you're stealing, you don't belong on this football team. But if it shows up outside my door, no questions asked, OK?
A minute or so later, the huddle breaks and the players stream off the field. When most are gone, I notice one player making his way rapidly down the field, all one hundred yards of it. Not on his feet, but on all fours, hands and feet all working. Astonishingly like a bear.
One of the coaching staff strides behind to make sure he stays on all fours. The young man reaches the endzone near me and gets to his feet, doubled over and gasping for air.
Some connection to the missing Tshirts? I don't know. No questions asked.