This past Sunday, I walked into my neighbor’s house and was met by a wave of burgundy, gold and white. I quickly wondered how I could hide the obnoxious blue and white scarf I was wearing. Where were the other Dallas fans, I thought. And then from across the room, I spotted a lone comrade donning the Cowboys jersey. Two fans are always better than one. However, three interceptions later, the Redskins are in the playoffs and Dallas goes home. Maybe next year, Tony. I continue to be amazed at the enthusiasm and allegiance of the American football fan. There are few sports that can match this fervor. You don’t have to be a certain age, or be a certain color, or live in a certain part of the country to love the sport of football. The loyalty of the football fan, on both the college and national levels, is greater than in any other athletic pastime. Stories of my father’s short-lived football career as a Gamecock were amusing to me as a young kid and so I signed on to the madness some 40 years ago as a Carolina fan and never looked back. I love college football. I love the NFL. Sadly, the six month long season will soon be over. Grills, face paint, foam cheese heads, novelty jerseys, and car flags will shortly enter a resented hibernation until fall. Many, me included, will catch end-of-the-season blues in February and wait for a remedy in June when the countdown to next season begins. I feel confident in saying that many share these sentiments.
If you love football, you can be consumed by the game. Howard Cosell once said, “The importance our society attaches to this sport is incredible. After all, is football a game or a religion?” What Mr. Cosell was trying to say I imagine has to do with the intensity of the enthusiast and the power the game has over the spectator. Or maybe football is like life -- the way Vince Lombardi saw it -- “Football requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority.” I may not take the game quite this serious, but the passion remains. Like most fans, I enjoy engaging in conversations about the games, the players, and at times, it’s hard to disguise the enthusiasm I have for my favored teams. Football has a way of putting an iron grip on our collective psyche. It’s unavoidable. I’m certain that while watching our teams, I’m not the only fan whose emotional charts ensue a similar pattern of anticipation followed by 3-4 hours of intensity, exasperation, bad word choices, nervousness, frustration, and excitement ending with either euphoria or despair. I’m not the violent, bloodthirsty kind of person though my children have witnessed me turn into the over-zealous, out-of control fan jumping up and down, both hands in the air, screaming at the television with everyone else in the room, “Yes, YES!! OH MY GOD! INTERCEPTION!!!!” Or the occasional, “GET HIM!! WHERE’S OUR DEFENSE? KILL HIM!” And on any given game day, many of us will work hard to rearrange our schedules to assure we don’t miss kickoff.
Why do we love football so much? We all have our reasons. For college ball, we love the in-game traditions and the rivalries. We love watching the upsets in college ball and debating the weekly rankings. We love the tailgating and the bowl games. We’ve discussed everything about every single piece of news about our favorite school until we have nothing else to say. We’ve argued about every single poll until we were blue in the face, and then argued some more. We’ve talked smack and have hoped that we won’t have to eat crow when the game actually comes around. And in the NFL, we love the players, the talent, the spirit of the sport, the fanatical superstitions. We love the excitement, the friends gathered around our coffee tables, our fire pits in love; in love with game of football.
We love football for the moments - moments like New Year’s Eve when Clemson player Chandler Catanzaro kicked a 37-yard field goal as time expired to give the Tigers a wild win over LSU. Moments like New Year’s Day when after a botched call by the official, Gamecock Jadeveon Clowney busted through the Michigan line with a “hit heard around the world”, picked up the resulting fumble like it was a Nerf ball and turning the tide of the game. It is why we have watched that 4th quarter of the Outback Bowl four times in my house. Moments like on Sunday when Coach Chuck Pagano left his darkest days back at the cancer center and lived his dream of walking back on the field to lead his Colts to a victory over the Texans. Moments like these are why we keep coming back year after year, loss after loss, win after win believing that this year will be our year. We can’t help it. It’s for the love of the pigskin.