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Dear College Football

Finding beauty in the chaos

NCAA Football: Clemson at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Dear college football,

I’m going to be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve paid close attention to you. Your product has become predictable. Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State. If you’re a fan of one of those teams, great. If not, well enjoy having no chance at a championship before the season even starts. Oh, you might think your team has a chance, they’re ranked #23 in the preseason after all. Better go undefeated to have a chance, because those teams I mentioned earlier are all in the top 5. A couple of them might lose a game in October to some middle of the road conference opponent, but it won’t matter. They’ll fall from #2 to #7 and be back up to #3 in two weeks.

It wasn’t always like this. You used to be a little crazier, before you tried so hard to get a consensus champion. “Here’s 12 bowls, we’ll send out invites before the season’s even over, and I guess we’ll pick one of the bowl winners as our champion.” And the various publications could pick whomever they wanted. Can you believe we once had a two year stretch where Colorado, Georgia Tech, AND Washington all claimed a championship? It was beautiful. But now you have a system. The winner of those two games is the champion (sit down, UCF, nobody asked for your opinion). It will work, four teams, there’s no way more than 4 teams will ever finish a regular season undefeated. When you’re bad, college football, you are bad.

But when you are good, oh baby, are you good. At the top of your game, nobody can touch you. On Saturday mornings, with the leaves blowing in the cold, fall wind, there is nothing better. A parking lot full of tailgaters, wearing that beat up gray sweatshirt they bought the last great season their team had. They fire up the grill, tell their newly arrived buddies to “go grab a cold one”, switch the radio on and start talking. The conversation is a perfect balance between the food, whether the head coach or coordinator should be fired, and how bad traffic was getting to the stadium. Amidst the chatter, kids run through the lot, tossing footballs back and forth, while wearing oversized jerseys of their favorite player. Their parents purposely bought the larger size so it would fit over their hoodie. It’s late October, after all.

And then the games start, and you watch the players give everything they have over the course of those three and a half hours. You admire their work ethic, heck, when you were in school you barely had time for your classwork. One of your kids spouts statistics about their favorite player while the other is screaming the school’s battle cry at the top of their lungs. You didn’t need to hear out of that ear, anyway. The screaming kid stops long enough to eat some nachos, and you mention to your statistics child, “Hey, I think his father is so and so. He was a pretty good player too back in the day.” The game ends, and sometimes there’s even a prize involved. It could be an axe, a boot, a milk can, or even this beauty.

In some ways, college football, my life today is because of you. I went to school at Pitt. Yep, you know them. The team that manages to churn out more NFL Hall of Famers and 6-6 seasons than seem humanly possible. An entire graduating class once went to my school knowing nothing but 6-6 regular seasons. I don’t know if that’s an FBS record, but it probably is. Growing up, I had no connection with the University of Pittsburgh. No one in my family went there. The major I settled on in high school is offered at pretty much every four year college in the world so that wasn’t the reason. How’d I end up there, then?

It was Pitt football. It was my dad taking me to Pitt Stadium for the first time. It was hearing stories of “HUUUUUUUUUUUUUGGGGHHHH GREEN”, Marino’s quick release, and Dorsett running through tall grass at Notre Dame Stadium. It was the “tractor in the parking lot with its lights on, license plate EI-EI-O.” It was not being able to talk the next day because my 17-year-old self screamed so loudly from section 207 as Darrelle Revis spun past the last would-be tackler on his way to that amazing punt return touchdown. A few weeks after that play I got my acceptance letter, and a few years after that I went on my first date with my future wife, a fellow Pitt grad.

I’m asking you, college football, lean into the chaos. Bring us another 2007 that we can remember and analyze for years after. Fill our Saturdays with thrilling finishes, improbable upsets, nail-biting goal line stands, and perfectly placed touchdown throws. Maybe, you could even throw some different teams into the playoff, just to get a little crazy. Some of your favorites are having down years, after all. I’ve got a suggestion if you’re interested.

Author’s note:

None of us know how this Pitt season is going to turn out. We have gotten so used to disappointment and mediocrity over the last four decades that I’m not sure any of us even know how to handle what’s taking place right now. I am asking everyone to enjoy the ride with me. And if anyone has some great Pitt football memories, please share them in the comments. It could be a favorite game, moment, or even how you became a fan.

Hail to Pitt,