Growing up in New England where professional sports take precedence over all other forms, I didn’t see how college football could compare to the NFL. I mean, run-heavy offenses, mediocre quarterbacks, weekly blowout wins in severely mismatched games… who would want to watch that? Even the school I had gotten into, Georgia Tech, ran the triple-option offense, a scheme that many argue would have no success in professional football.
Needless to say that after watching two seasons of college football and witnessing the so called “Miracle on Techwood Drive” win over #9 Florida State in 2015, my opinion on the matter has changed wildly. I frequently get questions about what it’s like going to a D1 college in the south since most of my high school friends go to small schools in the northeast, so I’ll just give you all the run through of a usual game day and what college football is like so you can understand it better, or maybe decide that you got to experience this for yourself.
All game days start early … although maybe not so much for the students. Loud machinery echoes through the campus and residence halls as workers set up stages, carts, banners and whatever else is needed for the outside-of-the-stadium atmosphere. RVs, cars, and pickup trucks packed full of fans and alumni pull up early to find and fight for comically random spots to set up tailgating. Fraternity pledges stumble out of bed to clean the houses from the previous night of revelry for visiting alumni and families. Soon the campus starts to become lively and bustling. The gameday festivities are ready to begin.
I’ll pay you $100 to find a place on campus where you can’t hear country music playing on game day because when the radios start blasting and the grills fire up, everyone comes out to play. It’s nearly impossible to get from point A to point B on campus without witnessing someone land a clutch toss in a cornhole game, or ducking from an incoming ball that a couple of kids decked out in Yellow Jacket gear are tossing around. Oh yeah, the gear! That’s one thing I still don’t understand. Most of my friends back home probably think everyone wears Calvin Johnson jerseys on game day, kind of like how every Patriots fan wears the famous number 12. While some do, most fans dress, it may seem shocking, really well. Girls rock the dresses and jewelry while guys wear anything from Polo shirts to dress shirts and ties to full on suits. It’s also pretty easy to spot people involved in Greek life since they’re repping the giant stickers with Greek letters on their chest.
As game time approaches, fans and students start to migrate closer to the on-campus Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field. Crowds start to form around Yellow Jacket Alley, a narrow street adjacent to the stadium, and, if you’re lucky enough to get a good vantage point, you’ll see the band, cheerleaders and football team march down the Alley and into the stadium.
After all of the pre game warm-ups and ceremonies, the teams are finally ready to take the field. Every team has their own traditions and own mascots. In my biased opinion, Georgia Tech has the best. It starts with the opposing team entering the stadium to drowned out cheers by their small fan base. Then a roar fills the stadium as Buzz, our energetic and feisty Yellow Jacket mascot, accompanied by members of the cheer team waving golden pom poms ride in the Ramblin’ Wreck, a 1930 Ford Model A Sport Coupe covered in white and gold, up under the white and gold arches of balloons just outside of the mouth of the entrance tunnel. The announcer booms and the Ramblin’ Wreck zips out onto the field as the team follows.
The rest of the game is what’s seen on TV. It’s still just a bunch of college kids, not professionals, playing football. But there is a certain sense of pride and loyalty that comes with rooting for your school’s team as opposed to a professional team of people that just happen to be playing near where you live. After every touchdown or big play, players point to the student section and encourage them to make noise and cheer. We’re all in it together. These players weren’t drafted, or didn’t follow whichever place offered them the most money or best contract. They chose this school just like we did. They don’t live in mansions and have millions of dollars to blow; they’re still college students. They live in student housing. They eat in dining halls. They take and suffer through classes.
I’ve loved the Patriots and the NFL for as long as I can remember, but I’m sorry — Tom Brady and I have nothing in common and I really only root for him because he plays for my team. In college, however, there’s a much more personal connection to your school’s sports teams because you have a shared experience with them by going to the same school. We root for our players and our teams not just because they play for a team we like but because they’re one of us. In our case they’re all Yellow Jackets and we root for them on and off the field. So every touchdown and every big play that the Jackets make sparks a huge reaction from the fans. The band plays energetically. The players jump and cheer. Everyone in the Georgia Tech family celebrates.
Although I bet that every college that has a football team probably has a vibrant game day atmosphere, I feel that if you have the chance to, you should experience what it feels like at a southern D1 school. Coming from Newton, Massachusetts, just outside Boston, I had gone to a few local college football games before and can confidently say they just didn’t compare. I’m not saying that college football is better than the NFL, but the experience and feeling of rooting for your own school’s team on gameday is hard to match.