THE INTERSECTION OF RIDGE AND NOYES, EVANSTON — I can’t put my finger on the exact reason why, I just know that every year around this time, I start to think about college football again. Like clockwork, the butterflies return to my stomach and my mind peeks forward to the end of summer, wandering to stadiums and college-towns, to tailgates and Saturdays in the fall.
Maybe it’s the smell of hot dogs in a crowded parking lot or the omnipresent whiff of beer that only comes in racks of 30. Maybe it’s the sight of fans walking through the streets on their way to the game, still brimming with anticipatory excitement and an extra bounce in their step. Maybe it’s the feeling of tilting your head upward and staring at hulking stadiums that dot the country and define that towns that house them. Maybe it’s the togetherness of communal urinals and triumphant roars. Maybe it’s the routine of waking up, turning on College GameDay and fantasizing about where my team fits into the jigsaw puzzle. Regardless, it’s football. It’s college football. We love it. We’ll miss it when it’s gone again.
The funny thing about my relationship with college football is that I didn’t really care about it until three years ago, when I went to college myself. I liked college football as a form of entertainment, but that was about the extent of it. Until I came to Northwestern, I didn’t breathe college football. It was what I watched, not a part of who I was.
Now, it’s mid-July and my thoughts involuntarily drift to college football, especially as media days lead into fall camp. I have morphed from a willing viewer to a full-blown fanatic. This enthralling, stupid, hilarious spectacle of a sport is intoxicating. The main reason I’m writing this is because I’m an impatient person, and I needed a way to channel all of these things at a time when there’s CFB buzz percolating but not enough to satisfy my appetite (that will come August 31 – sorry Week 0).
Someone might read this and think, “This is Northwestern, they have no shot to win a national title!”
Whatever dude. You’re right (although the fan in me still says there’s a sliver of a chance), but that’s not why we watch. That’s not what this whole thing is about.
It’s about seeing Pat Fitzgerald dart out of the tunnel for the same school he once helped bring to Pasadena. We call him Fitz, and we do it in a manner so casual he might as well be one of our good friends. It’s about that exasperated yet predictable facepalm that all NU fans collectively do when Mick McCall runs the speed option on third-and-five after two runs up the middle on first and second down. It’s like when you see a car accident about to happen and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Unfortunately, we’ve seen this transpire all too often.
It’s about seeing the cozy purple corner of Lucas Oil Stadium erupt when Ohio State is on its heels in the second half of the Big Ten title game. The freaking Big Ten title game! Sadly, it’s also about Northern Illinois, Illinois State and Akron, and the existential questions that invariably follow.
It’s about replacing the ‘w’ in Io_a with an underscore. It’s about irrationally caring about a top hat bolted to a metal board once a year. It’s about living and dying by a team with thousands of other people who instinctively add The Ball Carrier to the end of our star running back’s name. It’s about hearing the mythical lore stories about when GameDay came to Evanston in 2013, even if Kain Colter came up short on fourth down.
It’s about knowing what you’ll be doing for four hours for 12 Saturdays every fall, and passionately hoping it’s 13 or 14 or 15. It’s about that fleeting feeling when you stand up and yell after Bennett Skowronek pops up off the Kinnick Stadium turf holding the football, knowing Northwestern’s on the precipice of seizing the West. It’s about treating fourth downs like third downs, and treating field goals like roller-coaster rides.
It’s about a season of tremendous fun and stress and heartbreak, a season that lifts us up, punches us in the gut and keeps us sane all the same. It’s about Fitz, it’s about me and it’s about you. It’s about us, and it’s about spending the fall together, even if we’re on opposite coasts when the ‘Cats are playing. Maybe you think about college football differently. That’s totally fine. To each their own.
But for us die-hards, we’re so close. Football is around the corner. More importantly, Northwestern football is around the corner. And it can’t come soon enough.
Here’s to (almost) making it through the offseason.