Pro football is great. We see the very best athletes in the world play a game of precision, power, and violence with an otherworldly level of athleticism and skill. The sheer spectacle on display is worth watching in its own right just because human beings really shouldn’t be able to move like that.
But. Keeping athletes safe when they’re that big, moving that fast, and wearing armor unfortunately requires a shitload of rules. There are a TON of penalties in the NFL, and there are also a ton of commercial breaks. All of this tends to slow the game, occasionally to the point of being unwatchable.
It must be said, too, that the pros are all SO GOOD that they *all* almost never out of position. They are also all 3+ standard deviations from the norm in terms of sheer athletic ability, which paradoxically means that the level of competition is extremely even across the League’s teams. A few guys are so phenomenally gifted that they stand out even in a crowd of genetic freaks, but for the most part, these guys are broadly similar in ability. They are almost all perfect players at their positions.
For this reason, the NFL has become mostly a game of scheme.
This has its moments, especially in the playoffs, but it also has the unfortunate side-effect of making the phenomenal seem commonplace. We wind up giving these coaches an outsized level of recognition because in many cases the coaches are the difference makers, but yo, who cares about these coaches? It’s the players doing the amazing, otherworldly shit. It’s the players that we’re watching.
Thankfully, college football is not like this at all. Sure, scheme matters. But at the end of the day, the talent levels are varied enough in the college game to allow the sheer athleticism to shine through, putting the emphasis back on the field of play.
Where it belongs.
Think of Vince Young winning the National Championship. The truth is that scheme probably mattered a lot in that game, but is that what we remember about it? Is that what we want to remember? No. We’d much rather remember the transcendent glory of one man becoming his best self in the biggest moment of his career, thereby elevating his entire state to a higher level of consciousness.
That is sport. That is what makes sports great.
College football highlights the athletes — and indeed the game itself — more effectively because there is so much more variety to the way the game itself is played.
If I’ve learned one thing from the batshit craziness of the past half-dozen or so years, it’s that tribalism is alive and well within the American experiment. It must just be endemic to human nature, for better or worse.
Friends, college football is one of the few healthy expressions of rampant tribalism available to us as modern folk. Every time I drive through Thayer Gate, I think, “God help me, these are my people.” Every time. Not because of some patriotic pro-American bullshit, either. My father felt the same way about Tennessee and Knoxville, and he was at least twice as patriotic as I’ll ever be. It’s just that I happened to spend my most formative years as a young adult at West Point. My dad happened to spend those same years as a Volunteer. Those places and the people who form those communities, they just seep into the soul.
So Hell yeah, you know. Go Army!
Honestly, thank God for college football. I can’t wait to see my people and cheer for my team.