Hayes: Enjoy college football while you have the chance


Bob Hayes, Assistant Opinion Editor

In perhaps my favorite piece of writing ever to grace the pages of my favorite website, Grantland, Michael Weinreb beautifully labels us college football fans “sentimental nostalgists.” If this sounds like an inherently negative term, that’s because it is. In a literary or philosophical context, we call people “sentimental” if they trap themselves deeply within surface-level emotions while failing to act reasonably. A “nostalgist” melancholically remains stuck in an elusive past – one that we long to return to, though it too often does not exist. Sentimental nostalgists are flawed and unreasonable, just like the game itself – and this is why we love college football so profoundly.

I cannot pretend to emulate Weinreb’s idyllic words on a frighteningly violent sport, but I would like to shed some light on what far too many of my Northwestern classmates have been missing every other autumn Saturday.

Two of the most fundamental aspects of college culture are consuming alcohol and attending football games. Too often, students use the latter as yet another foolish excuse to do the former. The hours leading up to Wildcat home games are dominated by fraternity-run tailgates, which I can confidently and sadly say from experience are better attended than the football games themselves. It is standard practice to spend three hours pounding cans of Natty Light at a tailgate before returning home to sleep through or play video games during the football game. Later, groups gather again to drunkenly celebrate the win that they did not even attend.

Anyone who attended or watched the Cats’ captivating 20-14 win over the No. 17 Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday saw the embarrassing number of empty bleachers throughout the student section. Want to blame it on the weather? The partiers didn’t seem to mind standing outside for hours, when, interestingly, there was worse weather than during the game itself. And because we know how climate works, the temperature will likely only depreciate from here.

It is worth mentioning that I am very far from the anti-fun, anti-alcohol police. However, I feel strongly that students fail to understand that the college experience teems with opportunities to drink, sleep and play video games, while it offers a sparse number of chances to have an experience like we lucky Cats fans enjoyed on Saturday. The tailgates and parties exist because of the games, yet our rare fall Saturdays are too much about the drinking and not enough about something which, even for non-football fans, offers a distinct sense of community, school pride and passion that another few hours of drinking can never touch. Those whom I am not-so-discreetly calling out will remember Saturday as another link in an endless chain of moderately enjoyable alcoholic experiences. I feel lucky to say that I will be a part of the small group that will remember Saturday with much more profundity and lasting value.

“There’s something beautiful about college football’s imperfection, about the notion that the players themselves are works in progress … that they do cocky things and they do stupid things and they sometimes lose games they have no right to lose because they are too full of themselves to take their opponent seriously,” Weinreb writes. “They have weird throwing motions, and they run awkwardly, and they drop wide-open passes, and they fall in love with fake dead girlfriends; they are raw and young and they only have to get one foot inbounds instead of two and they give speeches that would sound idiotic in an actual workplace, but because this is college, and because that intangible spirit still persists, they become folk heroes.”

My fellow Cats fans and I will forever remember Saturday as the day our football team – just weeks removed from a nightmare start as the laughingstock of the Big Ten – stifled the untouchable Melvin Gordon and his Badgers. I will remember the day not because of its perfection, but instead because of how such imperfection – the cold rain, Gordon’s impossible escape acts, the former Wisconsin safety trying to play quarterback and failing miserably, the game won by NU’s young guys, the one-third-full student section rushing the field with little clue of what to actually do – led to something so amazing. I will remember how the talented yet oft-criticized Trevor Siemian made all the magnificent throws while missing all the wide open ones, and then, excited as I’ve ever seen a man, gave me a hug on the field after the game. Siemian, the embodiment of the game’s imperfection, personified the perfection of the moment.

College football, and the allure of college itself, is grounded in nostalgia. Fans like Weinreb and the alumni who joined students rushing the field on Saturday smile and enjoy the game but are limited to this “sentimental nostalgist” point of view. They look at us and wish they could go back to the days of walking into Ryan Field with the scan of a WildCARD, to the days of wishing the team’s starting linebacker “good luck” in a philosophy class, to the days of an imperfect football team from our private school topping the big state school.

Thankfully, we don’t have to be “sentimental nostalgists” — the nostalgic past that we will melancholically return to in the future is right now.

See you next Saturday.

Bob Hayes is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].