We hope everybody enjoys their Fourth of July weekend. Independence Day is a special time when everybody eats some great American food, hangs out outside, and watches fireworks.
In honor of the Fourth, we are celebrating football today as a uniquely American sport. No matter how you feel politically about our country right now, we can all agree that our version of football is better than the rest of the world’s version of football. It’s a reason by itself for us to always wave the foam “Number 1″ finger.
So to celebrate American Football, let’s take a look at the 10 most American things about college football.
10. Bowl Games
Okay, so they aren’t what they used to be since they are so watered down. But the concept is still great. It’s an excuse for college fans and students to travel to another part of the country over the holiday break. A team in Alabama may work to go to California during the holiday season one year. Then the fans get to spend a week or two there leading up to the game, meeting fans from other schools, and just having an all-out good time. The bowl games represent the saying “From Sea to Shining Sea” in the best way.
9. Bands and Fight Songs
The rest of the world already has America to thank for changing the landscape of music with the Blues and folk music, which shaped every form of pop music you hear today. Marching bands in college football continue that tradition and even play off of the folk and blues music. Although HBCU’s have unfortunately lost their prestige as far as football goes, I still turn on some of the games just to see the halftime show. This might be a biased one because I was a percussionist in my high school band and I loved it, but who doesn’t enjoy their teams fight song. And while we all enjoy our favorite team’s fight song, every other team hates it. Isn’t that America in a nutshell? We like what we like, and if other countries don’t like what we like, that’s not a difference of opinion. Those countries are just wrong.
Spare me the Yankees-Red Sox, Lakers-Celtics, or Packers-Bears. I’d much rather see Alabama-Auburn, Michigan-Ohio State, and Texas-Oklahoma. Rivalries and the pride behind them developed with college football, and the other sports just copy the concept. It’s all manufactured. It’s authentic in college football, and that’s a real beauty of the sport. As conference realignments continue to happen, college football officials often abandon the logical way to schedule games and go out of their way to preserve tradition. No matter how much the SEC changes, Tennessee-Alabama must be protected. That’s a real beauty in the sport. Every other American sport copies what college football started with rivalries.
7. Weekly Polls
Let’s be honest, the weekly polls are like elections. Every week fans are scrambling to see where their team is ranked, and they ignore the fact that the standings will dramatically change by the end of the year. It’s sort of like a presidential or midterm election. We get caught up in the polls 10 months before the election actually happens or before the campaigns even unfold. Often times the pollsters are right, the same way preseason pollsters are right sometimes, but many times they get things dead-wrong. The polls help keep the interest in college football, and they keep our interest in the elections 24/7 now with the way the news media is. So our irrational obsession with polls in college football is a great American trait.
6. The Mannings
The Manning family is college football royalty, especially in the south. They’re like the Kennedy, Bush, and Clinton families in politics. We love political families in America, and the Manning family in the SEC represents that. Perhaps the most exciting part about the Manning family is the drama. While the whole bloodline of the Mannings is Ole Miss, the most successful and popular of the Mannings, Peyton, went to Tennessee. Who doesn’t love drama in famous families. But perhaps the most admirable trait of the Manning family is the class and dignity they show on and off the field. Archie raised his kids to talk humbly and carry a big stick. He is the architect of the greatness. Cooper is the anchor. He could’ve been a star wide receiver were it not for a medical condition. And Eli is the quiet celebrity of the family, who might seem little entitled and snotty at times, but somebody has to come across as the bad egg of the family. Then there’s Peyton, who broke the mold by staying for his senior season in college despite the fact that he would’ve been a number 1 draft pick, simply because he wanted another year of college football. This is also the Peyton that can rally his teammates and will go to war for him. The Manning family represents the greatest aspects of our great country: hard work, accountability, and a little awareness of simply being great.
The act of tailgating started in America, and tailgating was introduced to sports during the first intercollegiate football game between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869, according to facts about the history of tailgating on the American Tailgater Association website. Now the rest of the world does it for other sports, but we can thank college football for cornhole, grilling, and drinking beer before the games. Oh, and by the way, go to a college campus today and you’ll still notice college football fans tailgate better than fans of any other sport. If I’m in Wisconsin and I have to choose between tailgating for a Badger game or tailgating for a Packer game the following Sunday, I’m going to Madison.
4. Southern Honor
You can still find shades of the Civil War sentiment in college football. SEC fans say they’re better than everybody else (and usually back it up on the field), and the rest of the country expresses a deep hatred of the south’s arrogance. Both sides are incredibly biased and short-sighted when they usually make arguments, but it’s at least entertaining. A fun fact is that the south did not endorse football for a while because southerners considered this “gentleman’s sport” nothing more than an elitist sport for those immoral Ivy League Yankees. Tensions were worse when in 1926, after numerous snubs from the Rose Bowl, Alabama went to Pasadena to play Washington. With media figures referring to them as”hillbillies” and suggestions that the school didn’t belong, the Tide played for the entire region that day and beat Washington 20-19. Known as “the game that changed college football in the south,” southern pride soared at that point, and southern football fans have continued to grow more prideful and loyal every year since.
This topic also brings us to the next reason on the list:
3. The Sport Improved Race Relations in the South
Before the 1970s, black players on college football teams in the south and particularly the SEC were scarce. College football was like the rest of the culture down there, and legislation in Washington was not going to change people’s hearts. But success of their favorite college football team would.
Consider the fact that Bear Bryant, who reportedly fought for years to recruit African American athletes at Kentucky, Texas A&M, and Alabama, was finally able to recruit the first black player for the Tide a year after his team got embarrassed at home by USC 42-21 as Trojan fullback Sam Cunningham, who was black, ran for 135 yards and 2 touchdowns. A 2009 feature in the Wall Street Journal on that story can be found here.
Now, every SEC fan base has multiple black players who are worshipped. Every Auburn fan, no matter what was once in their heart, will have nothing but great things to say about Bo Jackson or Cam Newton. Tennessee fans hail Condredge Holloway and Reggie White, and Tee Martin has a street named after him in Knoxville. When you consider how far the country has come in race relations, there’s no doubt college football played a huge role in that.
2. Teddy Roosevelt
If you were to do a Mount Rushmore of important football figures, one of them is on the real Mount Rushmore: Teddy Roosevelt. While James Naismith is the father of basketball and baseball’s origins are disputed, the father of college football was a freakin’ president. Oh, and a pretty well-respected and remembered president too, not some no-name like Millard Fillmore.
Teddy’s impact on college football was detailed in a Washington Post article earlier this year called “How Teddy Roosevelt helped save football” by Katie Zezima. While he did not start football, in 1905 he called a meeting with the elite football schools of the time (Harvard, Yale, and Princeton) to establish uniform regulations in the sport in order to cut down on the violence and dangers of the game, which could have derailed it. Roosevelt was an avid football fan and his actions saved what would become the greatest American sport. The regulations set in motion future rules such as the forward pass that separated the sport from Rugby and made it a uniquely American form of entertainment.
1. Mediocrity is Not Accepted
We’re the United State of America! We’re supposed to be great! And that means no mediocrity is allowed if you want to play for the national championship.
A loss could knock you out of the title hunt, and you have nobody to blame but yourself if that happens. Even with the playoff coming this year, thankfully it’s only four teams. Think you got screwed by another team at the end of the year? Well, nobody wants to hear it in college football if you lost a game. This isn’t the NFL where 9-7 teams are allowed to win the Super Bowl. Nor is it the NBA, where multiple losing teams make the playoffs every year. This is college football, and we expect from our national champions what the world expects out of America: Greatness.