Today is the last day of SEC Media days, the annual tradition in which coaches and players from college football's most powerful conference gather in hotel ballrooms to say nothing in front of hundreds of cameras. Miss the festivities? No worries. The ACC is having its version this weekend, followed by the Big XII's early next week, the Pac-12's late next week and the Big Ten's the week after that. Altogether, the five conferences will provide hundreds of hours of insignificant sound bites that will be consumed by information-hungry fans racked with offseason hunger pains.
Problem is, there isn’t much to say and no one is obligated to say it. There aren’t going to be any trades and there is precious little coaching turnover, which means that the Gamecocks, and the Volunteers, and the Rebels will keep playing ball largely as they have. And that’s just fine with the fans who flock by the thousand to the preseason preambles. They’re getting an angry fix.
It's tempting to make fun of these diehards, with their jerseys, buttons, mini-helmets, and calf tattoos – easy too. Just look at this attention-hungry doofus with a gaudy hat that looks like an Alabama championship ring. But instead of ripping on his goofy pose or that sorry excuse for a mustache, zoom out for a moment. Despite being surrounded by the university-payrolled suits, this guy is a true believer. The NCAA doesn’t make college football great and the players don’t either (they’re either worse than they will be as pros or simply worse than the pros). Fans make college football fun. And we’ve all got to love something.
A woman is preferable of course, followed by a good dog. But college football isn’t too far down the list of acceptable obsessions for the average American male. Let’s go back to Alabama ring head. We know from reports that the guy spent $300 on that dumb hat. We also know he works at Wal-Mart. To a lot of people, purchasing that monstrosity might seem like a classic case of misplaced priorities. Surely it sucked up a good 75% of his weekly pay. But the guy’s 23 and deeply committed to a cause. There’s something to be said for that.
Our time on this earth is brief and brutal. We’re born, we suffer, and we die. Precious few of us have the privilege of being consumed by our allegiance to a principle. If that principle is a particular shade of red, a particular 2000-acre campus in Baton Rouge, or Gus Malzahn’s offensive playbook, so be it. College football is – by definition – less than. We watch it because we love it and that love is a purifying fire. The guy in the hat may not get social norms or millinery, but he gets loyalty and he makes the game great.
Here’s to you, hat guy.
Photos by Butch Dill / Associated Press