Still a grand game

Is it too early to turn on College GameDay yet? 

My reaction to preseason NFL games, and the upcoming year they portend ... yawn. 

My reaction to Thursday's impending South Carolina-North Carolina showdown ... do I really have to do any work that day? Can't I just sit in front of the TV from the time I wake up until the time Jadeveon Clowney sends Tar Heels quarterback Bryn Renner's helmet into orbit around Jupiter?

There are many, many problems with the NCAA and its treatment of its cash cow college football players. The class action lawsuit currently picking its way through the courts is complicated and complex, but I hope it keeps going until the players whose faces sell video games and season ticket packages get their day in court.  

That said, I still love college football. 

That love has survived in a way that my NFL fervor has not. Some deep passion for the pro game died when Junior Seau put a gun to his chest. While I know the college game is far from pure, and is in fact a continuation of the culture and the violence that may lead to the holes in heroes' brains, I can't turn it off. Not yet.

Maybe it's the mascots, real or on Lee Corso's head. Maybe it's the marching bands and the pomp and circumstance and the cheerleaders trying to do high enough stunts to be seen behind Herbstreit's head.  

Maybe it's the fact that these are the people I covered the longest, these man-children who unleash hits with aftershocks comparable to car crashes and then call me ma'am. Maybe it's because the college football field is where the soft-spoken, classic pianist running back does all of his talking, in words as eloquent as the notes he calls forth from the keyboard in his dorm room while a photographer rolls video.  

Maybe it's because the college football field is where the hulking defensive end, sure to hear his name called in the first round, gingerly offers his elbow to his mama, who worked two jobs as a single mother so he could have fashionable clothes on his back - and then dissolves into sobs. Maybe it's because it's where the punter, friend and colleague slipped in the wet grass and, as an onrushing defender crashed into his knee, emitted a scream I can still hear. 

Maybe it's where the emotions are still a little raw, a little more real.  

The college football field is where I've spent just about every Saturday of my working life, and it's a place I can't bring myself to leave, not just yet.  

Maybe the NCAA will show a sliver of humanity. Maybe some big-time football factories really do have the best interests of the 'student-athletes' at heart. Maybe ESPN and its interminable four-hour games and "Tuesday Night Showcases" won't strip away the last strands of intrinsic, authentic joy.  

Maybe I'll keep believing, at least for another season, that the game is bigger, better, than all of that.

And maybe my Gamecocks will take home a historic SEC title. 

See. I believe.