x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

College football is in a class of its own

Some people look forward to Christmas or their birthday. I look forward to college football.

Some people look forward to Christmas or their birthday. I look forward to college football. We had the Florida State coach Bobby Bowden as a guest on our radio show this week. And - how do I say this? - he sounds like college football. The college season starts on Saturday, and, for millions of fans, it cannot start soon enough. I know that the NFL is king, but if that is true, what is college football?

There is a difference in the fanatical devotion of college football fans compared to NFL fans. There are fewer NFL teams so their fan bases come from larger areas. College football can split up cities, states and family loyalties. In Alabama, football fans could root for any number of NFL teams since there isn't one based in the state, but for college football it is the University of Alabama or Auburn University.

You are born into one fan base or another and stick with it for life. Game day has a different feel at a college football game, in comparison to a NFL game. Tailgate partying happens at both, but college football fans are much more serious. I have seen a 100 different college tailgates and Louisiana State University stands out. Fans pull their motor homes into the stadium parking lot on Thursday evening for a Saturday night game. That's two whole days of socialising and throwing a football around with fellow LSU fans right up until the moment the stadium doors open.

Yale University also has great tailgating tradition. I live near the Ivy League school and while the level of play is not on par with Alabama or LSU, the gameday feel is unique in its own way. Football started in the Ivy League and places like Yale embrace the past. Parking is free, tickets are cheap, the football is good and the pre-game festivities are wonderful. Go to a Yale-Harvard game sometime and try to not have a great day. You will see 90-year-old men in fur coats and college students who wear suits and ties to the games.

What gets overlooked when comparing college football to professional football is the game itself. I prefer college games. You may see a 52-50 overtime game in college or a running back sprint for an unbelievable distance. While the NFL players are the best there is, college players have a broader range of talent, thus the games are less structured and rigid in their outcomes. This season has all the players and storylines in place. The top three Heisman Trophy vote getters from 2008 are back: Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, who, by the way, may have the best name in all of American sports.

But regardless of the stars on the field or the team that goes on to win the US national title, the atmosphere of college football is what brings fans back year after year. I could close my eyes and within five minutes I could tell by the smells and sounds if I was at Notre Dame, Ole Miss or Harvard. My uncle brought me to my first college game in 1978, when I was nine. I remember it better than I remember what I had for dinner last night. We had smoked sausage off the grill and I drank root beer with my best friend. We each got a Notre Dame hat and watched as the marching band paraded past us into the stadium. I squinted as we came through the tunnel into the sun-drenched field. I opened my eyes to the greenest grass I've ever seen. I cheered with all the other fans and saw Joe Montana play football in person for the first time. I was hooked. I still am.

@Email:ppabst@thenational.ae