America’s favorite time of year begins tomorrow. The temperature begins to drop; the leaves change color; parents rediscover their “freedom” again as their children start another school year. The holiday season is not far around the corner, just far enough away that the worries and stressors caused by finding the perfect gift is outside our periphery.
Autumn returns us to our primal roots. There is a sense of a new beginning, even with the allegorical winter waiting in the wings. It is a time of hunting, a time when we discover our basic instincts. No wonder we play football during the fall.
The only yardstick for success our society has is being a champion. No one remembers anything else.
Football is sport in its most simplistic, savage incarnation. Through brut force and sheer determination, with s little creative intuition mixed in, a team moves an oddly shaped sphere into an opponent’s territory. Whoever can exert their will usually wins. Compared to Roman gladiators, the competitors are given an immortal’s status among men, awed and revered for greatness. Their place in the societal hierarchy is only rivaled by emperors. From the beginning of September until the end of January, the stadiums that dot the American landscape become our cathedrals, where we worship on a weekly basis.
Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.
There are even separate denominations depending what you value football as. For the purists, those who believe the game revolves around a sense of community, that you should participate only out of love for the game, Friday nights are set aside for the high school athletes. If you believe the sport should only be played by the best; that only a select few should earn your attention, Sundays are set aside for your devotion.
Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle, which is why I enjoy Saturdays the best, the time set aside for college football. Like the many different denominations of Christianity, there are several different styles you can follow. From classic smash mouth style, option, or the modern spread, from the 3-4, 4-3 or even the 3-3-5 defenses, there is a culture that suits you.
Usually, you become indoctrinated into whatever team or league though your family or support groups, similar to how you first learn your moral values. Sure, you may convert to another congregation as you mature, but the core values taught by fathers, mothers and siblings will never be forgotten.
Growing up in Salt Lake City, it was natural to pick between the University of Utah and Brigham Young. At the time, Utah was an embarrassment of a program, do naturally my fickle fandom followed the more successful Cougars. Watching the great teams taught me to value of the forward pass before it became in vogue. Our pick-up games never saw a hand off, but always seemed a contest who could throw the longest TD pass of the day. Since my youth, I attended UNLV, which, as my Alma Mater, earned my full fandom. I get frustrated when I feel the game plan becomes too conservative, especially with a team that traditionally underperforms. The Rebels have an excellent running attack, but that does you little good when you are down 20 points after the first quarter.
Already, I’ve caught myself saying “we” when referring to UNLV. Football has kept me in touch with the UNLV community ever since my graduation. I enjoy the games with other Rebel fans, some who are alum like myself, others who came to Las Vegas and followed the team with the rest of us. When a new member of the community joins, we teach them the basic tenants of the culture. Generic lessons include learning the fight song as well as our chants, along with our disdain of all things Reno. As time progresses, more is handed down, such as our past heroes, our need for an on-campus stadium, or at least someone to pave the parking lot.
There are many traditions to pass along, from one generation to another, from a friend to a friend. Football is more than just a game, it has completely permeated into our culture that to lose it will make us unrecognizable to even ourselves.
To continue on the passing of this culture, I will pass on the first lesson I learned about UNLV football, a lesson I learned quickly, and hope to spare others the time learning this valuable lesson:
“At least we have basketball season.”