150 years ago Rutgers and Princeton played in the first ever college football game. Little has changed for Rutgers since that fateful day. The game they played on that day is far from what we would consider modern day football. To many, what Rutgers does on the gridiron today is looked upon the same way. Those teams did not have head coaches and after all these years, Rutgers still prefers to play that way.
Ah, yes, 1869 is that wonderful time when the forward pass doesn’t exist. Oh the glory days of yore! Now we have communist RPO’s. However, that fateful day that Rutgers, the sleeping giant of college football, rose up and
smote down lowly barely beat Princeton 6-4 despite home field advantage. Then the Scarlet Knights promptly went back to sleep until 2014 when they woke up and beat Michigan in Brady Hoke’s final season as H.C. We are all anxiously searching for where the program has gone to since then as it appears to have gone back into hibernation again.
Nebraska football didn’t exist until 1890 when the “football team representing the University of Nebraska” went undefeated with victories against Omaha YMCA and Doane. Despite the fact that those of us in the Cornhusker state did not participate in the very beginning of the sport, we have adopted it as our own. A sort of weird state religion that encourages you to demand that people be fired at the first sign they are not perfect at their job and teenagers be benched but that we be overly nice to every non-Nebraskan who makes the trek to One Memorial.
Why do we love college football?
What was started all those years ago that has led to where we are now? In most states, the highest-paid state employee is the head football coach at the marquee program (or the one who made the most recent hire.) College football is almost unrecognizable in the years I have started following it closely, and I’m not just talking about the 20 years of futility that has been Nebraska gridiron.
It has gone from enjoyable experience and a way to bond with those who share your passion for a team to a factory. A soul-less merchant who demands more of you. More of your loyalty. More of your money. More of your time. And mostly, more of your willingness to give it even more of something that it hasn’t thought to ask for yet. It makes you watch as Mike Riley tries to swim rather than sink in a bigger pond. It makes really smart people think the West Coast offense was the next ‘evolution’ of Husker football.
And we still love it because when it finally does give back, it gives back big. It gives back in the form of Tommie Frazier and “how many tackles can one man break?” It gives back when Dr. Tom decided to go for two. Even when the pass fell incomplete, Husker fans knew they never would have been satisfied with a tie. They did not get the national championship they so desperately craved, but they got clarity.
It gives back when you watch Suh manhandling Colt McCoy in a single-handed attempt to carry an entire team and an entire state to a long-awaited conference championship. Only to take away again in :01.
And oh, does it ever give back when you watch a young cancer patient score a touchdown in the spring scrimmage.
Most of it doesn’t make sense. It’s not rational. It took from 1936 and the creation of the AP Poll to 2014 until college football came up with something resembling a playoff, and the participants in that playoff are determined by a bunch of committee members voting on which teams belong and which do not. They don’t have specific parameters. They just get together and guess.
Fans believe that by expanding from four teams to eight teams that the whole process will be more “fair” - a sign that people have never stopped trying to mash logic into a sport that will never have it until the day its amateur beginnings die and it comes another level of professional sport. Even then.. probably not.
There are only a small number of teams that are capable of winning a national title, yet we enter each season believing it might be ours. If the sun, the moon, and the stars were to align, that somehow our team will win all their games.
ESPN hates your team.
The officials hate your team. It’s obvious in how they never call holding.
It’s hard this season to stay engaged as Nebraska flails. Perhaps you won’t watch. You’ll find something else to do on Saturdays. But Memorial Stadium will still be full.
So raise a red beer in cheers tonight as we toast the 150th birthday of this sport we love. Happy Birthday college football.