129 Things The Open Man Loves (and Hates) About College Football: Preview Magazines

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The Open Man countdowns to the 2018 college football season with 129 — in honor of the 129 programs participating in the Football Bowl Subdivision this year — things we love (and some we hate) about the sport. Click the 129 Things tag to see every entry.

Checking the mailbox during my childhood was a task best left to my dad, since the contents within were generally meant for him to study and grumble under his breath. At least, that was the case for about 51 weeks of the year.

Each September of my youth, I returned home from school eager to open the box at the end of our driveway, hoping it would be the day the United States Postal Service delivered one of the department store’s Christmas catalog. Sears Great American Wish Book is probably the most famous, but JC Penney produced its own version. So did Montgomery Ward. Photos in vivid color depicting the upcoming holiday season’s many toy offerings filled these catalogs’ hundreds of pages. I spent literally hours poring over each of them, filling out my own wish list for Christmas.

The concept’s archaic in 2018. Kids have instant access to an endless inventory of toys without waiting for the mail carrier to deliver a bulk catalog, while department stores themselves struggle just to stay afloat. Just this week, Toys R Us (with a college football connection) closed its doors forever.

I admit that now, as a father of a son who has just recently started to get really into toys, I’m a bit wistful for those catalogs. Their collective disappearance gives me an added appreciation for the annual flood of college football preview magazines that hit supermarket and bookstore shelves every year around this time.

Publishing’s changed profoundly in the 21st Century, with the immediacy of online publishing rendering the traditional print outlet ineffective. Theoretically, preview magazines are susceptible to the same challenges. An online pub can start putting out preview material the moment spring practices wrap up, and update the text as needed throughout the offseason.

However, hard-copy preview magazines are still a must-have fixture for any college football fan’s summer. There’s something special about holding the glossy pages in your hands, taking it with you to the beach or swimming pool, and researching for the season to come. Readers are also more likely to return to a physical magazine than to revisit a web page. Online has its advantages, sure…but so does print. 

I pick up copies from just about every publication each year around this time — Phil Steele, Athlon, Street & Smith, Lindy’s — and read each with the same enthusiasm that I studied Sears Wish Book, the JC Penney Christmas Catalog, and the Toys R Us Great Big Christmas Book.

In fact, preview magazines effectively replaced those catalogs as I transitioned out of the target demographic for toy retailers. I credit these publications, along with Sports Illustrated and Sporting News, for sparking my interest in sports journalism. I chose to study journalism when beginning college in the early 2000s with the goal of one day writing feature stories for these magazines — great timing, given the industry’s move to online publishing really accelerated around this time. 

Meeting that goal this year with a cover feature in the SEC and B1G editions of the Lindy’s Sports preview — BUY A COPY HERE! — marked a truly meaningful milestone for me personally. More importantly, though, I am proud to play my own small role in keeping one of college football’s most fun preseason traditions alive in a changing landscape.