My favorite memory of NIppert is of the night that changed the program forever, November 18th, 2006. Back in the wild and lawless days when seats were plentiful, wandering encouraged and no one gave a shit about people standing on the railings.
I started that game where I started almost every game before it, and all the ones after that until I graduated, section 112 more or less 20 rows up from field level. That was my second home, but towards the tail end of the first quarter I was not happy in my second home. The cats so thoroughly dominated the first quarter, but had only a Kevin Lovell field goal to show for it. Surely, another opportunity was being squandered, but this time at home to make the pain more acute.
But then something strange happened. Just before the change of the quarter, a bolt from the blue, a 38 yard deep strike from Nick Davila to Derek Stewart put the Bearcats on the doorstep as the first quarter expired. I could scarcely believe what I saw as the same team that fiercely battled Virginia Tech, Ohio State and Louisville on the road only to come up short finally put it all together.
Two plays later Davila strolled into the endzone unopposed, unchallenged. I left my spot, the nervous energy that eludes me for most of my life, but is always there when the red and black are playing was overwhelming me. I spent the rest of the night walking ever more frantic laps around the stadium, stopping only for the snap of the ball to watch on the railing.
I saw DeAngelo Smith's pick 6 from the bridge.
I saw Mike Mickens end Rutgers best scoring threat with a half ending interception after a fumble set up the knights in the red zone from that end zone. I saw Brent Celek's amazing touchdown from the front row of the Pavillion, and I definitely spilled my beer on someone below me while celebrating that catch and run, so sorry about that stranger.
I spent that night walking from left to right in constant circles. I was an unwitting participant in a NASCAR race of the mind, trying desperately to keep my expectations and emotions in check. Mostly succeeding, occasionally failing in sprees of swearing, both happy and sad.
Late in the fourth quarter I returned to where I started, section 112. The game had long since been decided, the Bearcats would have the biggest upset in their history and ruin the perfect season of Rutgers. At that point, as the clock ticked steadily towards zero and jump around blared on the sound system I was numb with happiness.
Which leads me to my confession about that night. I didn't rush the field. I stood still has the clock hit double zeros, with a massive smile on my face and contentment in my heart. I stood still as a wave of humanity passed me. I will never forget that feeling, it is one of many similar experiences that will forever tie me to the place, it was just the first that was mine. The first that I felt like I owned a part of, just as the generation before me owned Steve Logan putting Cordell Henry on his ass and calmly stroking a 3, and countless prior generations of Bearcats owned the triumph of their times. But this one, this one was mine, and I wanted to watch it as much as I wanted to be a part of it, and so I stood.
After a couple of minutes watching I turned to head up the stairs to a long night in the bars. I put one foot on the stair before I turned around and, without thinking, headed to the field. I had to be in that sea of humanity, it called to me, I had to step on that field(turf). I had to be apart of what was happening in that place, because by the end of that night it was clear that that place was a part of me, and I of it.
Nippert is dead. Long live Nippert.