It’s game day at Husky Stadium, and the clock is ticking.
With 47 minutes to go before kickoff, I have no ticket to get in. What I do have is a $20 bill wrapped around my index finger, which I’m waving slowly back and forth above my head. Hoping to catch the attention of someone, anyone, in a small ocean of fans willing to sell me their ticket (at less than face value, of course).
The first time I set out on a game-day ticket buying adventure was years ago, and I wasn’t in very good playing shape. I told my wife the plan, as I tried to slip past her out the front door.
She audibled: “Are you crazy? It’ll never work.”
Twenty-nine minutes and counting down. My palms are sweaty. The $20 bill isn’t working. There are a few people with tickets to sell, but we don’t seem to be playing the same game. Anyone with a spare ticket (upper deck, 10-yard-line, row ZZ, which is almost to Camp Muir) wants a king’s ransom. The stadium is filing up. I’ve now missed the on-field warm ups. I’ll never do this again. Or will I?
Eleven minutes. Tired feet, and scratching my head. The incoming sea of people and all their seat cushions that earlier washed up over the curb and past the security guards has now slowed to a trickle. A man wearing a powdery purple vest and a generous smile approaches me and parts the clouds with five words: “Do you need a ticket?”
Recently, I relived this highlight, part of a Maalox moment of my maiden voyage of sailing into uncharted ticketing waters 30 years ago. That day I came back home and my wife asked, “Did you get in to the game?”
I certainly did. It was crazy good. I think I even saw a football game. That was the day I began to enjoy another kind of theater. Going ticket-less to Huskies football games meant I was at the spontaneous mercy and will of fellow football goers. Their vantage place in the story was set, while mine, minutes before the curtain went up, was still being written.
Where I actually sat in the crowd became a mini drama of grace blocking for fate, leaving me to run up aisles and scooch down rows where season-ticket holders sized up this stranger invading their friendly confines. As soon as I told them their team was my team, all was good.
“Great, welcome aboard,” they said.
Another Saturday, another instant adoptive family with shared bloodlines for second-guessing terrible third-down play calls and spilling hot chocolate on the person in front of you.
Without buying tickets on game day, I would have missed out on some delicious moments:
There was the sunny afternoon in the horseshoe when I was within arm’s reach of the oldest-living USC alumnus, whose litany of consecutive games watching the Trojans in person stretched back to the time of Caesar.
There was the vintage Apple Cup in 1981, when the winner was assured of a Rose Bowl berth, and when I was seated so low on the student side I could barely see over the players’ helmets. I took my cues from the crowd. They cheered, I cheered. They booed, I booed.
The most unlikely encounter in my Random Seating Hall of Fame happened several years ago on the South upper deck, when I sat next to a very pleasant guy who really seemed to know the game. I asked where he grew up. “Connell,” he said. I’d driven past this Eastern Washington outpost several times, but had one bit of trivia to offer. “My one link to Connell is an article I read in Sports Illustrated years ago about a kid at the high school who was nationally ranked in the 880-yard dash,” I said. “I think his name was Greg Gibson.”
The guy smiled and said, “That’s me.”
Greatest odds of not getting in: The 1995 Notre Dame game. I met a work colleague I hadn’t seen in 20 years who invited me to sit with him and his girlfriend.
Latest in-stadium arrival: The 1986 BYU game. The Husky Marching Band was just finishing up “The Star-Spangled Banner” as I found my seat and joined in on the final stanza.
Number of games skunked in 30-plus years of zero reserved tickets: Zero
A few years ago, I decided to mentor my 15-year-old son in this highly misunderstood game-day art. A young father and his son noticed what we were doing before kickoff. It was their first Huskies game, and he wanted some coaching tips.
“Sometimes,” I told him, “people will actually give a spare ticket or two, for free.” The dad laughed and threw his head back and then went to stake out a spot where he and his son could practice his newfound craft. Minutes later, a friendly stranger walked up to me and said, “Here, if you and your son are looking to get in, take these two extra tickets. They’re yours.” I thanked him profusely and looked at my son.”Yes!” we said simultaneously.
He walked the two tickets over to the man and his son, and put them in their hands. Help your neighbor bring in his crops, then bring in your own. Isn’t that how it goes?
You’re crazy. It’ll never work. Yeah, I know. Maybe someday, I’ll learn. Until then, there’s a game coming up Saturday. Should be another good test out near the stadium entrances. I’ll see you inside.
Mark Cutshall is owner and founder of the world’s smallest public-relations firm, with international headquarters in Shoreline. He attended his first Huskies football game with his father (who was given complimentary tickets) on Sept. 18, 1965, a 14-9 victory against Idaho. His highlight reel includes shaking hands with former Huskies coach Jim Owens.
Featured in The Seattle Times, September 16, 2014. Reprinted with permission.