The opinions expressed in the following essay are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Underdog Dynasty or SB Nation.
Trigger warning: This story contains sensitive content regarding suicide.
Football season is over. That’s what author Hunter S. Thompson wrote at the top of his suicide note. Pistol to the mouth. Quick. Messy. At the bottom of his note he drew a heart. Pink? Red? No one knows for sure. That detail was left out when his body was found in Woody Creek, Colorado. Woody Creek is about three hours from where I live. It’s one of the many mountain towns I considered visiting in the Fall when I got the news. Football season is over.
For many fans last summer, depending on your rooting interest, it never began. On August 11, 2020, the Pac-12 and Big Ten decided to cancel their football season as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to wreak havoc on the world. Less than four weeks later the MAC followed suit. UConn, UMass, New Mexico State and Old Dominion reached the same conclusion. Football season is over.
But the other FBS conferences lived in a different world where football season was just getting started. On September 3rd, UAB defeated Central Arkansas 45-35 in an old fashioned Conference USA shootout. Tulsa would’ve been proud. In this world is where normalcy presided. After watching their FBS brethren play with no immediate health risks to student-athletes, the MAC, Pac-12 and Big Ten decided to jump through a portal. On the other side is what everyone deep down wanted...Football season is back! Everything is fine!
Except it wasn’t. The world was barren. Tailgate zones weren’t cluttered with pickup trucks. Fans weren’t in seats. Stadium music was pumped to infinity. The restaurants where everyone came together after a big win, a deflating loss, weren’t there. For the establishments that thrived on the congregation of people coming together to root for their favorite team, hate-watch their rival, catch-up with family and friends on another Saturday in the fall, football season was over. At least 110,000 dining establishments closed in 2020.
When it became clear that the NCAA wasn’t going to step up and determine what the plan should be for a 2020 season, I was skeptical that football would happen. When conferences began to cancel their seasons I was right along with them. It wasn’t safe. The risks weren’t worth it. Football season is over. Good. But then it wasn’t.
Games got played. Players won awards. Coaches earned bonuses. Coaches got fired. Alabama won the national championship. The worst college football season that ever existed, that was on schedule, then off, then back on, was finished. Football season is over. For real this time.
I boycotted it all. At least I wanted to. How could I support an event where its very existence might mean more people die from COVID? What about the players? The coaches? What will happen to them next week? Next year? Next decade? These were the concerns I had. They were at least valid, right? Man, did I try like hell to not watch. But on Halloween there I was on the couch, rooting for FAU to beat UTSA. Not caring the slightest bit about how 2020 sucked and that people were dying from COVID. Football was back.
At the end of July my little brother passed away. I got the news on the second day of a workshop for a MFA degree I’m pursing. It was my turn to workshop a short story I had been working on. I emailed my professor hours before class that I’m not going to make it. She understood. I proceeded to show up anyway. I have no idea what was said during the workshop. What craft lesson we were supposed to learn, or what reading material the class was expected to engage with. Everyone liked my story. Cool. My little brother was on my mind. He loved to play video games. The self-proclaimed best gamer you knew. We didn’t play the same video games when we were younger so that brag never applied to me. Until Halo 3 came out that is. We played it all the time. Matchmaking. Custom games. We were there. Guardian. Shotguns only. Snowbound. Battle rifles, shotgun, grenades on map. Valhala. Snipers only.
God I hated that map. Snipers only? Who liked to play snipers only? But winners choose and my little brother won a lot. So that’s where we played.
The best gamer I knew was a Florida Gators fan when we were growing up. Back when adults had influence over whether he could play video games all day and compete in tournaments for a living. He loved those Chris Leak teams. When Tebow took over he was as all-in as a kid who’d rather play Star Wars Battlefront than watch a football game could be. At some point my mom thought it would be a good idea for us to play pee-wee football. I was a starter at receiver. He was a backup running back. Not a good one either. He never could remember the plays. The idea of being tackled terrified him. Yet when our cleats clapped on the pavement in the Orlando Fairgrounds parking lot it was like he stepped into another world. He didn’t play a lot. But when he saw the field, he never ran between the tackles with any fear. If he did, he never told me.
My brother and I didn’t get along as kids. I was good at school. He chose not to be. He had the IQ level of a genius, literally. He just hated school. My mom compared us a lot. I had a lot of friends. We found out he did too when he passed away. They weren’t in real life my teenaged-self would say. But they were realer than ever when we held his funeral over Zoom.
He never told me he was part of a gaming community. He was a streamer. A good one too. People were paying to watch him play and promote the best games. What a concept.
When Hunter S. Thompson wrote Football season is over, he did it in black marker. I did mine in blue pen. On every Saturday from September to October I wrote the destination for which mountain town I’d like to visit.
The first town we visited was Bailey, Colorado. The place was known for Bigfoot sightings. Inside the Sasquatch Outpost there was all of these factoids about how tall they could be, where they resided in the U.S. and a huge map with markers for documented sightings in Colorado. Did you know President Teddy Roosevelt had a Bigfoot encounter?
My favorite mountain town was Idaho Springs. The views were great. The burgers and cream soda were better. The people were lovely. Everyone tried to earnestly talk with their mask on. I couldn’t hear a thing. I went to an organic soap shop and bought a lot of soap. I appreciated being outside of the house. Being around people. Inhaling the cool, crisp mountain air. Clearing my head. Not thinking about my brother.
Another town I visited was Georgetown. Famous for the Georgetown Railroad, it was built in 1884. If that sentence read like someone giving a tour it’s because their infomercial was on constant repeat as I waited for the train. It was a nice time out. The ride was an hour long. We went through the Rocky Mountains and over some creeks. I took some pictures. The cold tore through my windbreaker. I wanted to go home. Cincinnati was looking like one of the best teams in the country according to Twitter.
I never got to Woody Creek. It’s a three hour drive. I could’ve made time but football season had just begun.
Historians use the term “Camelot Era” when taking about John F. Kennedy’s presidency. The phrase came to define Kennedy’s tenure retroactively because it was when there was little unrest. President Kennedy’s assassination led to an era of significant change for the United States. The tumultuous sixties wasn’t the best decade, but it’s widely considered to be the country’s most important as it paved the way for a new America.
I don’t think anyone is going to refer to the four-team College Football Playoff era as a time of peaceful tranquility. But it’s now August 2021. Let the debates of conference superiority and why an undefeated Cincy belongs in the playoff begin. College football season is finally back, but not before enduring one of the most consequential off-seasons in the sports’ history.
The Big 12 is dead...maybe. The flagship schools of the conference, Texas and Oklahoma, left in the middle of the night to jump in bed with the SEC. The Irate 8 are clinging on for dear life but blood is in the water. The other major conferences aren’t giving them a life float. The Mid-major conferences that were viewed as guppies are now sharks with the AAC looking to take the last bite. The SEC becoming a 16-team behemoth has moved the college football doomsday clock closer to midnight. The era of super conferences is nigh. Everything is terrible.
Name, image, and likeness is here. Student-athletes can get paid. Finally. A gold-rush of deals were announced in July with surely more to come as players make a name for themselves during the season. We’ve seen a player sign with a barber shop, a player nicknamed Kool-Aid sign with Kool Aid, walk-ons receive a deal with a protein bar, and of course my favorite moment has been a concert. It’s all beautiful.
“Ain’t No Cure” had Southern Social rocking last night !!! Dropping at midnight tonight !!!! pic.twitter.com/7dGtn9wvfp— Gavin Adcock (@GavinAdcock) August 12, 2021
Although we’ve made it through the other side, shades of the old world are still here. COVID continues to be a leading topic as games approach. Some schools are mandating proof of vaccination and COVID-free tests to enter stadiums. A few coaches are still debating the merits of vaccination even as state mandates are being issued. Meanwhile others are getting COVID themselves. Unfortunately the painful images of 2020 are still here.
Western Carolina OL coach John Peacock passed away Wednesday, 5 days after testing positive for COVID. John was a cancer survivor. His fiancee encourages others to get the free, safe vaccine and wear their mask. https://t.co/VcL3xFc8L4— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) August 21, 2021
In September and the months that follow, the powers that be will vote on expanding the four-team playoff to 12 teams. A playoff format that what was once met with universal approval by suits determined to start it as soon as possible is now on the verge of coming to a screeching halt. The ACC, Big Ten and Pac 12 are forming an alliance. Many believe this is to combat the SEC’s increasing power and desire to turn college football into a Super League of blue bloods only. A power struggle behind the scenes is taking place as decision makers fight for what they want the future of college football to be. Welcome to the Cold War era.
I have no idea what will happen. The underdogs could finally have a seat at the table in a 12-team playoff after surviving off scrapes for decades. But will that seat even matter if the hogs get fatter with no butcher in sight? I don’t know what I want to happen. I just hope concessions are made to keep the sport as I know it intact.
As all of that takes place, I and many other fans of college football will begin the healing process. No, the world isn’t as normal as we hoped it would be but the show must go on. For many of us it has to. Our survival depends on it. Tailgates will happen. It’s going to be great to see our friends again. Treks to stadiums we’ve never been to before will be made. Strangers will strike up conversations about football, food, and everything in between. The memories made on these journeys will be cherished to our graves.
When we go out into this new world, I hope we do so with COVID in mind. I hope we don’t take the moments with our friends and family for granted. I hope that while we are watching our favorite teams, enjoying our favorite rivalries, we will appreciate the spectacle before us. When tomorrow is here there’s a chance we’ll never see this happen again. I also hope that when football season is over, it will have ended after Underdog Dynasty blogged about your favorite team, created memes, and yelled in laughter at the scoreboard. In this world it tells us the Ragin’ Cajuns are better than Texas. Money be damned.