You know what the key difference between college football and pro football is?
People who watch college football actually enjoy it.
As a lifelong, die-hard Oakland Raiders fan, I can’t recall the last time I felt jubilant during a professional football game. Oh, I felt plenty of other emotions — raw disgust, unhinged anger and indiscriminate hatred among them — but happiness? No sir, such a feeling hasn’t beset me in a long, long time when watching the National Football League. It’s all various shades of fury, spliced with the occasional moment of all-encompassing dread and abject hopelessness. If God ever wanted to punish those for not honoring the Sabbath, making ‘em a pro football fan seems a mighty fine way to do so.
It’s not that I don’t like college football. I do. I love the absurd rivalries here in SEC country, where Alabama fans commit both arborcide and homicide to show team spirit. I also love the fact that virtually every game of the season is a playoff game — lose just one game, and your odds of playing for the National Championship may have fluttered on out the window. Alas, the spirit of college football can’t hold a candle to the spirit of pro football, for a litany of reasons.
Number one, it’s the fans. By and large, college football fans are
a.) upper middle-class snobs who went to the colleges they root for,
b.) the privileged offspring of upper middle-class snobs who are using Stafford loan money to buy synthetic weed and furniture, and
c.) quasi-inbred maniacs who not only didn’t attend college, but didn’t even bother getting a GED.
You mix those three together on a Saturday night, sprinkle in a liberal amount of libations and you’re guaranteed to be annoyed out of your gourd. Of course, there are some less than savory pro football fans, too, but they seem to be much more of the soil. Go to a sports bar on Saturday and you’re going to see a bunch of flirters and carousers who aren’t even remotely interested in the game. Go to that same bar on Sunday afternoon and you’ll encounter a throng of withered and weathered older souls who hang onto the games with an almost transfixed glare. These 40-year-old Cleveland Browns fans seem so much more invested in the game than their 20-year-old Ohio State Buckeyes analogues. Even the bartenders and waitresses on NFL game day have a certain sternness that you don’t see with the Saturday crew. The pro experience is much more reverential than college ball — the former is a sacrosanct rite of the American proletariat, while the latter is just an excuse for the elites to beat their bar tab high score and fire up their charcoal grill that cost more than a brand new car.
Secondly, the structure of the NFL just leads to a better product. Sure, there are some terrible teams in the pros, but on any given Sunday, there’s at least a chance that the worst team in the League could upset the best team in the League (or, at the absolute least, make it a much more competitive game than it ought to be.) With more than 100 Division I college football teams, barely 30 of them are any good, and more times than not, you’re given Auburn vs. Alcorn State instead of Michigan vs. OSU. In college conference championship games, 56-0 blowouts aren’t uncommon — clearly, there’s a HUGE parity problem there. Additionally, no matter who is crowned the Super Bowl champion, there’s no denying they earned it, having had to vanquish three, sometimes four, of the absolute best teams in the land over the course of one month. This, after seventeen weeks of backbreaking, grueling regular season play. Meanwhile, those college whippersnappers get an entire month and a half off to recuperate between the regular season’s end and bowl game season, and then, all they have to do is win two stinkin’ games in a row to take home the National Championship trophy.
Then, there are the players. Sure, there are plenty of knuckleheads in the NFL, but at least our subsidized tax dollars aren’t paying for their women-beating, coed-raping, drunk- driving and occasionally crustacean-stealing misadventures like with college players. Instead of granting money to a cancer researcher or someone working on some incredible medical technology, the public is forced to fork over money to universities so they can give troglodytes a free college ride — that is, until they exit sans a degree for the pro draft, or get booted off the squad for sex crimes.
Lastly? As a pro football fan, you actually feel like you’re getting your money’s worth. You are watching the best athletes on the planet incur traumatic head injuries on live television for relatively low wages, usually accompanied by the best dadgum bread and circuses multimedia extras you can dare fathom (what is the Super Bowl, other than Commercialism: The Holiday?) Even at its highest level, college football games are largely populated by dudes who will be selling insurance in a year’s time. The hits aren’t as ferocious, the games are nowhere near as tight and the overtime rules are just plain goofy. Yeah, we get some exciting games from time to time, but usually just because of some fluky finish (cue the Cal/Stanford marching band footage) that you’d never see in a pro game.
The seriousness exuded by the on-field (on-screen?) product and fans alike is what ultimately puts pro football over the top for me. While most college football skirmishes are offense-heavy score fests (recall the Baylor/TCU shootout from last year?), pro football games are generally defensive struggles. When the points are being racked up, you can expect to feel a certain bubbly giddiness. When it’s a down-and-dirty 21-14 stalemate, however, all you can feel is gut-wrenching helplessness and stomach-boiling disdain. It’s 60 minutes of ulcer-forming rage, heart-pounding trepidation and furniture-annihilating disappointment. It’s a much more adult experience, leaving you with a refined bitterness you can’t help but want to taste each and every weekend.
Your lavish University of Texas tailgates and exuberant Florida State game day mixers might be a hoot, but I’d much rather brush elbows with hardened, humorless Philadelphia Eagles fans at a strip mall dive or break bread(sticks) with soured Buffalo Bills fans at a sleazy “breastaurant” any day.
You college ball-loving kids can keep your high-scoring, no-defense-having, fun-for-the-whole-family shtick. Meanwhile, I’ll be splitting stools with all of my gruff, ornery and excessively hostile NFL fan countrymen, who watch the sport of football the way it was intended: with so much hate thumping in our hearts, we can barely hear the TV over the sound of our collective resentment.