Welcome Back, College Football. We Missed the Hell Out of You

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With No. 25 Tennessee pulling out the 42-41, double-overtime victory against Georgia Tech, the first full weekend of college football came to a close. If you’re like me, you woke up on Saturday for College GameDay on ESPN and watched at least some part of each and every game for the rest of the night. You also cleared your schedule Sunday night to check out the Vols and Yellow Jackets, and not because you particularly cared about the outcome, but because, dang it – college football is back, and it’s the first thing to be truly excited about in months.

There’s been a certain cloud over the American atmosphere since last November. In recent weeks, it seemed like at any moment, that cloud would burst, raining down all the fears, frustrations and anxieties that many have been feeling for the better part of the year. And when we needed it the most, college football returned for us.

To delight us. To confound us. To completely and totally betray us. To make us feel like kings and queens of the world.

Because that’s the thing about college football – it always delivers. It may not deliver what you want, but it’s gonna give you something, alright. It is reliable in its unreliability. Dependable in how you cannot count on the sport at all to go the way you think it will. You just gotta strap in each Saturday – and the occasional Thursday or Friday night – and hope for the best.

It’s no secret that sports are often the great uniter. Just look at the Olympics; it’s the one time where everyone is super proud to be an American and that pride isn’t predicated by a disaster of some sort.

But with college football, the layers and nuances of what it means to be a fan are even more unifying than other sports.

Being a college football fan means knowing the exact shade of your team’s colors (USC is cardinal where Alabama is crimson and South Carolina is garnet. And don’t even think about calling Michigan’s maize, “yellow.”).  It means getting way too hyped when you hear your fight song played, and blindly hating your rivals because those guys are jerks and they suck, anyway. It means mascots like Osceola and Renegade, Big Al, the Stanford Tree, Traveler, Sparty, Ugga and Smokey.

Traditions like kicking the pole before crossing the street to the Coliseum or rushing the field after every Clemson game. It means icons like Touchdown Jesus or Oregon football jerseys or Ohio State dotting the “i”.

And the best one – it means clapping your right hand over your left hand if you’re a Gator, flashing your pinky and index finger up to say “Hook Em!” to your fellow Longhorns and of course, throwing up the “Fight On!” victory formation for Trojan fans.

(It also means having to rectify with yourself that your love for college football is highly, highly problematic, but that’s a column for another day.)

Every college football fan remembers that one game where their team sent them spinning into a nosedive, only to come back and emerge victorious, leaving their emotions completely in shambles. For me, it was last season in the Rose Bowl. For UCLA fans? It was Saturday night.

But that’s what we love about college football – the unpredictability. The games that become classics as soon as the final whistle blows. We love those moments where an athlete goes from being just another kid on the roster to being That Dude (See: Deontay Burnett against Penn State).

Our hearts burst with joy when our team comes through for us at the end, because dang it, even though we didn’t practice or play, we know that our good luck socks and other weird habits contributed to the victory. We just know it.

And this season more than ever, college football means more than just watching a bunch of young adults ball out for their university before they move on to the big dogs – and big bucks – of the NFL. For the next six months, we don’t have to be Democrats or Republicans, conservatives or liberals. We don’t have to people standing on opposing sides of the aisle.

We get to just be college football fans, and that’s the greatest club in the world to be a part of.