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First Down and Freedom

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Like a stadium full of people, America is a wondrous mix of energy and exuberance, heart and hopefulness and deep passion and pride.

...it can be difficult to appreciate the full scope of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. For my attempt at modest understanding, I often go back to a simpler time, one when it was framed in four 15-minute segments.

Freedom comes in many shapes and sizes as independence means different things to different people. To some, it comes with a car; to others, it comes with college. Much earlier, for me, it came with my very own world. There, explorations were meticulously tracked and measured, a beating cadence marking each and every move. Watching giants or taming Tigers, my freedom was, in some ways, a fantasy. 

There is great power in the focus of a frame reference and, correspondingly, real strength in numbers. Every home Saturday, my autonomy was shared with 80,000-plus.

For a coastal Georgia grade-schooler, Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida became a home away from home, a vacation from reality and a voyage into it all the same. As my brother and I earned permission to roam the catacombs, with me, the eldest, in charge, our sovereignty grew alongside our Seminoles. Section to section, we were students cheering on our classmates, band members in perfect tune or future players weaving our way through concessions. We were wide-eyed, we were awe-inspired; for a few hours, though, we weren't kids, rather key figures in the battle of good vs evil, instead.   

Structured during the week, Saturday came like a sprint into the open field. Ironically, the wildest expansions of our liberties were scheduled; we studied the time, date and opponent on the refrigerator door.

Even still I can remember that first taste of freedom; it came with nachos, a stadium cup and a Coca-Cola Classic.

The experiences were few and, with the off-season, far between. Despite growing up at the beach, my brother and I looked back from fall and saw only spring practice. A day fishing ultimately faded with the sun; nighttime at the game, however, was when the lights were their absolute brightest. That stage, standing, in our minds, alone, is where we learned how to trust ourselves. 

Across the fruited plain, freedom is a hard thing to define and an even harder thing to process. With time, paces ultimately hurry and priorities ultimately change. The more we learn, sometimes the less we think. Even on a day like July 4th, it can be difficult to appreciate the full scope of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. For me, and my attempt at modest understanding, I often go back to a simpler time, one when it was framed in four 15-minute segments. 

Like a stadium full of people, the United States of America is a wondrous mix of energy and exuberance, heart and hopefulness and, perhaps, above everything else, deep passion and pride. We cheer, shout, yell and scream, we wave banners and hold signs. We clearly keep score here, too. What we often don't do is keep it all in perspective.

A generation ago, I was full of optimism and excitement as I ran up the tunnel and my face hit the sun. Such an attitude has long defined America, countless sacrifices made along the way. Freedom can be complicated, but freedom can also be simple. A simple look around can be the only validation we need. 

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports