For football fanatics, the weekend is a multiple choice test. Graded on your significant other’s curve, you can a) watch state U on Saturday b) catch your NFL team on Sunday c) spend Saturday and Saturday glued to the television or d) remove your derriere from the couch and exercise, converse with others in non-grunts, and generally behave like a functioning human being. Your sporting calculus: the significant other issued an ultimatum. Saturday, Sunday, or a sports blackout. And, no, you don’t live in Jacksonville.
As the shot clock ticks on your relationship, are you going to choose Saturday or Sunday? If you live in SEC country, the hashtag #SECondToNone is proudly tattooed on your bicep. Your yard is manicured like the Hedges. When in doubt, you consult with your Tim Tebow bobblehead. If you live in Boston or New York, Boomer serves as your alarm clock. For long-suffering Patriots fans (bitter Seattle humor), GameDay means tapering your sleeves and donning your favorite Belichick hoodie.
For those more indecisive than Hillary on gun control, I am here as your personal sports coach. And if you are spending Saturday and Sunday fixated to the tube, I am also doubling as your personal life coach. It is agonizing to choose between your three loves--your wife, college football, and the NFL. But it is time to have that gut-wrenching conversation--the GameDay or Countdown crew will understand. You hope. If you aren’t firm with Kirk or T.J., your significant other will be handing you more than just the remote control. Insert image of your special someone shuffling divorce paper and declaring, “Don’t try a (QB) sneak with the TV station either. You will be spending more time on the bench that that Manziel.”
My sports/relationship advice: God must be a college sports fan. After all, he dubbed Sunday the day of rest. And listen to your first amor; she is the play-caller, coach, and AD.
The NFL lords over college fball in this category. Look--the coverage (hubbub may be more accurate) around the NFL Combine is excessive. It doesn’t take a perfect Wonderlic score to question ESPN breathlessly reporting on a prospect’s standing long jump. The draft, though, is a different beast. From trades to the sixth-round gems to the glimpses inside the war room (idiotic name but still), unpredictability defines Draft Day. And unpredictability, unless you are Aaron Rodgers slipping, is a good thing.
College football recruitment plays out like Groundhog Day each year. If you are a college football blueblood, you will be humming Hail to the Victors or The Eyes of Texas on national signing day. And if you are Wazzu, you will be in a spirited contest with OSU (the Beavs, not the Bucks) to sign that two-star recruit out out Walla Walla. For recruiting beatniks, I would recommend finding a mirror and doing a once-over. While your combover is perfectly parted, isn’t there something a little oft-putting, even creepy, about a 45-year old guy gushing about a 13 year old kid’s football exploits?
Veer past the dorms, take a left when you see Fieldhouse Drive, and there she is--glistening in all her majesty. The Big House, Sanford, and Kinnick are a Hail Mary away from university campuses. Glance up at Touchdown Jesus during the chemistry exam and, who knows, maybe the Holy Spirit will provide divine intervention.
In the NFL, Siri instructs you to take the Beltway, endure snarled traffic for 45 minutes, mutter at the incompetent driver with Virginia plates, and then arrive in a different state for your NFL experience. See the Maryland Redskins and the New Jersey Football Giants. Charmless fortresses, NFL stadiums are missing the endearing oddities that define college football: pink locker rooms, a snarling Mike the Tiger, and proud alumni bellowing “Woo Pig Sooie.”
Ever wonder why Lambeau is revered? With brats simmering, hearty Cheeseheads downing Spotted Cow, and neighborhood spots like The Bar and Anduzzi’s, It feels like a college stadium. But Green Bay, the NFL’s resident college town, and the adoring Cheeseheads pale in comparison to college football’s historic venues.
At most Division One universities, tailgating is an unofficial major. You feeling sporty? Sail to the Husky or Volunteer game. In Big Ten country? Wash down the latest Nebraska collapse with a swig of ‘Husker punch or gobble on a Big Ass Turkey Leg. In the SEC, tailgating season is the fall Mardi Gras. Your fall costume: a tailored suit for men and a designer dress for women. For the annual SEC deathmatches, fans descend on T-Town, Death Valley, or Oxford on a Tuesday. Preparing a Hotty Toddy or picking out the perfect sundress to strut through the Grove requires four days right?
NFL outposts, namely Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Green Bay, have the most happening tailgating scenes. If you are in Sixburgh, Primanti Brothers might be more popular than Antonio Brown. If you are in Buffalo, plan a stop at the Anchor Bar before circling the wagons outside Ralph Wilson Stadium. The barbecue outside Arrowhead is a KC masterpiece. But in the majority of NFL cities, tailgating is a forgotten, if not lost, art. In Tennessee, St. Louis, Jacksonville, and Carolina, the wave might be the most memorable game-day experience.
Are you ears ringing from the cowbells? Or maybe your eyes are strained after staring at the lovely Song Girls? Or perhaps your voice is shrill after belting out “In Heaven There Is No Beer.”
The NFL is second string in this category. Fireman Ed epitomizes New York chutzpah, the Terrible Towels are a must-have accessory in Pittsburgh, and you leap for joy in Green Bay. DC’s loathing of Daniel Snyder unites Democrats and Republicans alike. But in the increasingly sterile NFL, blasting 90s hip-hop constitutes fan involvement.
In college, the fan experience is lived, not heard. In Madison, “Jump Around” is more than a classic Beastie Boys hit. In Gainesville, the Gator Chomp jolts the Swamp into a frenzy. Take a bow, 12th Man. That would be A&M, not Seattle.
No, I am not referencing the banned--but memorable--show. Instead, we have Megatron skyscraping over a defenseless DB, Skittles beast quaking through a hapless secondary, and AP stiffarming the Black and Blue division. Bear(s) Down--as in multiple defenders lunging for the All-Pro running back. Corporal punishment indeed.
This category is as fair and balanced as Bill O’Reilly. College football serves as the NFL’s minor league. Now don’t get me wrong--there are outstanding individual players cementing their college football legacy. Leonard Fournette is bullrushing his name onto the 2015 Heisman, J.J. Bosa is terrorizing offensive backfields, and Trevone Boykin is evading helpless defenders and then charming college football fans.
But Sunday, not Saturday, is deserving of the sports marquee’s top billing. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers testing the vaunted ‘Hawks secondary, J.J. Watt leaving offensive lineman more demoralized than Jonathan Martin, and Demaryius Thomas looking to rent property on Revis Island. If you are channel surfing for circus catches and rocket arms, Sunday is your day.
5 Scandal: Sadly, Not the Show
With Goodell and the Hoodie, the NFL is the sports version of 1984. Unless you are part of the Patriots Syndicate, Goodell’s lack of transparency is Big Brother alarming. Player safety, specifically concussion protocol, remains an ongoing issue. To paraphrase a notorious Watergate quote, “What did Goodell know (about player safety) and when did he know it?”
As for the NCAA, the politicking is unseemly, the college football playoff criteria is more fickle than Seattle weather (thank you Jeff Long!), and the conference commissioners have an uncanny knack for botching the unbotchable. The Big 12’s motto may be one champion but commish Bob Bowlsby awarded Baylor and TCU co-gold medals. ‘Good job, good effort” were engraved on the 2014 championship medals. And we haven’t even touched the mishandling of the Sandusky case.
My final decision: Is Adam Silver eligible for an award?
The Downtown Athletic Club looks like Hootie Johnson’s personal WASP convention. But there is no taking away from the ceremony, the ambiance, and, most importantly, the meaning. From an overwhelmed Heisman winner sobbing uncontrollably to college football legends strolling out in their Saturday night finest, the award means something. In a sport filled with meaningless trophies (the Brass Spittoon anyone), the Heisman is the Grandaddy of ‘Em all. And the Heisman pageantry surpasses NFL casualness.
3 Fantasy Football
NFL--and this doesn’t require a Monday Morning quarterback The clever team names, the trades that incite WWIII, and Earl’s inflammatory message board posts. If you ever spend your Sunday night updating Stat Tracker, well, you have a support group of tens of thousands of men and women. And if Bryce Brown or Charles Clay dashed your playoff hopes, know that thousands of fellow weekday warriors will trudge off to Cubicleville with that same forlorn look. “Please, Earl from accounting, call in sick this morning.”
King Saban lashing out at a reporter, Mike Gundy discovering manhood at 40, and the real, not faux, Bo Pelini disparaging his fan base. Under the iron fist of these tightly-wound coaches, college players are Rush Limbaugh conservative during question and answer sessions. Look, Nick, the interview sessions with you or your players don’t have to resemble Guantanamo Bay. For every ten Sabans blathering on about the “process” in front of a fawning press corps, there is a Les Miles dispensing endearingly quirky life Les(sons). Miles, Bobby Bowden, and Steve Spurrier are three head football coaches who, gasp, provide a little bit of levity and folksy wisdom in the, oh so serious, college football world.
In the NFL, the biggest personalities are ego-fueled WRs or testosterone-fueled QBs. Randy Moss, Keyshawn Johnson, and Chad Ochocinco have run self-promotion routes to perfection. Brett Favre tried to run the (unbutton your) fly pattern with Jenn Sterger, Jay Cutler’s body language screams Prozac Nation, and Johnny Football is more Vegas than football. Among top-shelf quarterbacks, Brady and and Brees have graduated from the Belichickian Platitude Academy. However, there are quotable and relatable NFL superstars. Richard Sherman is thoughtful, brash, and likable. Aaron Rodgers mixes superstardom with an easygoing affability. Hulking J.J. Watt is known for his approachability. And, yes, the NFL does have super-sized coaching personalities. Rex Ryan’s bravado, Pete Carroll’s excitability, and Denny Green’s quotability.
Bears and Packers fan coexist uneasily, particularly at car dealerships. 12 > 49 when you are in the Emerald City. In the battle for the Dirty South, the Saints and Falcons dispel Southern niceties. But for all the venom spewing in these rivalries, these aren’t blood wars.
Give me the Egg Bowl, Spurrier throwing verbal grenades to his upstate rivals, and ‘Bama-Aubarn. Sorry, Charles Barkley. House divided? More than just a tacky license plate in Alabama. In this Southern (Dis)Comfort rivalry, there have been fatalities linked to the game’s outcome. Yes--among family members. Harvey Updyke, a demented Alabama fan, poisoned Toomey Corner’s iconic trees. Following Updyke’s arrest, there was a detente among the warring fan bases for, give or take, one Paul Finebaum show.
While Auburn and Bama fans--or is it Bama and Auburn?--continue their unCivil War, college football fans look on in bemused, bewildered amazement. Auburn and Bama aren’t the only fan bases on a slow simmer. UM-Ohio State, Texas-OU, Florida-Georiga all share a border and mutual dislike for their contemptuous rivals. For NFLers questioning questioning a rivalry’s intensity, expect an icy, Harbaugh stare from chest-thumping alumni.
In a vote as competitive as Bush v. Gore, college ekes out a 5-4 decision in the court of Matt. Just like the Supreme Court, dissent is welcome. Please leave your comments and feedback below.