Author: Ken Wolf
In 1869, Rutgers played the College of New Jersey (Princeton) in a two game, one week season on each campus. The home team won both. The game they competed in was not exactly the American football of today, but it was close enough to be argued the birth of something great. I can assure you this: there was lots of drinking and cheering and fun being had, as there is 150 years later in a sport with a tradition and aura unlike anything in the world.
The tailgating itself is epic. The lack of alcohol sales in some stadiums has added to the ritual and these rules are easing, but pre-game will always be a big part of the culture. Whether you’re at The Grove or in the Cockaboose Railroad. Having a brat outside the Shoe or crawfish in Baton Rouge. Happy Valley, Charter Hill, or College Station. The names, food, and dress are unique, but the objective is always the same. People tailgate everywhere for all types of sports. Nobody does it like college football fans.
The Baltimore Ravens are the old Cleveland Browns. The Baltimore Colts are in Indy. And the Browns are a whole new franchise as of twenty years ago. The Houston Texans? Tennessee Titans? Hard to argue tradition there. You won’t find that crap in college ball. Alabama isn’t moving to Florida. Florida State won’t end up in Ohio. Sounds silly. I know, they’re two different animals. But it’s part of what makes college sports more pure. Conference moves happen and there are financial reasons, of course, but your university and team stay put.
With college football, you get both historic and modern rivalries amongst powerhouses, but also David vs Goliath. It’s hard to compete with the big dogs, but not impossible. UCF is a legit program competing with/beating the majors. Boise State climbed from obscurity before them. Appalachian State beat Michigan. Carnegie Tech beat Knute Rockne’s Notre Dame. James Madison, Howard, and many more have overcome tremendous odds. Huge odds you don’t get in the NFL because of its inherent structure.
There’s no sport with more iconic plays. College football does the unusual and combines quantity with quality. An astounding number of games equals an astounding number of astounding moments. ‘The Play’ is etched in my mind for life. Band on the field, time expired, multi-lateral kick return. Marvelous mayhem. Neither Stanford nor Cal were great. Two .500ish teams, but this was the ‘Big Game’. Local rivalry. ‘Hail Flutie’, Desmond Howard striking the pose, Woody Hayes clocking an opposing player, the ‘Iron Bowl’ missed field goal return. So many stories.
There are a number of college stadiums that seat over 100,000. Many more with 80,000+ capacity. 50,000 people at a college game is a different deal than 50,000 at an NFL stadium. Quarters are close and luxury is for few. The way it should be. Resulting in a home field advantage greater than most sports. And of course you have the students. No fans compare in enthusiasm to rabid students rooting for their football team. Throw in the blaring band and you’ve got yourself an experience unlike any other.
Maybe your team has a shot at winning it all. Every single game is absolutely critical in that happening. Or maybe the goal is to make a bowl. Or to battle for the conference title. Or maybe your team’s in a down cycle and wins will be sparse, but there will still be the rivalry games and chances to play spoiler. And no matter what, the tailgating, the crowds, the spirit, the plays, all of it will be there. Because college football is glorious. Good luck this year and have fun.