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Unsold college football op-ed

Wednesday 9/1/21

Ditto. Beautiful and wise, though. And true. All of which is irrelevant here.


College football offers an invaluable life lesson—take it.

Sometimes I wonder if we are missing the point—and the opportunity—that comes with college football. Here it is, the final dog days of summer, that first hint of autumn is in the air, the season opening en masse this weekend, but talk has lately centered around behemoth-style mega-conferences, and the end-all, be-all power of the SEC.

But we should remember that there’s no purer life sport than college football, if you keep your senses primed, something we’re in a better position to do after so long away from so much. It’s time to give thanks for—and take stock of—what we’ve missed. And maybe what we’ve downplayed all along.

College football offers the ultimate sports lesson of being in the moment. We’re pretty scattered. We talk about what’s upcoming, we stare into our phones locked in on something elsewhere, but when you go to a campus for a football game in the fall, or even just watch on TV, you get the confluence of life. I think of it as this great intersection of oneness, if you allow for the beholding. The witnessing. The taking in.

Kids out on their own for the first time pool into the stadium. Think of everything they’re going through, experiencing, how they’re coming alive in new ways. And they’re locked in on that game. It’s not about a championship, it’s not about the new free agent signing. It’s only about the events of that afternoon. Being present in them.

The alumni fire up the grills in the parking lot, people who also had those earlier experiences, and so many since, and here they are, too. Everyone meshes, in an unstated, but very real, celebration of a moment.

When COVID hit, I took to walking ten miles out to my old school, where I’d run thousands of stairs next to the football stadium. The campus felt empty, and certainly looked that way in the early morning. But I got to thinking of all of the life that goes up and down those stairs, the expectations of beating the school’s rival, hanging with buddies, making memories of a day—memories that get revisited later on, with subsequent visits.

I love the top twenty-five, when the team creeps into the polls, even if they’re washed away the next week. That moment of inclusion. I love when the 1-6 squad can still have itself a day by dashing the aspirations of the in-state juggernaut.

Nothing matters, it can feel, save that afternoon. There’s no better way for a person to be than present. Whether that’s in a marriage. In a relationship with your kid. In that Shakespeare play you’re finally reading. In your walk in the woods with the fog rising out of the bracken.

College football is the sports version in a world where being present is increasingly a struggle. A lost art. But each person comes to the moment of that game, on that afternoon, in their own special way, and we share a kind of “nowness.”

We’d be well served sharing a lot more of that in this world, but if you’re out at a college football game this fall, pull those colors, that confluence, those smells, those sounds, that swirl of life into who you are. It’s what makes college football what it is, which is to say, it’s what makes it a lot more.

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