With apologies to America’s pastime, MLB, and America’s obsession, the NFL, both pale in comparison to college football. This week, the greatest sport kicks off its 2013 season when North Carolina heads to South Carolina, where the country will see Jadeveon Clowney showcase the skills that make him a once-in-a-decade talent.
The smell of brisket that has been slow cooking since dawn, the rumble of a drumline off in the distance marching closer to the perfectly-manicured gridiron by the second, and the frivolity of being on a college campus: the sights, smells and sounds of college football.
Whether it’s the tailgating, marching bands playing fight songs, cheerleaders, stadiums filled with more than 100,000, and in some cases and millions watching from the comfort of their leather chairs and on their HDTV’s, college football pulls at our heart strings. Strangers become best friends, and friends become family on college football Saturdays.
The current pastime of the NFL replaced America’s former pastime some time ago, but nothing can ever replace what college football means to us. It takes us back to the time of our youth when we were introduced to the game. We were taught the lyrics to our school’s fight songs and the traditions that make our school the best while simultaneously despising everything associated with our blood rival.
We vividly recall epic rivalry games that have separated families and strained marriages. Losses linger for 364 days until the opportunity for revenge is before us. We follow recruiting and cheer for our players to do well at the next level, but they become our heroes for the 3-5 years they are on our campus.
Meanwhile, MLB tries to put a cover on the black eye of the ongoing performance-enhancing drug epidemic, and the NFL is mired in legal hell over long-term health ramifications. College football is devoid of that, and is littered with future doctors, lawyers and teachers playing the game of football because it’s what they love, and they are loved like none other in return.
Playing in front of family who makes the drive to see their son, nephew, grandson or cousin play for 6-8 Saturdays a year is the type of loyalty you do not see many other places. We travel to small quaint college towns that swell to the most populated city in the state on game day.
We relish seeing young men with unadulterated hearts Sunday through Friday transform into gladiators for four quarters on Saturday, and play their heart out on the striped field with the will and determination to be great.
College football is a sport with a small window that you can play, and the kids who strap on the helmet and lace up their cleats on Saturday play with that same sense of urgency. You will not see many called lazy, entitled or selfish in college compared to their professional counterparts.
The return of college football instills the same kind of hope and enthusiasm I had when I was on campus and surrounded by thousands who shared the same love and passion as me. It is more than just a game; rather, it is a way of life and a religion for some.
Saturdays are a sanctuary and an escape from the responsibilities of adulthood, and for a few hours, I can live vicariously through the lives of the kids on my TV screen and feel 20-years-old again.
I love college football, and you should love it too.