I grew up in the Great Northwest in Seattle, Wash. As a young kid, the only football I was exposed to was semi-pro teams (Seattle Ramblers, Seattle Rangers and Seattle Cavaliers), which my father and uncles played, and the University of Washington Huskies. You see, I was born a Husky, they tell me, and there are photos of me running on the field in Husky Stadium at the age of four (1963), when it was still a grass field.
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 in the mid 50s.
In the mid 70s, the National Football League awarded the Nordstrom family an NFL franchise, and they named it the Seattle Seahawks. The fans in the Northwest are extremely passionate 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, attend the Seahawks games making for a football weekend in Seattle.
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 breathtaking, 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, La., for a night game between LSU and 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 cage, where the Tiger was 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, Fla. 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, barbecues 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 a good football game. 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 cheerleaders 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 (male cheerleaders) that toss them in the air. Professional cheerleaders are all about choreographed dance moves, when done they stand in place like statues 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 malnourished (with the exception of Dallas and Philadelphia), with skin overlaying 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 your 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 a torrential downpour. 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 team’s 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 State 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.
For all my experiences, NASCAR is the best! I’ve never entered a stadium, allowed to bring my own food, my favorite alcoholic beverages, and smoke cigars in the stands and rent headsets to listen to the driver and crew chief’s conversation throughout the race.
It is not even close. For me, the college football atmosphere is crazy, fantastic fun. The bands playing school fight songs, cheerleaders being thrown in the air and the football games have a ton of action, which is spirited. I’m a football junkie, but there is a big difference in my opinion.