It’s gameday in Wyoming.
Yesterday I rode with friends across the delightful state of Nebraska on I-80, past corn and cows and center pivots, past fewer and fewer people until you reach the Wyoming threshold.
It was the same road and same friends I rode with 10 years earlier, on a preposterous 5,000-mile road trip to Boise, Idaho, and Glendale, Arizona, and plenty of points in between, to watch Mizzou play in the 2009 NCAA Tournament. That trip was spontaneity and wonder and determination, driving all night and singing along with the radio and finding our way out on the blue turf at Boise State.
I was young then. I am still young now. But that word “still” is a subtle distinction, conveying that we’re deeper in that stage. It’s like when Joe Posnanski writes that people say an athlete is “still fast” or “still one of the best.” Years before they were simply “fast” or “one of the best.”
But the passage of time has its benefits, new technology and music and topics to make the journey interesting. New friends become old friends, and that might be the best part. Change, even gradual change, makes for an adventure.
The start of each football season feels like a new adventure starting, and this one shows potential. You can see the pieces for a very good Tiger offense. The defense might require more creativity of thought, but you can see ways for it to be effective. The odd schedule, front loaded with home games, is a robust challenge to tailgaters’ mettle, but also an opportunity to gradually build momentum and a winning streak. The possibility exists of an incredibly hyped game at Georgia in early November.
But first is this game in Wyoming, our least-populated state, the land of cowboys and coal and Yellowstone. The Tigers play tonight in War Memorial Stadium, a venue with the same name as the site of their final game this season. Today’s game is a delightfully different way to open the season, on the road in the highest FBS stadium. The start of college football season leaves me breathless; here it could literally be the case.
Sure, I could come up with a long list of reasons I love college sports; the indelible memories with friends, the friendships spawned from it, the simple joy of tailgating, the daily anticipation and excitement of following a storyline that plays out over decades, countless stories shared over food and drink that begin with “Remember the time Mizzou…”, the perfection of Missouri autumn, the time travel of Homecoming, the gripping drama, how simple games can make in-between and out-of-the-way places the stage for events that seem to shake the universe, the life-mirroring lessons of hope and dealing with defeat.
But in the end, I think it’s more interesting to know and appreciate what I love, rather than constantly picking at why I love it. I analyze and overanalyze anyway. So let’s simply say I love college football, like I love the sight and sound and smell of rain, like I love Colorado and mountains, like I love sunsets and writing and looking at the ocean.
And so, I love college football. And if you’re one of those I share it with or if you’ve made it to the end of all this, I love you, too. It wouldn’t be the same without you.