"Like the best of arts...football worked on multiple levels. For the loyalists, there was the fortune of the home team. For neutral or casual fans, there was action, skill, suspense and violence. For gamblers, the wagering proposition. For those with a deeper interest, the game could exist on a larger canvas--as a morality play; a cultural metaphor; a crucible of values in which teamwork; sacrifice and dedication were rewarded, while selfishness, cowardice and sloth were harshly punished. What those who were contemptuous of sports misunderstood was not merely that a middle-class sports fan might revere football to the same degree that an inveterate theatergoer revered Shakespeare, but that he might do it for the same reasons."
-Michael MacCambridge America's Game
Macambridge was actually talking about the NFL, but everything he wrote can just as easily be applied to college football. I think many of us have a story that illustrates where their fandom grew to more than just boxscores. I hope you share yours in the comments. This one is mine.I withdrew from American University in 2006 to go on a two year religious service mission to Sacramento, per LDS custom. Mormon missionaries lead very austere lives -- You work 10-12 hour days every day, you're stuck with the same dresscode (dark suit, white shirt, conservative tie, and my black nametag that improbably read "Elder Brown" even though I was 19), and phone calls, TV, and internet browsing were not allowed. During the winter, I don't think this would have been a huge deal, but the fall was football season, and the 2006 OSU squad was supposed to be pretty good.
I felt homesick pretty quickly, and had to get pretty creative to figure out what was going on with my Buckeyes. I had friends and family mail me box scores and Dispatch clippings every week. I'd pester people at church on Sundays for updates. If all of that failed, I wasn't above radically altering my door approach "Hi, my name is Elder Brown, and this is Elder Blackridge. We'd love to share a message about Jesus Christ with you if you have a few moments. No? Well..can you at least tell me the Ohio State/Purdue score? Ok. Thanks anyway".
By late fall, two things were happening. Ohio State was crushing everybody in sight, and things were starting to fall apart for me. I tore several ligaments in my left knee, which forced me to walk with a limp or a cane while I waited for surgery. My mom was also diagnosed with a very serious health problem, so my head was all over the place. The folks in Salt Lake decided it would be best to just send me home, and booked me a ticket to Columbus. My flight was for Saturday, November 18th...during the Game of the Century.
I hadn't watched a second of Buckeye football that year, but I got lucky that night. I had a layover in Cincinnati, and I managed to hobble down to my gate just as Ohio State was putting the finishing touches on beating the no. 2 ranked Michigan Wolverines. Breaking about a dozen LDS Missionary rules, I unabashedly limped over to the airport bar and watched the last five minutes with a crowd of other Buckeye fans, punctuating that final whistle with a Tiger Woods fist pump and an emphatic "YESSSS" that could be heard all over Concourse B. At that moment, it didn't matter that my left knee was held together by tape and bits of ACLs from Iowa running backs. None of the other drunken fans even bat an eye. Of course a missionary was celebrating with them; why would that be strange? Even Jesus hates Michigan.
I've always loved football, but those few minutes helped elevate the game into something more than merely what I watch on Saturdays" When I was desperate for some good news in my life, some connection to familiarity, I could get that from Ohio State. In those few minutes, there was your morality play, cultural metaphor, manna from heaven, whatever. I needed a win and Troy Smith helped me get one. I transferred to Ohio State shortly thereafter.
We've been reminded of the seedy and tragic side of football a lot this offseason. We'll have to play the season under NCAA sanctions, and Miami, along with possibly UNC and Oregon, will face their music as well. We've already spilled gallons of digital ink on Penn State, and do not need to be reminded that our beloved game can be used an excuse for actual evil.
In the next few months though, we'll be reminded of all the great things about college football. We'll see it bring friends and communities together. In an increasingly fragmented culture, college football can be one of the few things that everybody can discuss around the water cooler. It will excite us, thrill us, disappoint us ,and uplift us.
The day after I graduated from Ohio State, I got on flight to Arizona for my teacher training and I haven't really been back since. For me, these fall saturdays will be the chance I get to feel like I'm back home again. John Simon literally stomping some poor Miami guard back to the Jurassic Period takes care of your morality play. Columbus is the home of the hardworking and the courageous. The Redhawks and Cornhuskers and the Hoosiers and most especially Michigan, will get their comeuppance. There will be action, skill, suspense, and violence.
And it will be beautiful. Enjoy the fall, Buckeyes.