It’s almost that time of year again. The sun is starting to go down earlier and the light during the day is taking on that faded quality. While the days are still warm, the night time temps are starting to drop just a little bit. Football season is almost upon us…which means it’s time for me to start drinking heavily.
College football is a way of life in the South. People live and die by the outcomes of the games played on Saturday. When you talk about football here you get worn out platitudes about kids who play for the love of the game. Never mind the score, you’re self-worth is played for on Saturday afternoons. If your school wins then you have bragging rights all week. If they lose, then you’re not sporting any gear until next weekend. Saturday is king. But not with me. I don’t give a shit about college football.
Let me clarify. I’ll watch college games occasionally. If there’s a particularly big match up then I’m definitely going to be in front of my TV taking it all in…but not until week six or so. I will gladly miss an early season college football game in favor of almost anything else. The spirit of competition is overrated anyhow. Give me pro football. A mercenary game filled with the best players the sport has to offer. Sure, it’s nice to draft a player and have him retire with the franchise, but sentimentality doesn’t win championships. Hired guns rule the NFL. With one paycheck your franchise can turn itself around. And with one bad decision your team can be sunk of years.
Take my team, for example. I’ve been a Carolina Panthers fan for going on ten years. I remember the first game I ever watched. My brother and I were spending the weekend with our dad—we spent every other weekend with him. Although the weekend was usually fun, Sundays felt a little disjointed. We often didn’t do anything because we had to go back to our mother’s later in the evening, so that last day often felt like a countdown. One fateful Sunday my brother and I were flipping around looking for something to watch. There was nothing on, as was usual on a Sunday afternoon with basic cable. It was closing in on one o’clock and my brother suggested we watch the Panthers game. Now I had never been a big fan of sports—being unable to play them yourself can take away your desire to watch other people play—but I had we had no other alternative, so we tuned in. As it turned out this was to be the first game in what turned out to be the best year in franchise history. The Panthers found themselves down seventeen to nothing at the end of the first half. In the closing minutes fans in the stands had started chanting for Jake Delhomme (the backup quarterback) to be substituted in to the game. And that’s when the magic happened.
Let’s go to the video:
I can barely describe how thrilling that second half was. I had never been more wrapped up in the ups and downs of a sporting event before. By the time Delhomme threw the game winning touchdown my palms were sweating, my heart was pounding, and my nerves were fried. And I was hooked. The whole season was like that. Every game seemed to come down to the final seconds, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It’s still holds a place in my heart as not only the season that turned me into a sports fan, but also the best season in franchise history. Free agency made that happen. Jake Delhomme and Stephen Davis were the two players most responsible for the turn around that year and they both spent the previous season on different teams. Delhomme was a backup in New Orleans and Davis was with Washington. But that’s why I love pro football above more than almost anything else. One or two smart signings can completely change the course of the franchise, and a couple of bad signings can ruin your team for years. That’s what makes every offseason so exciting. College football doesn’t have that to the same extent. Sure, there’s always the possibility that a blue chip player will sign with your school, but those guys mostly go to one of a few prestigious universities. It’s increasingly rare for a top flight player to choose to go to a smaller school and turn around their destiny, not with television exposure and a lucrative pro career on the line. In the NFL there is always a possibility—however slim—that your team is going to land that one free agent that’s going to take you to the Promised Land. A football Moses, if you will. That thought is what allows me to get through the long, boring, baseball filled offseason. Only a couple of weeks left before the start of another year. Maybe it will be good and maybe it will be bad, but I’ll be living for Sunday either way.