With the clamoring about health issues around the sport because of several early retirements by marquee players in the NFL, football is seemingly under siege. As someone that played football, in some form or another, for 13 years, I can validate that those health concerns are valid. As a recipient of two knee surgeries, the proud owner of two arthritic shoulders, two arthritic knees, chronic foot pain, some life long effects from concussions, and a skewed view on healthy eating, I can tell you that life after football can be difficult physically.
And yet, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
First of all, NFL careers are unnatural. Many players play longer in the NFL than they did all other levels of football combined. That is akin to fighting in a premier MMA league 20 times a year for a decade, or in today’s world, boxing twice a year.* If you participate in any sport that long, you are bound to have physical issues — and life long ramifications from the damage you put your body through. Which is why I am more of a college football fan. Sure, you still get the injuries and there is still the danger, but you also are young and growing — and the nature of the game is different.
More importantly, what I love about football is that it can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. If you want to go drink, watch football, and yell at the refs and bitch about your line, you can do that — and you are most likely right. A casual glance from 3,000 feet will give you a good barometer of how the game is going, even though the results of most games can be boiled down to just six plays.
You can also get super granular and look at how a blown route forced the QB to look to a different option and take two seconds longer to find an opening in the defense leading to a sack. You can yell at the line, but the original breakdown in the play could have been the equivalent of this type of communication error. There are times when the perfect play call is killed by a blocker slipping and falling down. Or an instance where you have your defense in the right spot, but one player goes behind a block instead of taking it on, and it turns into a huge gain for the opponent.
Ultimately, football is amazing because it can be everything to everyone. A game where two sets of coaches choreograph 11 players at a time for a single goal 180 times in a game is the height of physicality and strategy. It takes brains to coach and play football, not just brawn. It takes commitment, discipline, and the adaption of a player’s neuromuscular patterning to make the difficult seem natural, in order to succeed. College football for all its money, prestige, publicity and, in many cases, scandalous nature, is still the best blend of a quality product and the purity of supporting your school and your town. We root for something we are a part of.
While the NFL basically tries to reinvent ways to screw their fans (tax-sponsored stadiums, blackout dates, moving teams to new cities on a whim, etc.) college football is still for the most part a collection of your peers at your university playing an exciting game. You may see a pro player here or there or be invited to a party with your famous neighbor, but with college football, you have lab partners, pick-up basketball teammates, study group members, and social group members playing on your school’s field every week. They eat with you, party with you, and in some cases live with you. Which is why people like Tiki Barber, who spent years in the NFL and played at the highest level winning multiple championships, still lives and dies by what Virginia, his alma-mater, does in any sport. It is why players come back for recruiting dinners and why players tweet photos of their new Beavers gear.
College football is a community. It is an amazing game played by people who are a part of your life, who are living in your old home, and are going to your old classes. They may end up playing for multiple NFL teams, but once a Beaver, always a Beaver.
That is what I love, and that is why I cannot wait for this new chapter in OSU history. There is a lot to be excited for next week and beyond, but mostly, I am just super excited to cheer for my favorite team in my favorite sport. The bucketful of hope that Coach Andersen has brought doesn’t hurt either…
* I am not saying that boxing twice a year is more difficult than other sports. I am just poking fun at how watered down and pathetic boxing has gotten — to the point that premier boxers never box each other and rarely box in general.