Thursday, September 1, 2016

Thank the sweet, (maybe) merciful lord. College football is back.

It's been a while since I've graced these pages, and I will chalk some of that up to my annual summer jaunt outside the United States. This year's winner was a 20-day excursion through England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland and then back to England, and while some of you might have visited this blog and assumed the lack of updates indicated a waning interest in sports, allow me to calm your fears.

1) I still love sports
2) I didn't update because of a brutal combination of busyness and laziness
3) The joke is on me because no one is actually visiting this blog

Not only has my interest in sports remained constant, but I've spent a chunk of August preoccupying myself with football. No, not that normal football we Americans are familiar with, but the Australian variety (Geelong is pretty good this year!), the English variety (Why can't Southampton win a game??) and, during my weekend in Dublin, football of a whole new variety. What is this zaniness, you ask? Why, that's Gaelic Football, a sport mostly played in Ireland that is totally bizarre looking, totally off the wall and totally awesome in just about every way.

When I travel I often try to expose myself to new experiences both sports-related and not, and this time around, that experience was standing in the middle of 'Hill 16' at Croke Park for a doubleheader of the All-Ireland Senior Gaelic Football quarterfinals. I originally bought these tickets because they were the only ones remaining at 5 am when I woke up early to buy them online only to fall right back asleep. As I sat through the first quarterfinal, between Tyrone and Mayo, more and more Dublin fans slowly began to file in until it became apparent to me that I was actually standing in the middle of Dublin's main supporters section.

If you squint really hard you can see me.

Standing in the middle of these hardcore fans for the equivalent of an NFL Divisional Round playoff game was a singular experience for someone not from the country and with zero knowledge of the game. The spectacle is thoroughly entertaining, particularly live, and I wish there was more coverage of Gaelic Football stateside so I could actually follow it.

Then again, I only have so much free time. I'm not sure it's wise to pick up yet another professional sport to watch.

On the tail end of my trip, I made the trek to Old Trafford so I could watch Southampton play Manchester United at one of soccer's great cathedrals, even if the outcome didn't go quite as I had hoped. That said, a game in the Southampton away section at Old Trafford was still pretty fantastic, though I can't say I was quite as impressed with the home fans. Manchester United's crowd is, unsurprisingly, a wealthier, broader, less-engaged one. Much like big money teams in any other sport, the impression I was left with was a not-as-football-savvy, mostly quiet corporate group of folks who just like cheering for a winner. That is not to say that Manchester United doesn't have its knowledgeable, die-hards. Those exist in spades as well. But for much off the game, the ambiance, felt more suited for an opera than a high-level football match.

Or perhaps I'm just bitter about the scoreline. You can be the judge.

Either way, these experiences were some of my favorite ever at a sporting event, to say nothing of how decent a distraction they were from the Mets' tailspin while I was gone (though a recent hot run has rectified that). But let's be honest here. These three different varieties of football that have kept me occupied over the long, hot summer -- they are fun, entertaining games. However they are not the football that really matters.

This assortment of random foreign games under the football banner are not American football. And this weekend, at long last, that twisted combination of agony and ecstasy comes back into our lives. Saturday, at noon, when that vaunted, legendary program of global repute, Northwestern University, returns to the field with an epic season-opening matchup against Western Michigan.

Yes, I know. I can see you all, mouths agape, drooling for kickoff, wondering, "Dave, why must I wait all the way until Saturday to see this battle of titans?"

Well, I can't answer that for you. But know this: When college football gets in full swing this weekend, the best time of year will have begun. Fall Saturdays are an orgy of sport, beer and buffalo wing that is often imitated and seldom matched. For many of us, the previous eight months of the year are mere filler, other sports mere appetizers before the main event. Those sentiments may be overwrought or excessive, but facts are facts, and on this weekend, we no longer have filler. We have substance.

There are no more appetizers. This Saturday, we dine.

Like most of you out there, I am wondering just how Northwestern will follow up its historic 10-3 performance last season (The answer: Probably not very well), but there are reasons for optimism with a solid linebacking corps, quarterback Clayton Thorson now playing with a year of experience under his belt and running back Justin Jackson still there to power the ground game. I still foresee a decent campaign, a decent team and a relatively weak schedule that should have Northwestern bound for a Bowl game as robust as my waistline after 12 weeks of eating buffalo wings every Saturday.

Or maybe they'll fall apart and go 4-8. I suppose anything is possible. If that happens, of course, forget everything I just wrote in the previous paragraph. Besides, there are, like, eight other types of football to watch instead.

Dublin faces Mayo in the Gaelic Football All-Ireland Senior Championship on Sept. 18. Who's in?


  1. What about touchdown Trevor? He doesn't get a mention?

  2. What about touchdown Trevor? He doesn't get a mention?