Yesterday was Saturday, September 26. As we sat without sports in March and April, saw a spike in coronavirus cases in June and July, and saw the Big Ten and Pac 12 try to sabotage the season in early August, it seemed like we would never reach the day that SEC football would return. Over the past several months, we saw conferences go rogue in their decision making, media personalities try to push their personal agendas like Nicole Auerbach, college football players using their voices on social media to try and save the season, and even the President and state governors advocate for a season. Yet, nothing was promised. The pandemic still rages on, and it was quite possible we wouldn’t have gotten to yesterday.
So, when Friday night turned into Saturday morning, college football fans, especially those in the SEC footprint, woke up to a good day. The day that seemed like it would never happen had finally arrived. No offense to the ACC, Big 12 or AAC, but with the SEC back, the college football season felt the most normal it has felt so far. Nothing will be completely normal in 2020, but yesterday got us closer to that normalcy.
The 2017 season is my favorite season in my lifetime, and I may still claim that when Georgia does finally win a National Championship. Despite the way it ended for Georgia, that season was about as perfect as it could have been, sans one November night in Jordan-Hare that was redeemed three weeks later and the last play of the season. But, what made the 2017 season so great was more than the trips to South Bend and Pasadena, the SEC Championship, and the epic beatdowns in Knoxville and Jacksonville. The 2017 season was exactly what the UGA campus and Athens needed after 2016. The fan base was still pretty split on the decision to move on from Mark Richt and the 2016 election brought out the worst in people, no matter what side you fell on. But that 2017 season brought the Bulldog Nation together, no matter your political ideology, your thoughts on how the Richt situation was handled, etc. The only thing that mattered was the devotion to the red and black.
Going back to 2020, we need the same thing. We’re in the middle of an election year, a pandemic, and in a country marred by racial tension. You could put 100 people in a room (socially distant of course), and have 100 different opinions on those issues. However, if you put 100 fans in the same room, the bond of college football surpasses the divisions that opinions on the coronavirus or the election gives us. College football is why we wake up in the morning to watch College Gameday, that’s why we get excited when we hear the SEC on CBS theme. That’s why we “ooh” and “aah” at a big hit, and scream in excitement when our team makes a big play. College football brings us together like no else created thing can. Whether it is fandom created by an admissions decision, passed down from previous generations, or just based geographically where someone resides, there’s not much stronger than the bond created by college football fandom. As the voice of Larry Munson states in the pre-game Battle Hymn narrative, the sentiments of the entire Bulldog Nation can be expressed by two simple words: “Go Dawgs.” Even if you aren’t a Georgia fan, I’m sure your fanbase has a similar display of sentiments. That’s what makes college football great.
Yesterday gave us an epic game in Norman, a shootout upset in Baton Rouge with Brad and Gary on the call, a ferocious comeback in Lubbock, record breaking days by Kyle Pitts and KJ Costello, typical #FunBelt action (my condolences to those in Statesboro), beautiful special uniforms worn by Ole Miss, Georgia, and Oklahoma State, and the traditions that make college football fun, like the “War Eagle” battle cry in Auburn, Sandstorm playing at night in Columbia, and the turnover chain in Miami. It also gave Georgia fans like myself high levels of anxiety and a QB controversy (what else is new?), Florida State fans sadness and anger, and Oklahoma fans feelings of deja vu. In a year that is the farthest thing from normal, yesterday, for college football fans, was in fact pretty normal.
We’re still over a month away from all conferences playing. It doesn’t appear we will see full stadiums this year. We won’t see live mascots like Uga, Reveille, Smokey, Bully, and the War Eagle in SEC stadiums this year. We won’t see Thanksgiving weekend ACC vs. SEC rivalries. We still will have to manage game postponements and scheduling shifts due to the coronavirus. All of those things aren’t normal. I long for the day there will be 93,000 in Sanford Stadium. I long for the day the coronavirus pandemic is a thing of the past and can be easily contained or eradicated, like SARS and MERS. I long for the day I don’t see games get postponed. I long for the days where advocates for virus chaos no longer celebrate players testing positive and games being postponed. However, I probably won’t get that before the end of the 2020 football season, and that is OK.
It is OK because we still have college football. We still get to watch our teams. We still get to put on our favorite colors on gameday. We still get to cheer on our favorite players as they strive towards the goal of conference championships and the College Football Playoff. Fans can still go to games. All of these things are good, even if modified. We got a taste of all of this yesterday and we will get the same taste for the next 12 weeks. Yesterday was good, the next 12 Saturdays will be good, college football season is good. And nothing, not even a virus, will change that.