Two different songs, two different artists, two different sports, two different seasons. Yet somehow they spark a remarkably similar sensation deep within my soul.
When I hear Fountains Of Wayne’s “All Kinds Of Time”, I think of Major Applewhite. It’s near the end of the second quarter in the Big 12 championship game, Texas vs. Colorado, December 1, 2001. Another team’s loss earlier in the day has given Texas a chance to slip into the upcoming national title game against Miami.
But things aren’t going well. Chris Simms, the Longhorns’ talented but star-crossed quarterback, is having the worst game of his life. His repeated turnovers have left the Horns in a huge hole, the last an abominable bobble that the Buffaloes returned for a touchdown to make the score 29-10 with two minutes left in the first half.
Enter Major Applewhite. A record-setting QB in his first couple years at Texas, he’d had his job unjustly usurped by Simms in his senior season. Now he was stuck with cleaning up Simms’ mess, trying to turn the tide of a nightmare in a little more than 30 minutes.
“The clock’s running down/The team’s losing ground/To the opposing defense/The young quarterback/Waits for the snap/And suddenly it all starts to make sense. He’s got all kinds of time, he’s got all kinds of time, all kinds of time.” The soaring vocals and swelling power-pop arrangement capture precisely the revelation taking place.
Immediately, Applewhite turns the game around. “He takes a step back/He’s under attack/But he knows that no one can touch him now/He feels so at ease/A strange inner peace/Is all that he’s feeling somehow. He’s got all kinds of time, he’s got all kinds of time, all kinds of time.”
Three plays later, Applewhite wings a 79-yard touchdown pass to B.J. Johnson. “He looks to the left/He looks to the right/And there in a golden ray of light/Is his open man/Just like he planned/The whole word is his tonight. He’s got all kinds of time, he’s got all kinds of time, all kinds of time.”
And yet, as it turned out, he didn’t have quite enough time. Applewhite continued to work his magic in the second half, but the hole Simms had dug was too deep. The final score: Colorado 39, Texas 37.
Backtrack a couple of years. It’s the summer of 1999, and one of baseball’s all-time greatest battles is in full swing: Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa are chasing down the legends of Babe Ruth and Roger Maris, poised to break the single-season home-run record that has stood for decades.
This is the setting for “When The Redbirds Played”, a song by a relatively obscure Seattle singer-songwriter named Jake London. It starts out simply enough, set to a sprightly Guaraldi-like piano riff: “Every day was like Saturday/And McGwire was on fire/Seventeen in just thirty days/It was looking good at the all-star break/Tied the record on Labor Day/Hundred-forty-fourth game/There would be no real debate this time/No asterisk by his name/Just a home-run trot to the hall of fame.”
Unlike Fountains Of Wayne, though, London is using a sports memory as a parallel for another story that was unfolding at the same time. “Cabernet and polyurethane/Jack Buck on the play-by-play/With steel wool so fine/We made that dresser shine/You were laughing at the sound I made/When you put the wine away/I remember thinking to myself/Twelve months, three weeks and five days/Could it really be this great?”
And then they converge, these songs by different artists about different sports in different seasons. It’s there in the heart of London’s chorus: “We were there in the moment, watching something special right before our eyes.”
It seems like there’s all kinds of time…but in the end, we know our time is finite — fleeting, even. What matters, then, is the moment, and what we make of it.
The young quarterback in Fountains Of Wayne’s song seems to understand. In the midst of his gridiron epiphany, what comes to him is not the roar of the crowd, or the thrill of a victory that may or may not be. Instead, “He thinks of his mother/He thinks of his bride-to-be/He thinks of his father/His two younger brothers/Gathered around the wide-screen TV.”
London’s protagonist has come to a similar understanding — and yet there’s no separating the grand dreams of a budding relationship from the great aspirations being played out on the diamond at the same time. They will forever be intertwined in his mind: “It felt for a minute like the sky was the limit, when the Redbirds played.”