I’ve never seen a game at the University of Michigan’s Big House. Never saw a game at The Swamp, the University of Florida’s home turf. Never took in a game at the Cornhuskers’ stadium when I lived in Nebraska.
But I’ve seen “The Inferno.”
I spent last weekend helping my stepdaughter move into her dorm at Eastern Washington University in Cheney.
As part of the “Welcome to the Freshmen”/”Leave Your Children and Money Here” weekend, the fine folks at Eastern scheduled their biggest home game of the year, against the vaunted Montana Grizzlies.
And while Eagles fans understandably were psyched for the match-up on the field — Montana was ranked No. 6 in the Football Championship Subdivision poll, Eastern was No. 18 — the big story of the day/weekend/season was and remains, The Inferno.
The newly-refurbished field at Eastern now is named Roos Field after Michael Roos, the NFL player (Tennessee Titans offensive tackle) who donated a huge chunk of change to redo the facility.
The project includes a 360-foot by 160-foot turf field — colored red.
In some light, The Inferno looks blood red; in others, tomato. Either way, people say it’s either awful or awfully awesome.
Blending turf to match a school rather than traditional green isn’t unheard of. Most notable is Boise State’s Smurf-colored turf.
As Spokesman Review columnist John Blanchette aptly and wittily noted in his pre-game prose, the field would become either a point of pride or a point of embarrassment for the school.
I figured it would take some time getting used to watching a football game in tomato soup but I sure wanted to be one of the 11,000 or so to catch the first Inferno game. I drove by the stadium a day before and was shocked at how unreal, how distracting and, frankly, how ugly it first appeared.
Well, at least the team would be dressed in black, or some sort of black-white-red combo, right?
Eh, not so much. On game night, the Eagles raced on the field in full-on red unis. I suppose it’s hard to tackle what you can’t see, huh?
Sitting at the south end zone for nearly the entirety of the game, it took about 10 minutes for me to stop gawking at the turf and focus back onto the action. After a few nauseating minutes, The Inferno simply turned into The Field.
And good thing, too: This turned out to be one heck of a game.
Eastern’s field wasn’t the only thing that seemed to be on fire Saturday night. If he never plays another down in his Eastern career, running back Taiwan Smith still may be regarded as one of the Eagles’ best. Lightning quick and Jason Bourne-elusive, Smith was electric that night, tearing up the new red turf for 221 yards and a score. He was particularly key in a final drive in which, after battling to a 27-27 tie, the Eagles romped through the Montana defense into the Grizzlies’ red zone, and got a Mike Jarrett 31-yard field goal with four seconds left.
Then, a bit of weirdness.
Montana, trying to channel some sort of David Copperfield-like magic, tried to score with the ensuing kickoff using a series of haphazard laterals. After some nervous moments, the Eagles made a final tackle and the place went nuts.
Screams deafened the night sky. Players danced. And thousands of fans rushed the field, including yours truly. (Hey, I’m an all-out Eagle fan now, OK?)
Only, the game wasn’t over. Referees called an unsportsmanlike penalty on the Eagle fan base for treading on the new, red turf.
Montana got the ball on their 40-yard-line for one untimed play. But Montana quarterback Justin Roper was flushed from the pocket, got stripped of the ball by Tyler Jolley and saw Eagle Renard Williams scoop it up and run in for a touchdown.
You can guess what happened next. The fans rushed the field. No flag this time.
For the first time in five seasons, Eastern could claim a win over their despised rivals from Missoula.
For the first time in months, people are talking about Eastern’s football team for their play, not their gaudy home décor. It gets me thinking: should every team do up their field in home colors?
What do you think, Sequim fans? An all-gold football/soccer field? All purple?
Reach Michael Dashiell at firstname.lastname@example.org.