Watching LSU vs. Auburn game, the battle of two undefeated teams inspired this column. While football fans come in all nationalities, genders, ages and sizes, the atmosphere at College games compared to Professional games are at two ends of the spectrum for me.
I grew up in the Great Northwest in Seattle Washington. When I was a kid the only football I knew was the University of Washington Huskies. You see I had no choice really, my father was a Husky, he played football and was a great track man (sprints, hurdles and held the long jump record for close to a decade). My uncle (through marriage) an All-American and Husky was drafted and played for the Cleveland Browns and blocked for Jim Brown for several years. Semi-Pro football was huge, with the Seattle Rangers (local law enforcement) and Seattle Cavaliers. In the early to mid 70’s the National Football League awarded the Nordstrom family an NFL franchise, they named it the Seattle Seahawks. The fans in the Northwest are the best and extremely passion about their football. A sold out Husky stadium of 75,000 fans (nestled on the shore of Lake Washington) will attend Husky games on Saturday and the same fans, give or take a few, pour into Quest Field, home of the Seahawks and the 12 man, each and every Sunday.
Both College and Pro football fans enjoy tailgate parties, and do it well. Colleges have recitals such as the Cadet March at Texas A&M, a slow military march that is really breath taking, and hard to take your eyes off the parade of 1,000 or more Cadets, as they flow into the stadium, with a graceful fluid synchronized movement while circling the field and exiting with the same grace as they entered. When in Colorado Springs at Air Force Academy, it is smart that you hang onto your coffee or soda in the press box. The fly over jets at the end of the National Anthem rocks the press box, makes your ear drums scream, while sending a vibration into your shoes.
There are two outdoor parties that I will never forget. The best was my first trip to Death Valley in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A night game LSU vs. Georgia. I must say nobody parties like the SEC. I was told to arrive at least five hours before the game, FIVE HOURS, I replied. I was told the parking and people make it tough on traffic. So I arrived five hours prior to the game, and I’m glad I did, only to find Hootie & the blowfish (Pop band)playing next to the LSU tiger pacing back and forth in his cage, and the band in full concert mode, in front of the house that Shaq built, across the street from Tiger stadium. Secondly, I attended the Greatest outdoor Cocktail Party (Florida vs. Georgia) in Jacksonville, FL to watch Tim Tebow vs. Matthew Stafford. The closest parking I could find was five miles away, thank god it was not hot and humid. There were 80,000 fans outside partying, Bar-b-que’s smoking and kegs with giant blocks of ice on top. These fans had no intention of going inside the stadium, they were at their party. The other 75,000 went inside ready to watch a good contest. I’ve never seen that many people assembled for a football game since the 1991 Rose bowl Washington vs. Michigan, that I coached in with only 105,000 fans.
College cheer leaders are all about rah rah, motivating interaction with the student section and fans, keeping them hyped and excited about the game. They have yell Kings that toss them in the air. Professional Cheerleaders are all about choreography dance moves, when done they stand in place like statutes and have zero interaction with the fan base, they pose as if they are on stage, boring! While college cheerleaders are extremely attractive and healthy looking young ladies, several professional cheerleaders while attractive, look starved and malnutrition, with skin over laying their rib cages, ladies stop starving yourselves and eat something!
Fans are allowed to paint their faces and wear exotic customs to support their favorite teams in the NFL. College fans do the same, but unlike the NFL, there are no rules in taking your shirts off and painting their bodies as well as your face in college. Some of the college games I attended, I saw 10-12 people aligned with upper bodies fully painted and sporting an alphabet and forming a word in 20 degree weather, snow or torrential down pour, they love their football.
One of the biggest differences in the atmosphere is listening and watching the bands enter the stadium, some have a slow rehearsed strut while playing the teams fight song, others let you know the band is here playing deep in the tunnel or outside the stadium, continuing the beat upon their entrance inside the stadium until all is seated. Grambling is one of the best, I love the R&B beat. Michigan has the most traditional fight song, Ohio St dots the “I” in Ohio at halftime, but when Washington’s band plays and sings “Tequila” and the fans are doing the WAVE (Invented by Washington yell king Rob Weller) you know the party is just getting started.
Outdoor stadium, are the best for atmosphere, the natural weather conditions are just part of the game. My first outdoor NFL football game was in Bronco Stadium In 1995, when I lived in Denver as an Area Scout for the Carolina Panthers. I grew up watching the Seattle Seahawks who played in the King Dome, a cement tomb.
For my experiences, NASCAR is the best! I’ve never entered a stadium, allowed to bring my own food, my favorite alcoholic beverages, smoke cigars in the stance and rent headsets to listen to the driver and crew chief’s conversation throughout the race.
OK I know I said College vs. Professional football. For me it is College Football Atmosphere, in all my fifteen years in the NFL. The band playing, cheerleaders thrown in the air and those long and drawn out TV timeouts make the atmosphere slow and boring at times and I’m a football junkie, but there is a big difference in my opinion!