With apologies to the Monatna Grizzlies and North Dakota State Bison, who served up a thriller last Saturday, the college football season is set to kick off tonight. Therefore, it feels appropriate to republish this post from seven years ago:
College football finally returns this week, and in the coming month campuses will come alive all over the land. From Baton Rouge to Boulder and Clemson to Corvallis and Morgantown to Madison, alumni will return in their RV’s and the aroma of beer and beef will waft through their tailgate parties.
There is nothing on earth like college football. Because a single loss can take you out of the running for the national title and maybe even your conference title, college football has the most important regular season in all of American sports.
It is the only sport in which you can win every game but one, yet the whole year is remembered in a bad light because the one loss came against your archrival. Likewise, it is the only sport in which a season-ending win against your archrival can turn an otherwise bad year into one worth celebrating.
In different corners of America, longtime rivals play for chintzy but endearing objects: Minnesota and Michigan for the Little Brown Jug, Purdue and Indiana for the Old Oaken Bucket, Tennessee and Kentucky for the Beer Barrel.
Alumni from different schools argue that not only does their alma matter have the best football team on any given Saturday, but that every aspect of their alma matter is better than every aspect of every other school in America.
It is obvious that Auburn’s “War Eagle” is the greatest fight song ever played. Yet Michigan grads will tell you that no song is as stirring as “The Victors.”
It is obvious that the sweeping angles of Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium make it the best place on earth to watch a football game. Yet Arizona State grads will tell you there’s no better place than the upper deck of Sun Devil Stadium at sundown, from which you can watch a game and see the desert turn to fire at the same time.
And it is obvious that Auburn-Alabama is the most heated rivalry in the world. Yet, inexplicably, some will say that title belongs to Michigan-Ohio State or Texas-Oklahoma or Army-Navy.
Meanwhile, Tennessee grads claim that the greatest pre-game tradition in America is the procession of their Vol Navy, when alumni arrive by boats on the Tennessee River.
And Wisconsin grads claim that the greatest post-game tradition is their Fifth Quarter, when the band stays in the stadium to play and the fans stay in the stadium to party, regardless of who won.
As someone who was born and raised in the Tampa Bay area, I watch Bucs games while feeling my stomach boil with intensity, but I have little interest in spending hours of my life watching other professional games. On the other hand, as someone who graduated from Auburn, I watch Auburn games while feeling heart-stopping anxiety – and I also watch any other college game that’s on TV when Auburn is not. I will stay up into the wee hours of the morning to see Boise State vs. Hawaii and enjoy every minute of it.
College football fans do things like that. And they wonder about all kinds of topics that relate to the sport but not to their school, such as: Will Bobby Bowden or Joe Paterno end the year with more career victories? Will Ohio State make it to the national championship game yet again, only to get embarrassed yet again? Will Notre Dame continue its downward spiral that enables millions of Americans to revel in schadenfreude?
No other sport can match college football’s blend of pageantry, passion, and season-long drama. So cue the marching bands, let the cheerleaders adorn our televisions, and let us all argue about who’s number one. I am ready.