The one constant in this uncertain sports world – We are still college football fans

  • Senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com
  • 2-time Sports Emmy winner
  • 2010, 2014 NMPA Writer of the Year

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for … wait, what? You can’t hear me? Oh, dang it … sorry … I had myself on mute.

Anyway, I appreciate you all showing up for this Zoom call. I know my invitation was a little last-minute, but I felt it was important that, before this strangest of college football seasons gets fully cranked up this week, we all get together one last time for a virtual happy hour in order to, well, get happy by fielding any questions or concerns you might have.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting so many of you to show up. My screen has so many faces in so many boxes it looks like a Brady Bunch nightmare. But I do see that someone already has their hand raised. Yes, you sir, the distinguished-looking gray-haired gentleman dressed in the blazer of your alma mater’s primary team color, you want to start us off?

“Yes, I damn sure do! I’m on here because I have nowhere else to go. I donated eleventy billion dollars to have my name in lights over my school’s indoor practice facility and now my alma mater is telling me I can’t attend our games! Don’t they know who I am?!”

Well, right now, none of us knows who you are because all we can see on your webcam is your chin. But I do think we all feel your pain about not having the ability to go to games in person. For example, the young man who is raising his hand in the lower left-hand box, with his face painted like William Wallace and the homemade “They ain’t played nobody, PAWL” sign. You have a comment or a question?

“Yeah, I’m a sophomore at State U., and last week I was in class and then I was told not to be in class and then I was in class on my laptop in my dorm and then I was told to take my laptop and my classes home with me. So I will be watching my team this weekend from my parents’ house. Problem is, I have no idea when the weekend will be here. So, um, does anyone on here have any idea what day of the week it is? Because I don’t.”

Sure. Today is Tuesday. Wait … I see a lot of heads shaking no. What is it, Monday? No? It’s Wednesday?! Really? OK, good to know. Now, let’s go to you, the couple wearing the block “O” sweatshirts and foam corn cobs on your heads.

“Hi. We just wanted to say to everyone on this happy hour who has a team playing this fall that they should certainly be happy because you all know that you won’t have to be dealing with the sadness of playing the Big Ten!”

OK, OK, everyone stop booing and throwing stuff! You’re going to break your computers!

This feels like a good time for me to take the floor for a moment. Before we open this call back up to you, the people, I genuinely want to thank you for being here today. All of you. You, the excited. You, the confused. Even you, the angry. Because no matter how you feel in this moment, in the end, we are still what we were before 2020 and what we will be after it.

We are college football fans.

And as this 151st season of the sport we love so dearly begins to hit its stride in the coming days, as the handful of games and teams we have already seen are joined (hopefully) by the ACC, Big 12 and, eventually, the SEC, we must first embrace each other in order to fully embrace this oddest of autumns. I am speaking metaphorically, of course.

But even as the coronavirus pandemic physically separates us, we must not let it divide us, be it by way of the map, leadership or (groan) politics. When it has been at its best, college football has been a place of unity, where people of every race, rearing and financial means can spend a Saturday afternoon in their favorite stadium, cheering together and brought together by the colors they wear, those of their shared favorite college football team. So to fully enjoy and appreciate this most erratic edition of the sport that we have all pledged our lives to loving, we must work together. Even if that “together” is at a socially safe distance.

Instead of bemoaning the inability to attend the games of your favorite teams, appreciate the fact that your teams are playing games at all, be it in front of no crowd or a limited crowd. If you’ve ever seen a tractor pull, then you’ve seen what this 2020 fall season will have to be, hoping to build as much momentum as it possibly can to overcome the overwhelming weight that seeks to stop it cold in its tracks. Even if it fails, there is honor in the effort. That’s a feeling most college football fans are already very familiar with.

Instead of making fun of the conferences that have chosen to wait or pointing fingers at the ones that have chosen to go on and play, I implore you to instead try to appreciate the leadership who made those decisions. You don’t have to agree with them. Clearly many don’t. But put yourself in their shoes and understand how difficult it was to put themselves in their students’ cleats before making decisions that would affect the lives of millions, made amid rapidly approaching deadlines, fluctuating pandemic statistics and with a phone in their pocket that has yet to stop ringing with advice from state governors and university trustees to confused coaches and the lawyers of players’ parents.

My gridiron-loving brothers and sisters, I ask you to approach the 2020-21 college football season with the lyrics of Johnny Mercer ringing in your heads and hearts, “You got to ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive.” Stop worrying about what can’t be fixed. Spoiler alert: The Big Ten and Pac-12 aren’t starting their seasons anytime this fall. Instead, think about what it might mean if they do get their seasons started in December, at the very same time that the ACC, Big 12 and SEC regular seasons are winding down.

Yes, the College Football Playoff might be a mess. Yes, we might temporarily return to the old bowl system days of a split national title. But if everyone pulls off the games they want when they want to, you know what that might mean? A college football season that lasts from Labor Day to nearly Easter! And as Ricky Bobby’s kids remind us every night on cable television, the lone positive byproduct of being children of divorce is: “Yay! Two Christmases!” So while this Power 5 trial separation might be a painful process, we might also get two Rose Bowls out of it. TWO. ROSE. BOWLS.

Yes, the list of great players who choose to opt out before this season’s second season starts will continue to grow. But guess what. They’re also opting out from the teams that are playing this fall. They’ve been opting out of bowl games for several seasons now. College football rosters have always been a revolving door. This year’s door just happens to have a little extra WD-40 in its gears.

So to you, my friends, my family, my fellow college football fanatics, as we jingle our keys and let out an “Ahhhhh” watching this weekend’s first kicker approach the tee and we are forced to do so from our living rooms, let us keep the divisions between us limited to the opposing sidelines of Saturday afternoon rivalries. They say the greatest unifier is a common enemy. This fall, we have one. No, not Nick Saban — the coronavirus.

It has robbed us of our time. It has robbed us of the word “normal.” It has robbed us of our season tickets. Let’s not allow it to rob us of our shared joy for the greatest sport in the world, no matter how strange this season might look or how long it might, or might not, last.

College football is being played. I say we take whatever we can get whenever we can get it.

And on that note, virtual happy hour is adjourned … wait, sorry, I see we have one more question, from the guy in the USC sweatshirt who just woke up. Sir?

“Um, yeah, what was with that name on the Zoom invitation you sent out? Is this like a club or something?”

Yes, it is. We founded it one year ago, an organization to bring together people who love college football and make sure we continue to love it in the future. We called it CFB’s Optimistic Votaries Inspired and Driven in 2019. We just shortened it into an acronym.

“So, this club is called C.O.V.I.D. ’19?”

END MEETING FOR ALL

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