Posted Jan. 8, 2015

Dec 2, 2011

At Season's End, What Is Left?


And so now, it's pretty much over.

Fourteen weeks.

Fourteen Saturdays.

Untold hours spent in front of the television, or tailgating in the glorious Autumn sunshine, or jammed into the bleachers, taking in the unmatchable atmosphere that is college football.

Four months, the greatest four months of the year, gone. Just like that.

We had college football season. We cheered its arrival. We welcomed it in September, we lived it in October, we suvived it in November. And now here we are, in early December, with just one true college football weekend left, and the more philosophical among us might indeed ask: What did it all mean?

What can we take away from all of the time spent, and all the money spent, on our commitment to this fast-dwindling college football season of 2011?

What did we really get out it?


The cynics and the elitists and haters of sport would probably answer that question bluntly.

"Nothing," they would say. "You got nothing out of it. You wasted four months and fourteen Saturdays. You could have been doing something constructive."

And, in some sense, they would be right.

Let’s face it: Spending so much time and so many days and so much money on the trifle that is American college football is somewhat nonsensical. Those of us who love this game, and those of us who live this game, pour ourselves into it—and, in the end, we get nothing back. Nothing tangible, at least. There is no return on investment. There is no payday. There is nothing to hold up at year's end and say, "Well, it was all worth it, because of this."

Loving college football does not make us rich.

Loving college football does not pay dividends.

Loving college football does not give us power, or status, or fame.

Even worse, there is this: Loving college football does not do anything at all to help change the increasingly messed-up world around us—a world that would seem to be crying out to us all, begging us to leave childish things (i.e., college football) behind and go about the work of solving the problems that plague our time and place.

So, yes, it is true: College football takes and does not give back. College football distracts us all from taking on the problems of the day. College football is a waste of time.

At least, that's what the cynics and elitists and haters of sport think.

And, no, they're not shy about saying it.


The calls are coming hard and fast now.

In the wake of that disaster up at Penn State, and with news now breaking of similar disaster at Syracuse, Those Who Would Destroy College Athletics are out in force, bemoaning the sad state of affairs at our nation's universities. They decry the overemphasis on "sports" (and by “sports,” they mean, "football and men's basketball"). They lament those sky-high coaching salaries. They tsk-tsk us all for supporting a game so morally corrupt, so set adrift from the righteous path, so unhinged from academic reality. Big-time college football, they say, is hardly some benign distraction; rather, it is a cancer on academia, a cancer on society, a cancer on our minds.

Cheering for a college football team, believing in a college football team or, God forbid, financially supporting a college football team—these things are repugnant to them. And so when they look at the Jerry Sandusky scandal, they see not a sad tragedy, but rather an opportunity. An opportunity, that is, to remind us pigs in college football nation—us mindless, brutish fans of this mindless, brutish game—that we are responsible for the Sandusky tragedy. Our support for this game, the critics and elitists and haters say, has created a monster. Our support for this game, they say, has corrupted our nation's universities, skewing their priorities and making a farce of the academic enterprise.

To their mind, college football is, in a word, wrong.

They see no ethical value in it. They see no educational value it. They see no aesthetic value in it.

And so they sit back and wonder, shrouded in their own sanctimony, why we heathen do see value in it.

They wonder, in other words, why we're so stupid.


Each Autumn Saturday, either on the road in Happy Valley or at home here in The Beautiful Wissahickon Valley, I watch the Penn State Nittany Lions with my 7-year-old son, Young Jack. They are three of the best hours of my week.

Watching football. Sharing stories. Answering Jack's perceptive, curious and never-ending questions. Explaining the rules of football, and the peculiarities of football and, yes, the beauty of football. We sit. We watch. We chat.

And for three hours, at least, we find our Autumnal escape.

See, folks, this world of ours is not only messed up, and not only badly in need of fixing, but also insanely chaotic, and ridiculously regimented, and far too damn busy. For whatever reason, we here in Modern America feel compelled to drive ourselves to the breaking point. We work far too hard, relax far too little. We chase every last dollar because we see the financial world falling apart all around us, and because we think we can save ourselves from the fallout. We can't, of course. But that doesn't stop us trying.

Work. Work. Work. Never stop. Never wonder why.

Until, that is, we have something—some blessed something—to give us reason to stop. Reason to breathe. Reason to appreciate what we have. Reason to turn the stress off, to hang out with friends and family, and for God's sake, to just enjoy life for a while, even if only for three hours on a Saturday.

Yeah, it's just football: Just a bunch of 18- to 22-year-olds running around on a big green field, knocking the crap out of each other and doing whatever they can to push that ball across the white line. I mean, when you step back, and when you really think about it, it is quite ridiculous—all of those enormous stadiums, all of those thousands of fans, all of that collective pregame worry and all that collective postgame celebration, all tied up in the exploits of a bunch of college kids that most of us fans will never know or never meet.

The players will play out their eligibility. They will graduate and move on with their lives. They will, in some way, leave their college football experience where it should be left: Fully and completely in the past.

Yet for we college football fans, the memories those players create—the miracle comebacks, the historic moments, the upset wins, the seasons of dreams—will live on for years, decades even, and will then be passed down to our children, who, if we are lucky, will share them with their children, as well. Moments turn into memories, memories turn into legends.

And you see, this is how these insignificant little football things—victories, defeats, rivalries, bowl triumphs, goal-line heartbreak—begin to matter. Really, really matter. The legends of college football past matter to me, because they mattered to those that came before. And the legends of college football past now matter to Young Jack, because they matter to me. So it goes, one generation to the next, a tradition shared.

Now, this true and undeniable love for a game, and all that comes with it, is not a tangible thing. It may not have "actual" value, and it may not make a lick of difference in a world that so clearly needs straightening out.

But there is value there nonetheless.

There is value in memories. There is value in time spent with family and friends. There is value in the simple fact that, because we love this game, we allow ourselves the chance, for 14 Saturdays each Autumn, to stop, to live, and to lose ourselves in something that simultaneously matters a great deal, and matters not at all.


And so now, yes, it's pretty much over.

The games have been played. The rivalries have been decided. The bands have marched. The tailgates have been set up, torn down, set up and torn down again. The coaches have ranted and raved. The fans have complained. There have been celebratory postgame drinks, and Sunday morning ruminations, and needless worry and speculation about the BCS. There have been breakout performances, legendary performances, and historic performances. Careers have been made, careers have been destroyed.

What the college football world was in August, it no longer is today. Because as always, the game has rocked and roiled its way through four beautiful and brutal and unpredictable months, and now here we stand, on the cusp of a new year, with another college football season behind us.

It is a season that has treated some of us better than others.

But that's the way it goes, doesn't it? That’s part of the deal.

We hop on that proverbial college football roller coaster in September, not knowing where it will take us. We hope for the best while we brace for the worst.

It begins. It either goes well, or it doesn't. We are thrilled and we are heartbroken. There are momentous wins—days on which the October sunshine is bright and pure and all the world seems right and just—and there are crushing defeats. We breathlessly cheer for a bunch of kids we don't know, playing on fields flung all across the country, and we are somehow impacted by the outcome. Wins raise our spirits. Losses leave us empty.

The season throws at us what we will. We accept it: The good, the bad, the ugly. Because we are college football fans, and that's what we do.

Then, well, it ends.

All at once, our Saturdays are not our Saturdays anymore. And in the end, we are left with nothing.

Nothing except memories. Memories, of course, of the games that were played, the legends that were born, the teams of destiny. But memories, too, and perhaps more importantly, of our time spent enjoying this game together: The tailgates, the days at the stadium, the homecoming weekends. Or just those three hours, carved out of our otherwise insane weeks, during which we watched college football, our great game, with our sons and our daughters, with our friends and our family.

These things may indeed seem small and insignificant to some.

But they mean a lot to us.

Because we are college football fans.

And while the outsiders may not get it, we do.

This game, forever and always, is so much more than just a game.



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