You could say that college football is in my blood. My grandparents met while attending the University of Michigan. My Dad and his four brothers went there – as did my brother and eight of my cousins. I grew up singing “The Victors” before I could tie my shoes. Some of my earliest memories are of trips to Ann Arbor with my Dad for football games. In high school, I skipped my first homecoming dance in order to watch Michigan rally from a 17-point fourth quarter deficit to beat Michigan State in triple overtime.
Growing up in rural New England and attending a small liberal arts college, my obsession with college football was unique. My friends were roughly evenly split between the Red Sox and Yankees. A few were big time supporters of the Patriots and Bruins. No one outside of my family quite understood my passion for college football. None of them had been to The Big House or The Swamp or The Rose Bowl or any of the dozens of college football stadiums that are scattered across the country.
Over the past two decades, I have tried to explain my college football fandom. Inevitably, these attempts centered on stories from experiences outside the games themselves. I would talk about the energy of 112,000 people, the beauty of throwing a football with my cousins at band practice, the camaraderie of walking into the stadium with fellow fans.
While I love the games, it is these moments – the stories behind the games – that draw me to the sport. On the surface, college football is a ridiculous concept. Grown adults dedicate three months every year to watching 18-22 year-olds play a game. They take pride in their team’s performance and stake their happiness on the outcome of the contests. But there is something beautiful about the sport – something that is able to reach across traditional social barriers and unite people.
Across the country, these games are celebrated differently. While much of modern society is homogenizing, college football, with its adherence to tradition, is a vestige of regional diversity. Each school and each region has developed its own culture when it comes to football. I’ve always longed to learn more about those cultures – to understand what the environment at different stadiums is like. To ask how the team impacts the community and to understand what life during the week is like on campus. Fans see glimpses of these stories on TV, but often only in prepackaged segments. We don’t meet real fans from schools other than our own. We don’t see Wednesday or Thursday – we see Friday night and Saturday.
This fall, I’m setting out to tell the story behind the games – to explore the way football influences life on campus. Each week I will travel to a different school and attempt to immerse myself in the culture of the community. The goal is to tell the story of the 2014 college football season through the lens of students and fans. In doing so, I hope to offer a portrait of what college football is like across America and to help my friends in rural New England understand why college football is as big as it is.
I hope you enjoy!
– Nick Fogel, September 2014