Fried chicken on a quilt and bourbon in a fruit jar. Bonfires piled as high as cranes can lift the debris. Girls on parade. As the leaves turn and fall, so do the aspirations of a team and a territory. And as the scent of pregame charcoal cooking rises over the old quadrangle, so does the spirit of an upset. The messages painted on signs hanging from the dormitories are clear: win or die; we're number one and three-fourths; the Heisman Trophy limps. As college football once more prepares to reach out for the simplicities of the soul, it may be worth considering that this game—the Saturday game—will always be the thing to keep the world from ever getting too sophisticated. And perhaps there's nothing wrong with that.
Last autumn Artist Ken Dallison visited campuses across the country in an effort to capture the special madness of a college fool ball weekend. One of his stops was in Norman, where he was on hand for that very biggest of big games, undefeated Oklahoma against undefeated Nebraska—the Battle for No. 1 (opposite). The results of Dallison's travels can be seen on the next eight pages. Then Dan Jenkins, who has covered the sport for half his life, explains what college football means to him and why the game is as necessary as blood to his well-being.
...AT NORMAN AND COLUMBUS,
SOUTH BEND AND BATON ROUGE,
AT PALO ALTO,
BOULDER AND ITHACA
...IS ONE LONG NEW YEAR'S EVE
In this time and age, it is all too easy to say that college football is so much wasted energy. That surely there are larger problems afoot than the solution to the Wishbone T. That if the enthusiasm of a thousand baton twirlers could be put into the poverty program, or against the evil of drugs, the planet would be a better place. And that neither the pregame brunch nor the postgame chug-a-lug makes any contribution to a lasting peace.
Happily, however, college football endures. For three months in autumn, at least, the mind can turn to the giddy pursuits of a special rivalry, a conference championship, a thirst for some monumental pride in geography. What one sees and hears is what there is. The scoreboard has very few hidden meanings, and only a scant number of the passes that are dropped will become a part of the lingering nostalgia.
The fans of college football form a happy cult, a society of millions who find their pace quickened and their minds more alert in the fall. For most, even the outrageous arguments over zones and triple options, over polls and bowls, over Bear Bryants and Darrell Royals are sheer fun.