This is a big game weekend at our house. As I write, the husband’s Alma Mater, Texas, is battling West Virginia – the team that put up 70 points a week ago. Tomorrow, the Steelers battle the 3-1 Eagles. Both games are big for their participants and their fan bases. As a matter of fact, once local sports talk radio exhausted talking over the bitter disappointment of the Pirates late season collapse, they chewed over whether or not this was a must win game for the Steelers. It is pretty critical, there is no doubt, but the fact of the matter is, it is not a must win. As the hubby pointed out, the Giants won the Super Bowl after posting a 9-7 regular season record. However, on the other hand, the husband was curled into what was close to a fetal position when Texas fell two down touchdowns. He was joined by 100,000 in the stadium where, suddenly, I swear you could hear a pin drop. They all know that they lose this game and dreams of a National Championship will be just that: a fond, but nearly unachievable dream. One loss and it is nearly impossible to reach the national championship game. Two losses and it definitely is. That’s one major difference between college and the pros.
If you randomly gather a group of professed football fans into a room and surveyed them, there would undoubtedly be a mix of opinions on which flavor is better: college or pro, but my guess is most people would prefer one over the other. Those who prefer college ball often cite the atmosphere at a college game as being better – purer in a way. The cheerleaders are not on the field as man eye-candy, but to actually promote team spirit. There are the big bands and mascots and shots of player’s parents in the stands. In the case of the Longhorns, somewhere on the sideline is a steer weighing over 1,000 pounds with a set or horns that, from tip to tip, is close to seven feet. There is a lot of tradition that surrounds major college sports, that is true. But, I would argue, many of the more storied pro franchises have their own time-honored traditions. Green Bay has a few, but my favorite is the tradition, now more than 50 years old, of having players ride young fans’ bikes to practice. We have our Towels, Cleveland has the Dog Pound, and the Redskins have the Hogettes. Okay, maybe a group of twelve men dressed in women’s’ dresses wearing fake hog snouts isn’t quite on par with Texas A & M’s 12th Man, but…
Some people have told me they lean more toward college ball because they prefer watching amateur athletes. They object to the large salaries of the pros, causing it to have more of a jaded feel for them. A fan of the NFL would argue that it is the best of the best on the field, whereas over 65,000 young men dress every Saturday to play Division I football. One thing is for sure, both Division I football and the NFL are big business. If anyone doubts it, just think back to what Penn State did to cover up for Jerry Sandusky to try and protect the program.
For me, I prefer the general competitiveness of the NFL as opposed to many of the lopsided affairs that play out every Saturday. Of course, the exception to that is that I would prefer the Steelers win 45-0 week in and week out, but in general I like my action a little tighter than a 50+ blow up, which happens routinely in the lopsided world of college ball. Or so it seems to me. Of course, this game tonight is a real nail biter, the lead flowing back and forth like a wave. Professional or college, this is the way the game should be all the time: a battle to the end.