Why I Love College Football Saturdays
NEW YORK– By Robert Cowper
Saturday. Who thought eight simple letters could bring so much joy?
Phrases like “in September” or “three months from today” or “next week” are frustrating because they remind us how far away we are from our target date, but they sound tantalizingly soon. Only when the phrasing turns to “this week” or “on Saturday” does the real excitement start to build. I’m talking about the butterflies-in-your-stomach type anxiety and excitement of football. Some people might get this before a vacation or their wedding night. I get it twice a year. Once around Dec. 1 (I have an unhealthy love of all things Christmas; the NFL stretch run and college football bowl season don’t hurt either) and once in late August when the college football season nears.
I’m a diehard University of Michigan fan (don’t ask me why, I have no idea; my third grade class picture has me wearing a #37 maize and blue uniform; I was born and raised in New Jersey, some things just happen) and an adopted Rutgers fan (that question is easier to answer; it’s my girlfriend’s alma mater and we are season ticket holders for four seasons now). Needless to say, I spend a lot of my Fall weekends watching top-notch college football. Say what you will about the Big Ten and the Big East, I love watching their brand of football. At times, Big 12 football bores me because it’s like watching a seven-on-seven passing drill. The nationwide man-crush on SEC football, in my opinion, is inflated due to the dominance of recent teams like LSU and Alabama; they have their own weak spots in teams like Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
My college football infatuation doesn’t stop there, though. Anybody with a rooting interest in a particular team has a reason to flick on the television on Saturdays to watch some college action and check the scores from their iPhone. In my opinion, though, the storylines are what make the event. What position battles are being waged? Which freshman is being pressed into early service and must produce? Which losing coach is on the hot seat despite running a clean, sanction-free program? Which winning coach is on the hot seat due to running a tainted program awaiting sanctions? Without all of this context, I don’t know how you could have a full appreciation of college football.
Since my focus is usually on the sidelines and in the headlines, I don’t particularly care who wins or loses most games. I’m concerned with my Wolverines’ and Scarlet Knights’ records for sure, but aside from that it’s superfluous. Offer me a 38-33 game between North Texas and Troy teeming with human interest stories on a Tuesday evening and I’ll gladly trade you the 38-10 drubbing of Florida by Alabama in primetime.
People who disagree with me, and a lot do, would point to the fact that the LSU’s and Alabama’s of the world have their own storylines. I’m sure they do, but I think the point is that we’re already familiar with them. We know about Nick Saban (great college coach, couldn’t cut it in the NFL) and Tyrann Mathieu (incredible talent, off the field liability), but we don’t know about the TY Hilton’s of the college world (speedster WR from Florida International who was drafted by the Colts and could surprise some NFL fans with his ability; my prediction is 45 receptions, 600 yards and three TDs).
Maybe a fitting cliché would be “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” Mid-major college football games, to steal a good term from basketball, can be just as good as the product put on by the BCS teams. I’m not saying that Wyoming can beat Colorado head-to-head, but I’m saying that when they’re playing against conference foes, I’m often going to watch Wyoming. The Cowboys’ players may not be playing for NFL scouts or for network television audiences, but they are playing for something more: pride, passion and their obsession with the game.
If I can summarize my summary, my enjoyment of college football is about devouring the unknown storylines and getting familiar with the cast of characters.
I hope you’ll find some time in the coming weeks to check out the guide on your television and tune to a game you wouldn’t normally watch. Let yourself get invested. Learn the players and the coaches that the commentators introduce to you. Imagine the three-hour event as a miniseries on TBS, a live version of Friday Night Lights. If you find yourself pulling for one team or one player more than another, good, go with your gut. Root like hell and watch it until the end. If you enjoy yourself, I bet you’ll make it a habit just like I do.
College football games can sometimes take on a transcendental quality and you don’t want to miss it. I’ll leave you with the two games that have left the biggest impact on my fandom…
I was in attendance when Michigan played UConn to open the 2010 season, it was the rededication of the stadium and was a then-record attendance of 113,090, and I couldn’t help but tear up as the players rushed the field and touched the “Go Blue” banner. It was a massive celebration city-wide all weekend long, and as a Michigan fan I consider myself lucky to have been a part of it.
On October 29, 2011, I was planning on seeing my Scarlet Knights take on West Virginia at home. It was announced that Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed on the field during a game in 2010, would lead the team out of the tunnel in his motorized wheelchair before the game. We were in attendance when Eric was injured and wanted to be there to celebrate his return to the field. Unfortunately, a record snowfall threatened to ruin the festivities. Despite blizzard conditions and nearly impassable roads, we parked at a nearby friend’s house and walked the final 1.5 miles to the stadium. We made it just in time to see Eric leaving the tunnel, snow flying in his smiling face, carrying the symbolic Rutgers axe that told all of us that no matter what happens in life, you need to just “keep chopping.”