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Jay Paterno: College Football Is … The USC Song Girls, Ralphie, The Game

by on October 20, 2011 7:10 AM

In 1966, following a 51-0 loss to Notre Dame, USC coach John McKay said, “I told my team it doesn’t matter. There are 750 million people in China who don’t even know this game was played.”

Not much has changed since then – except there are now over a billion people in China who don’t know about college football.

Still, college football is more popular than ever here in the United States. The growth of the game and its traditions in each region and on each campus help draw us back each year.

College football is passionate, emotional and draws us together, while also dividing us by team allegiances.

I’ll always be a Penn Stater, just as a friend from Ohio State will always be a Buckeye. Win or lose we root for our team, and the show goes on each week, each fall. From its roots in Ivy League institutions, the college football show has been evolving for decades. 


In 1927, Princeton’s F Scott Fitzgerald wrote this about college football:

“For at Princeton, as at Yale, football became, back in the nineties, a sort of symbol. Symbol of what? Of the eternal violence of American life? Of the eternal immaturity of the race? The failure of a culture within the walls? Who knows? It became something at first satisfactory, then essential and beautiful. It became the most intense and dramatic spectacle since the Olympic games.”

A trip to a game isn’t just about what happens between the lines for 60 minutes on Saturday. It is so much more, the spectacle and the drama. It binds alums to each other, fathers to sons, grandfathers to grandsons and even mothers to daughters.

Over the decades, college football games and the traditions of game day have fueled the interest and passion of fans everywhere. The college football spectacle is music and food, wacky fan behavior and rivalries.


College football is…

Wisconsin’s fifth quarter, a stadium celebrating a great band win or lose.

The showmanship and drumlines of the bands from Grambling and Southern and Florida A&M.

The repetitive and often annoying songs, like the war chant of Florida State, or USC’s Tribute To Troy played by USC’s band, or Michigan’s “The Victors.”

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Rocky Top, Fight On and The Eyes of Texas.

The World’s Biggest Drum -- which is either at Purdue or at Texas.

The USC Song Girls.

Penn State students camping out at Paternoville.

A student section wearing all white, or all red, or all maize, or all green.

Toilet papering the trees in Toomer’s Corner at Auburn.

Face paint, body paint and shirtless students on a freezing cold afternoon.

Tailgating in The Grove at Ole Miss.

Tailgating on boats on Lake Washington next to Husky Stadium or with the Volunteer Navy in Tennessee.

Ribs at Dreamland in Tuscaloosa.

Saturday night on the Bayou.

The Script Ohio.

Howard’s Rock in Clemson.

Ralphie The Buffalo thundering down the Colorado sideline.

Nebraska fans applauding the visiting team.

Sooner Schooner, the Ramblin’ Wreck and Chief Osceola’s Horse making their grand entrances.

We Are, Roll Tide, War Eagle, Hook ’em Horns, Gig ’em, Bear Down, Go Gators and Go Irish.

The Red River War at the Texas State Fair.

Ohio State-Michigan, Williams-Amherst and Lehigh-Lafayette.

The Iron Bowl, The Civil War, The Apple Cup and The Bayou Classic.

The Game.

Big Ten Trophy games for Floyd of Rosedale, Paul Bunyan, the Little Brown Jug, the Brass Spittoon and The Old Oaken Bucket.

Army-Navy and not a dry eye in the house when they play the National Anthem.


When this regular season ends with Army-Navy, it is the ultimate reminder. No matter how passionate we are about our team and our school. No matter how much of our heart and soul we pour into it, college football is a game. It is not life or death, it is not determining the fate of a nation or a society or the world.

So much has been written this offseason about what is wrong with college football that now with the games underway it is a reminder that the sport will go on. It will survive and thrive despite the actions of a few people at a few schools.

Army-Navy is the final reminder of the regular season that these are young men, strong in mind body and spirit playing a tough physical game while also going to college. They are 18 to 22, and they have their whole lives ahead of them. No matter what they do in life or how long they play, on that Saturday they strive to cast an indelible image of on-field valor as a player and as a team.

That has driven this game since that first afternoon in 1869 and through almost a century and a half of changes as a nation, in our institutions of higher learning and in our sport.

College football became and remains as Fitzgerald wrote, “Essential and beautiful."

State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at
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