Gil LeBreton

As Clemson-Alabama showed, college football simply a better game than stuffy NFL

Clemson players celebrate after the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Alabama on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. Clemson won 35-31.
Clemson players celebrate after the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Alabama on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. Clemson won 35-31. AP

Even a cursory search of the internet will produce an abundance of articles enumerating the ways in which college football is perceived to be a superior entertainment product to the NFL.

“Ten reasons why college football is better than the NFL.” (as Ben Koo convincingly wrote in The Comeback)

“Twenty reasons why college football is better than the NFL.” (USA Today)

Or, exponentially convincing, “100 reasons why college football is better than the NFL.” (Bleacher Report)

With a mighty roar, Clemson and Alabama added to the list Monday night.

A Goliath was toppled with one second to play. The winning coach, in a Darth Vader-like sidebar, was a product of the university that his team defeated. The other coach, who everyone said is the greatest college football coach of all time, made an arrogant blunder (firing the offensive coordinator) and proceeded to be outcoached.

At the end of the long night, Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers had defeated the Nick Saban-ruled Alabama Crimson Tide 35-31, and few seemed to care that it was nearly half-past midnight on the East Coast.

Don’t misunderstand. The Super Bowl is still the kingpin of American sporting events. A Cowboys-Patriots Super Bowl in three weeks could well become the most-watched TV event of all time.

The weekly products, however, bear no comparison.

NFL stadiums tend to be downtown venues, flanked by $60 parking.

College stadiums, on the other hand, regularly become the epicenters of their states on Saturdays, swelling the populations of State College, Pa., Clemson, S.C., and Tuscaloosa, Ala., to more than 100,000.

The college football landscape is lined with traditions — the Aggies’ Midnight Yell Practice, tailgating at the Ole Miss Grove and the band writing the script Ohio at Ohio State. Clemson’s contribution is the Tigers’ dramatic entrance, touching Howard’s Rock before they charge down the east end-zone hill.

In the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys enter the field after a carpeted walk through the Miller Lite Bar.

Our ancestors and border neighbors don’t get it, frankly. They don’t understand our obsession with college sports, particularly football. Why, they wonder, would 100,000 gather on Saturdays to see football played by 18-to-22-year-olds when paid professionals play the sport better on Sundays?

They don’t understand the rivalries — why one school sings about its hated in-state rival in its fight song, and why some states’ highest-paid government employee is the university’s football coach.

Part of the reason is that college football’s weekly tapestry taps into emotions that just don’t exist in the pro game. NFL fans are inherently provincial, dwelling upon only their favorite team, deviating only to notice how their fantasy team players performed.

But college fans in Clemson follow what’s happening in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Eugene, Ore., because the outcome often matters.

As Monday night reminded, the game, too, has marked differences. College football is as diverse as the men who coach it, running the Read Option, the Pistol, the Power-I and the Spread.

The NFL, meanwhile, is a We-Take-What-They-Give-Us endeavor. Everybody runs the West Coast offense, zone blocks and the Tampa 2.

College football today is defined by the mobile quarterback. In the NFL, quarterbacks are discouraged from running for fear of getting hurt.

College overtime versus NFL overtime? That’s no contest. If Clemson had opted for the safe, tying field goal Monday, the overtime might have become the stuff of legend.

The NFL’s spokesmen, official and unofficial, are Roger Goodell, Jerry Jones and Bill Belichick. In college football, it’s Lee Corso with a mascot’s headpiece on his head.

A college football bestseller a few years ago by Paul Finebaum was titled My Conference Can Beat Your Conference. Nobody who follows the college game had to ask what it meant.

Sure, the NFL owns Sundays. They stole the day from the churches.

But college football is better because it’s played on Saturdays. It uses Sundays to sleep.

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