Greetings fellow alcoholics! Sports and beer go together like peanut butter and jelly, like movies and popcorn, like OJ and murder (allegedly). And to me college football is the pinnacle of sport; it is what craft beer is to alcohol. Like craft beer, college football came before the watered down, commercialized bullshit that seemed to invade every corner of our country and culture like those interdimensional demon-roots in Stranger Things. But it is now time to emerge from the dark, sticky, gross Upside Down of non-stop NFL coverage and Bud Light flowing from every toilet and spigot in America.
The similarities between college football and craft beer are numerous and are surely not ham-fisted attempts by me to provide an overall theme to this introductory article. Brewing has existed since the ancient Egyptians, much like college football. In fact, College Football's place in history was set in stone when Ptolemy IV pronounced from his throne atop the Great Pyramid at Giza:
And, ye, the sixth day of the week shall be reserved for college football. What? Yes, Saturday is the sixth day of the week. No, fuck that, Sunday is not the beginning of the week. It's part of the weekend. Week END. Not weekendandpartofthebeginning. Why would we take off the first day of the week off? Nah, man. Fuck you, you're executed! Guards, get this guy. Anyways, College Gameday shall begin at 9am.....
But enough with the history lesson, let's get down to it. So what are these completely legitimate and not made-up-by-me similarities?
One of the biggest differences between college football and the NFL (or indeed college football and many other sports, full stop) is the variety of teams and even on-the-field play. Too many sports have become a homogenous blob, the only differentiator between teams, conferences, or leagues being the jerseys on the backs of the players and the city names on the screen. College football CAN be like this, but it is certainly the LEAST like this. The Big Ten has a different style of play than the Big 12; the SEC from the Pac 12; and so on. Even the military academies have a distinct style of play. The reason for this is out of necessity. With 100+ teams all theoretically vying for the same trophy, teams must find ways to eliminate the huge talent disparity between the haves and the have nots. What we end up with is the triple option, or the air raid that have been the bane of many top teams that merely thought they were filling out their schedule with a few cupcakes.
Relax, BK, I'm getting there.
Craft beer similarly has a wide variety of styles to break up the monotony of shitty American lagers and piss pale pilsners churned out of the foreign-owned but totally "American" (we swear!) macrobreweries. Hell, even if you love that carbonated ball sweat that Miller, Coors, or Budweiser calls beer, craft brewers have started returning to the styles that originally inspired those beers so do yourself a favor and try a pilsner or American lager from your local (actually American owned) brewery. But the beauty of craft beer is always being surprised by new styles or new twists on old styles: IPAs, porters, stouts, bretts, saisons, sours, ambers, barleywines, lambics, Belgians, and the list goes on and on. Each of those styles probably has another dozen varieties among them as well. So pick up a style you've never tried before and tune into a Wednesday night MAC game. You might be surprised by both.
Local and Regional Loyalty
Whether you're someone who cheers for the local team or not, there is no doubt that there is a certain thrill in seeing a community, region, or state rally around their team. I am not an Ohio State fan by any means, but during the build-up to both the 2002 and 2014 National Championships I allowed myself to get swept up in the optimism and mob mentality of the Buckeye state. That's what sports is about after all, enjoying something together as a community (why yes, my wife leaves me at home alone on Saturdays to watch college football, why do you ask?).
Part of the beauty of the craft beer renaissance has been inching closer and closer to my utopian dream of every city and every neighborhood of every city having their own small brewery. Though we're still far away from that reality (except in places like Portland), we've reached the point where pretty much any city or region is going to have its own craft brewery to "cheer for" just like you do with your team. The three C's in Ohio each have multiple amazing breweries that represent their greater metropolitan areas. Cleveland has Great Lakes, The Brew Kettle, Fat Head, and Platform; Columbus has Columbus Brewing, North High, and the completed underrated Wild Ohio; Cincinnati has Rivertown, Mad Tree, Rhinegeist, and Mt. Carmel. And I bet you're going to point out one or more that I missed! That's awesome! What a time to be alive! Anyways, your favorite local brewery is like your favorite team. Talk shit to your craft beer drinking friends about how awesome your brewery's new NEIPA is. Whenever somebody comes to visit, be sure to bring them to your watering hole and share your joy and pride in "your" brewery.
I Don't Need a Third Thing, Do I?
No? Good. I've rambled on long enough. But since this column will be about college football and not beer (mostly), let me take a moment to just convey to you my love for college football: the Granddaddy of 'Em All. (Yes, I know the Rose Bowl is actually the Granddaddy of 'Em All and not college football in general, but do me a favor and don't be a pedantic asshole).
I LOVE college football. I love it without shame, without apology, and with every fiber of my being. Before we got married, I made sure my wife understood: Saturdays between Labor Day and Christmas are for me, they are (mostly) non-negotiable, and we'll all live happier lives if we (and by "we" I mean you) just accept it. Yeah.....it went something like that. But college football is one of the milestones I use to measure my life. I remember where I was for Holy Buckeye, or the Kick Six, or the Prayer at Jordan-Hare. The Vince Young Rose Bowl, the Bush Push, Appalachian State! Wide Right, Wide Right II, the Choke at Doak. The Miracle at Michigan, Boise State's Fiesta Bowl, Clemson-Alabama II. There are more unbelievable college football memories in my head than all other sports combined.
That's probably because college football has a personality that no other sport has. From that first kickoff Labor Day weekend, Saturdays throughout the fall are filled with unbelievable sights: The shiny gold helmets in South Bend. The high stepping sousaphone player dotting the I in the incomparable "Script Ohio". The Clemson Tigers touching Howard's Rock before descending into Death Valley. Rolling Toomer's Corner after an Auburn win. It's also filled with the unique sounds of college football: fight songs and Jump Around. O-H and I-O. Roll Tide! and War Eagle! Go Irish and On Wisconsin. Boomer Sooner and Fight On. Have you ever heard a Rammer Jammer? Even better, have you ever heard a REVERSE Rammer Jammer?
Now name me ONE other sport that offers anything as cool as a Reverse Rammer Jammer.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. The fact of the matter is that college football is just oozing with personality. Every rivalry, every school, from the smaller DIII schools to the biggest Power 5 program. I'm not naive enough to believe in the myth of the student-athlete or the sanctity of amateurism. That ship has sailed. But somehow despite the billions of dollars flowing through this sport, it has managed to maintain a unique identity apart from the corporate homogenization of professional sports.
So tune in this weekend, perhaps the best weekend to tune in. The Game. The Iron Bowl. The Apple Cup. Clean Old Fashioned Hate. The Egg Bowl. The Civil War. Florida-Florida State. Magic will happen, you just have to watch and wait.
So clear your schedule this Saturday, maybe drag a second TV up from the basement and soak in the pageantry and the drama. Oh and to make this column make sense and all tie in together at the end, be sure to crack your favorite craft beer.