Same Time, Next Year

by Rich on January 15, 2018

The college football season has come to and end. A moment of silence, please.

Ok…, sorry. I know almost everyone has mentally shifted gears to other sports, but many of us are in a period of mourning. It won’t last long. NFL playoffs are going strong, The Big Game is right around the corner, college basketball is hitting it’s stride…there’s plenty to keep us occupied in the world of sports. But today, I want to just push “pause” for a moment and contemplate how great this past college football season was.

Every season is special for someone. And most seasons are at least good for the casual fan. But for some reason, this season seemed to offer more. And as I thought about this the other day, it occurred to me that, personally, I have experienced many similar seasons. I’ve also lived through plenty mediocre seasons that did little to engage my attention, and a more than a few that I had to merely survive because they were so terrible. The latter are pretty rare, overall, but man, when they hit, they hit hard. And the aftertaste sticks around for a while.

But this year was great. And I don’t mean it was great because the team I root for won the national championship (it didn’t). I mean it was great because, for some reason, so many of the personal stories of players, coaches and teams resonated with me. I won’t go into a list of the big stories that pulled me in because if you share my feelings on this, our lists would probably be vastly different, with maybe a few crossovers.

And that’s what makes college football so great. The stories. The crazy games that start at 9 pm on a Thursday, between 2 teams you know nothing about, and all of a sudden you can’t turn away and twitter is blowing up and your heart is in your throat and you’re on the edge of your couch screaming at the TV and your wife is wondering what kind of particular insanity she is witnessing and will it infect the kids?

It’s the stories. They resonate. Because these aren’t professionals making a gazillion dollars. They are kids. Young adults. And they are playing their guts out. They are experiencing things on a level most of cannot comprehend. They have overcome personal obstacles. The teams have coalesced into a brotherhood to beat overwhelming odds. The coaches have defied the odds and proven their worth even as their seat seems to be an active volcano.

Every year has these stories. Some years they seem to be more prominent than others, but they all have them. So why do some seasons seem to be so much more engaging than others? The older I get, the more I realize that it has more to do with me than with what actually happens during those four months in the fall. Coming to that realization is sobering, but also, in some bizarre way, comforting. Because I am learning that, while I don’t control what happens on the field during any given season, I do have some control over my outlook on life, and thus, my appreciation for said season. It’s like the man said…most people in life are about as happy as they decide to be.

So the college football season is over and I have decided that it was fantastic. Spoiler alert: I’ve already made the decision that next year will be epic too.

Plan accordingly.


Game? What Game?

by Rich on January 8, 2018

Due to deadlines and publishing requirements, one of the peculiarities of this column is that I must file it to the editor before any of the big sports stories for the weekend have actually occurred. That’s a little peek behind the curtain, perhaps, but maybe you have wondered why, in a Sunday column in the sports section, I don’t specifically address the games that were played the day before. Well, now you know. It can be a challenge, because often that’s exactly what I want to write about. Let me be clear, though, that for you the reader, this is probably a good thing. I’m no expert when it comes to sports. These pages are full of writers who are, and those are writers you rightly turn to for game analysis. I’m the average fan. The casual observer. The “man on the street”, if you will. Life is bigger than sports, and I try to incorporate all of it, within a sports themed column. It’s not always easy, but I do love it.

This week is different. Why? Because the biggest game of the week doesn’t happen until Monday night! That’s right, I get to write a column about the biggest story in sports that you will read BEFORE IT ACTUALLY HAPPENS!

Tremble, sports writing gods…tremble.

But here’s the thing… I’m not actually going to right about the game, per se. I’m not going to break down Alabama’s secondary or tell you why Georgia should be able to effectively run the ball. Again, plenty of people in this very section doing that very thing at a much higher level. No, I want to talk about what this game means for those not actually playing in it. There are a lot of very invested stakeholders and I find this match-up fascinating for what it means to them.

If you are a fan of the Crimson Tide, how much does this game mean to you? Do you need it to avenge the loss against Clemson in the same game last year? Or did the playoff game last week do that? You already believe that your coach and his program are the greatest in college football history. I doubt a loss at this level would change that conviction. So what, exactly, is on the line? Asking for a friend.

For Bulldog fans, I think I have a much clearer picture of what’s at stake. This is a program that has underachieved for so long that it’s fans have become almost bitter. From the outside, at least, it often appears that Georgia fans feel as if they should have won multiple national championships over the last 30 years, and that it has only been the cruel hand of fate and an undiscovered but somehow disturbed Indian burial ground that has kept them from reaching the mountaintop. For them, this game means everything.

As for the rest of the conference, there seems to be a significant split between pride that the game is an entirely SEC endeavor, and horror that the two teams playing in the game are hated enemies. Not of each other, necessarily, but of the rest of the teams in the conference. The big question for most SEC fans is not who to root for, but what can be done Monday night to pretend that there’s not actually a game being played?

What will I be doing, you ask? I’ll be doing what I normally do on a Monday night…writing next week’s column. Can’t wait to tell you why I think all basketball games should be played outdoors, on dirt.

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