No offense to NCAA Women's Volleyball or Men's PBA Tour, both of which I am sure are virulently competitive sports with overly-zealous fan bases, but when ESPN and ESPN 2, respectively, are carrying these sports on a Thursday night in December, it's really nothing more than a sure sign that College Football Season is winding down. If it is possible for a certain time of the year to be simultaneously the most uplifting and the most depressing (from a sports fan's point of view), then late December certainly fits the bill. While College Football fans are subjected to the best inter-conference games of the entire year, bowl season is also a sober reminder that the groundhog as seen his shadow and next season will still be eight long months away.
America loves college football. From the third week in August to the 2nd week in January, Americans are mesmerized by the grind of the home openers, the out-of-conference road trips, the rivalry games played at neutral sites, the shortcomings of the BCS, the over-rateds, the under-rateds, the upsets, the tradition and every down of every quarter of every game. College football brings out the best and the worst of people. It makes temporary allies out of traditional enemies. It pits brother against brother against second cousin twice-removed who had the audacity to buck family tradition and enroll at that other school across the state line. It inspires us and disappoints us. It is the bane of our existence for the better part of fall and winter.
Americans are hard-pressed to find any other sporting event in which statements like this are considered rational, "We need Team X to beat Team Y because it will make the Conference Z look stronger and help our preseason ranking." College football is one of the only sports in which blind zealotry in the face of an abundance of facts to the contrary is not only common, but celebrated. After all, it doesn't matter that your team beat my team by 3 touchdowns five weeks ago. My team is better and would kill your team if we played again.
If you look closely enough, college football is just about the most irrational mate that Americans have ever had affair with. It ranks teams before a game has ever been played. Teams are rewarded for playing weak out-of-conference opponents. The entire ranking system is void of any reason or logic. And at the end of the year, no really knows if the two teams in the big dance are the best two teams or simply the most deserving two teams. College football is like that crazy ex-girlfriend that you still have feelings for. America has tried to move on...it's even tried dating college football's cute sister, college basketball. But in the end, America always comes back for a five-month booty-call every August.
Despite the shortcomings of the college football "system", the sport itself is a microcosm of life in this great country. The way fans from all over any given state rally behind a state school (regardless of whether or not they actually attended said school), reminds us that pride in one's state or in one's community still trumps national pride. The fierce debates between conferences and schools over superiority is a reminder that competition is the fuel that drives the American spirit. The emotion on field, every Saturday, is a reminder that Americans traditionally love to win. The justifications and excuses that occur when a team loses is a reminder that it is hard for Americans to tolerate a loser. The Heisman Trophy and other awards are a reminder that it is the individual that drives the group and not the other way around.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. And as the final two weeks of this college football season wind down, I'll be looking forward to August. Because next year my team is going to beat your team in route to a National Title!