A myriad of memories and romantic reminiscences are conjured up through the lyrics of the classic love song made famous by the lilting voice of the magnificent Etta James, “At Last”, written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren for the 1941 musical film Orchestra Wives. And I know I am dating myself with the revelation that a song more than sixty years old still inspires me in so many ways.
But today those entrancing lyrics invoke a very special advent in my life which is annually repeated when the leaves start to turn to robust colors and the Summer heat begins to abate.
It’s football season! At last!
I beg your indulgence with this near adolescent infatuation with a game that has saturated my life ever since I sat in front of a black and white television and watched Notre Dame play Purdue at the tender age of eight. I have been a captive of this great American spectacle in all its glory, with all its challenges and scandals, its color and its infectious grandeur ever since.
So, now all the talking sports heads, all the agitating sports talk radio show hosts, all the sports reporters, the broadcasters and networks who have revved us up need to sit down, shut up, and let the teams play!
Because the echoes of Etta’s alluring intonations now take me aloft into the season and as I close my eyes I hear her sing, “At last my love has come along/
My lonely days are over and life is like a song.”
Perhaps such an enchantment with a game – yes, for Heaven’s sake, it is just a game – is unflattering for someone like me, but I must admit, this is my favorite time of year because of football.
And I am blessed to live in the South – you know, “Southern by the Grace of God” and all that – but more than that, I live in SEC Country! Even though the following utterance will seem blasphemous to those who live in Massachusetts or Minnesota or Washington, the fact is that the SEC owns college football!
Why would I spew such vitriolic palaver in the face of a football nation which seems to have, as some sports “opinionists” declare, become “SEC fatigued”? It is very simple: all the color, the spectacle, the intensity, the dedication, the commitment, and the sheer joy college football prompts and manifests itself in the fan bases of the teams. Yes, through the fans!
At what other event can a stadium which seats 90,000+ be “sold out” and yet another 125,000+ loyalists are outside parked in their vans, their Winnebagos, their SUV’s watching the contest on their portable TV’s? No other sporting event consistently occasions such grand festivities – well, maybe Mardi Gras, but that’s only once a year, and we do this every Saturday, or Thursday as the schedule may dictate, for nigh onto three months!
The bands are spectacular. The cheerleaders perform their complex gymnastics! The traditions – the eagle circling the field before kickoff at Auburn, for example, or Texas A&M’s Twelfth Man – the mascots are even regal and challenging…well, except for the elephant in Tuscaloosa, but, hey, if you win that many championships you could claim to be the “Fighting Artichokes” and no one would complain!
But that is just the allure of college football, and souls like myself, who are addicted to it all, cannot avoid our nervous excitement as the first kickoff approaches!
Still, with all the pomp and ceremony attending each and every game, there is remains the challenge on the field – the real reason we are so enraptured with this event. And here is where the team loyalists truly participate!
It is their team on the field. It is their young warriors carrying the colors of the university. And it is they who become the exemplars of the pride and the honor of the university. With each turn of the game circumstances, each bounce of the oddly-shaped ball, each run, each tackle, and each kick the troops in the stadium are transfixed by the heraldry of their young warriors on the field of battle.
The stadium is filled with deafening cheers, orchestrated chants, and tunes joyously trumpeting the respective combatants in their valiant efforts to preserve the esteem of the university.
College football in America is a tapestry of the elements of the country itself steeped in commitment to purpose, unified in cooperative effort, teeming with the dedication of loyal fans, presented in all its color and pageantry, and repeated with greater intensity each week and every year.
And for this old warrior there is no greater time of year, no stronger commitment to a common resolve, no more magnificent exhibition than the college gridiron!
But Etta sums it up better than I ever could with these final lines, “You smiled and then the spell was cast/And here we are in Heaven.”
Because, “At Last”, its football again!
Dr. Arthur Ogden is Chair of Sports Management at the United States Sports Academy. He has worked in higher education for more than four decades. He has served as a college dean, vice-president, president, football coach, and athletic director. He is a published author and poet and writes a weekly column on issues facing America. He has also served on NCAA committees and on the All-American Football Selection Committee.