“50! 40! 35! 30! 25! HE! COULD! GO! ALL! THE! WAY!”
There are few things more gratifying to me than seeing my team get a breakaway score during a football game. For those of us who grew up watching college football in the U.S., there is no other sport like it. Even the NFL doesn’t stack up.
Some of my earliest memories involve sitting on the couch with my dad, eating potato chips and yelling at the games on TV. Football-watching is an active experience that lacks all of the politeness of other sports (except, perhaps, for the original brand of football played in the rest of the world). Yes, I’ll be that person shouting in a bar when my team gets a pick-six or recovers a fumble. At least I’m passionate, yeah?
For the last four years, I’ve settled for watching my college football team – the Nebraska Cornhuskers – from rival stadiums or in bars in D.C. But this year, an opportunity presented itself: My beloved Cornhuskers were hosting the Maryland Terrapins, a school that many of my friends in D.C. had attended. Hello weekend getaway!
A Wee Bit of Context
Nebraska is known for having one of the most exciting and enjoyable game-day experiences of any school in the country. For my readers outside of the U.S., or those who aren’t familiar with Nebraska, just imagine a place that’s somewhat isolated in the middle of a vast country with no professional sports teams within a three-hour driving radius, but with one big, sought-after university boasting top-tier sports teams. It’s a recipe for a rabid fan base – one that literally shapes the identity of the entire state. (Nebraska’s official nickname is “The Cornhusker State,” after all.)
Pile on top of that five NCAA championships (the top prize for the best team in the country every year), a stadium sell-out streak dating back to 1962, and fans that are exceedingly nice to opposing fans, and you have the makings of an elite and storied football program. Nebraska is undeniably one of the most valuable and respected teams and fan bases in college football.
Oh, and Warren Buffett is a fan and a resident. With his track record, if he puts his loyalty behind a team, I’m all in!
All of that to say: if you have any desire to attend a college football game in the U.S., this is the place you want to visit. (Sorry, fans from other big football schools – my blog, my recommendation!)
Okay, enough tooting Nebraska’s horn. Let me explain why watching college football is such a great experience.
Every school will have a marching band that performs before and after games. Each school has their own traditions with these performances, and they all tend to be pretty cool (especially this one). Band members put in as much time as athletes that train for games, so events like these are the band’s equivalent of prime time.
In addition to the bands, each school has their own game-day traditions. At Nebraska, it’s the Tunnel Walk to cheer on the players as they take the field, the balloons that are released after the first touchdown, the shoes that are held up during each kickoff, and the arm-waving to the school fight song after every score.
Tailgating is a pre- and post-game ritual at nearly every school, where friends and family picnic out of the back of their cars and pump each other up for the game. Nebraska’s friendly fans invited my friends into a tailgate to share homemade chili, beer and shots. Nothing like home team hospitality!
Though the atmosphere, marketing, and revenues are professional on all levels, college athletes are technically amateurs and are not paid. (Athletes receive scholarships and other perks in exchange for their time and participation, though there is no shortage of debate about whether this “compensation” is actually fair given the billions of dollars in revenue generated each year from ticket sales, sponsorships and media contracts.) With amateur status comes inexperience, and with inexperience comes unpredictability. Any team can win on any given weekend, which is part of what makes following college football so much fun. On the flip side, there is nothing more gut-wrenching than to see your team lose to an inferior opponent. Nebraska has a penchant for that.
The Personal Stake
You know the feeling: When seeing your team blow it at the last second of a game actually feels like getting punched in the gut. In college sports, generally speaking, there is a much stronger feeling of a team being my team than in the professional leagues. It probably has something to do with the fact that athletic programs are directly tied to the academic institution. “I spent four years of my life at this school, therefore the athletic program represents me.” Few people are going to attend Nebraska if they are Oklahoma fans, for instance. You go where your fandom lies, or your fandom grows out of the school you attend.
There’s nothing like sharing a passion with 90,000 people, and getting to celebrate that passion together at the same time and in the same place every week. For me, I had the opportunity to give my friends a glimpse at my college life when they traveled out to watch our teams play each other.
What to Know If You Go to a Game
- Plan your ticket purchase in advance. Facebook forums and Google searches can be helpful to navigate exactly how to snag football tickets. It’s easier at some universities than others. At Nebraska, a Facebook group called Husker Ticket Exchange is the go-to place for buying and selling game tickets, often at or below face value.
- Plan to tailgate. Whether it’s in a parking lot with a group of people, or at a bar or restaurant, tailgating is one of the signature parts of a football game day. Food and drink options are often local, which makes the experience all the better.
- Arrive to your seats at least 15 minutes before game time (I always shoot for 30). That way you can catch all the pregame traditions and player intros. It’s a great way to get pumped up for the game!
- Expect to stand. All college stadiums differ, but if the game is close, expect that you’ll be standing for extended periods of time.
- Save room for stadium food. Most stadiums will have local handheld food items for purchase. Memorial Stadium (where Nebraska plays) has Runza sandwiches and Valentino’s pizza from popular local restaurants.
- Don’t expect to be able to imbibe at the game. While all stadiums sell refreshments, only some have alcoholic beverages for sale. This is due to the differing laws governing alcohol possession while on a college campus. Nebraska is a dry campus, meaning no alcohol is allowed, therefore the stadium is free of booze.
- Have fun! Allow yourself to get lost in the atmosphere of the game. People are passionate and loud, and that makes it all the more enjoyable.
Have you been to a U.S. college football game, or would you ever plan to? Let me know in the comments!