Friday, February 27, 2009


Waiting for kickoff in the tense atmosphere of an old timey college football locker room - leather helmets strewn around, operating table prepared for amputations - legendary coach John Heisman would often show his players a football and ask:

"What is this?"

Answering his own question he would continue:

"A football is a prolate spheroid, an elongated sphere-in which the outer leather casing is drawn up tightly over a somewhat smaller rubber tubing."

He would then pause before continuing:

"Better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football."

When I was young lad, my father often mused to me as we wandered England's back streets towards some football ground or other: "Samuel, of all the unimportant things in life, football is the most important."

He wasn't talking about college pigskin, but the point stands. This game is perhaps not quite life and death, but if you think it's anything less than important you've probably never been to Alabama and you're definitely reading the wrong blog.

The identity and soul of this country are inextricably linked to its Universities - of which its people are so rightly proud - and its games. The English speaking race has excelled at inventing the world's greatest games. Football in all its forms, cricket, tennis, golf, baseball, basketball... the world's most popular and vibrant games all hail from the anglophone sphere. Perhaps these games have spread so far and so fast because of the strength of Anglo-American imperialism, but I doubt it. I am convinced of the simpler, obvious explanation. People play our games because they are brilliant and no one else has come up with any better.

Of all those games in all their forms none is as unique and flavourful as college football. Its pageantry, parochial charm and delicious regional variety are peerless. Nowhere else in the world can one find 100,000 paying souls watching a show put on by amateurs. In no other game can a man live for half a decade at the very height of public attention before receding so briskly into the shadows of history, all without earning a cent (ideally). America has produced no game so powerfully tied to the lives, identity, and emotional well being of so many. We care and invest so much, but beyond these shores our game is completely unknown. This game belongs to Americans alone.

For better or worse, this game will forever remain central to American life, experience, education and pride. Its history is fascinating to say the very least. The more we forget that history the more abuse of the game in its modern form we will tolerate.

This blog is the work of a historian, a traditionalist and a purist. I defy all Jonny-come-latelies (yeah, I'm talking to you Miami). I reject the legitimacy of astro-turf (Buckeyes). I insist that black does not belong on a college football player above the ankle (Texas Tech). I adore Jo Paterno.

Several people have encouraged me to consider writing a book about this game. Perhaps one day I will. No doubt my historical skill set stands a better chance of making me some cash in this field than in writing diplomatic histories of American maritime affairs.

Consider this blog a first tentative step in that direction.

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