I'm writing Saturday evening from the first bench, second position of the Champion, who has us smoothly rolling down the 40 East (with an assist from Smitty's steady hand at the wheel) somewhere in the Texas Panhandle. Can't believe we're headed towards the final show of the first leg of the Pick Me Up Tour...although I can't say we're not all ready for a break after six weeks of traversing the vast outstretch that is the American West.
One thing easing the pain of today's 630-mile drive is the fact that it's the first full day of college football season. HELL yes. My favorite sport. It's currently halftime of the game of the week, Georgia at Clemson, with the Dawgs tied with the Tigers at 21. Co-pilot Walker has a stream of the game piped through my Jawbox portable speaker, which has served as our only non-AM/FM audio source for these drives after our cassette player up and busted.
Walker is a fan of all things Georgia, so he's rooting for UGA in this one even though in his heart of hearts he's really a die-hard Georgia Tech fan. He grew up in Atlanta going to Yellowjackets hoops and pigskin games with his dad and brothers. He hates Duke basketball and Coach K about as much as he loves Tech. But for tonight's purposes he says he doesn't have too much animosity towards Tech's ACC rival Clemson…he'll just choose anything Georgia over anything non-Georgia, every time.
Smitty's more of an NBA guy with his brother being the head trainer of the Dallas Mavericks (as well as until recently the longtime head trainer of the Olympic team, which means he's worked extensively for that organization's current coach…Walker's favorite, Coach K!), but being born in West Virginia and growing up in Southern Ohio, he'll casually follow the West Virginia Mountaineers and the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Tim Jones does the unthinkable during basketball season and roots for both Kentucky, who much of his family loves, and his alma mater Indiana. These schools are arch rivals, so such audacity particularly gnaws at my soul being an IU grad myself. But in football, at least this season, he might have to officially side with the good guys since here in Week 1 IU beat Indiana State 73-35 and UK lost to Western Kentucky.
Adam and Scott have no rooting interests in college football or any other sport, really, although Scott says he likes football just fine and Adam, after observing Walker, Smitty and I discussing College Football Day One, showed some home state pride and posted the message "Hail State?" on his Facebook page in reference to Mississippi State. It's a start.
I'm from Northwest Ohio, a few minutes away from the Michigan border and closer to Ann Arbor than Columbus -- which means I was either gonna be a Wolverines fan in enemy territory, which plenty of kids around me were growing up, or a Buckeye fan of an even more fervent condition than most. There's a photo of me at a few days old swaddled in a "Beat Michigan" t-shirt, an adult scarlet and gray beanie leaned up against my head, and a genuine battle-scarred pigskin football beside me.
I know Ohio State's school song "Carmen Ohio" by heart, wake up at anywhere from 7am to 10am on fall Saturdays (depending on which time zone we're in) to watch ESPN's College Gameday, listen to the OSU Marching Band ("The Best Damn Band in the Land") play standards when I have trouble sleeping, and on the right day (OK, every single time), softly weep when witnessing the dotting of the "i" as the "Buckeye Battle Cry" is played during Script Ohio.
Notice that these activities exist because a football team exists, but has little to do with the game of football directly. I love the game itself, and love the X's and O's of both college and pro to the extent I understand them, but college football is the greatest sport in the world -- better than anything pro, better than college basketball -- because of the tradition, ceremony, culture and passion surrounding it that no other sport inspires.
So when asked why I care about a "game" so much…it's not just about watching a team play a game that you want 'em to win; it's all the peripheral goodness that goes into it, too, which means the world to me and my family and was infused into my DNA long before I was born.