Sunday, September 14, 2008

Autumn's Gladiators: A Tribute to College Football, by Ken Mannie

Ken is the Head Strength/Conditioning Coach
Michigan State University

Autumn in America ushers-in a special, revered tradition that we hold close to our hearts like a treasured family heirloom.
When it's autumn in America, it's time for college football.

All across the land, in big cities and small towns, in stadiums that seat over one hundred thousand and those that seat but a few thousand -- the sights, sounds, and colors of the great game are all around us. The warm, salty breezes in the east and west are scented with the spices of barbequing from tailgaters who surround the perimeters of the stadiums as if to put them under siege.

In the south, anxious crowds are making the treks toward feared and hollowed grounds with well-earned, intimidating monikers such as "The Swamp" and "Death Valley."

The trees in the north and mid-west are splashed with a kaleidoscope of brilliant hues that are rivaled only by the glistening helmets and the bright contrasts of the players' uniforms.

In East Lansing, the striking statue of "Sparty" maintains his stern, protective watch over the Michigan State campus and the green and white splendor of Spartan Stadium.

In South Bend, the Golden Dome deflects its shimmering rays and gridiron legacy down to a field once trudged on by the likes by Rockne, Leahy, and The Four Horsemen.

Ohio Stadium in Columbus emanates from the ground and into the clouds with a proud history and modern expansion melded with expert care into its great walls.

In Ann Arbor, the "Big House" is filling-up with the fans of the maize and blue who -- like all of their conference counterparts -- are brimming with lofty Big Ten expectations.

The Trojans of USC will soon storm the Coliseum, hardened with the battle scars of two consecutive national championships and just missing out on a third.

The U. of Toledo Rockets will be exploding through the wooden gates of The Glass Bowl Stadium, a grand old building constructed in 1936 through President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration (WPA) to defend their well-protected home and perennial prowess in the Mid-American Conference.

And in Alliance, Ohio, there is Mount Union Stadium, which seats just over five thousand. However, the enthusiasm of the fans, the Purple Raiders' championship demeanor, and the hardware in their trophy case take a second seat to no one. College football stadiums of all sizes are speckled across the country.

Some are near high-profile cities with the traffic congestion and all of the craziness that goes along with that setting.
Others are the centerpieces of small campuses in quaint little towns whose residents lock the shop doors, pack a picnic basket, and stroll a couple of blocks to watch the game from a grassy hillside.

It doesn't matter if the universities and colleges are members of the NCAA or the NAIA. Nor does it matter if their classification is Division 1-A, 1-AA, II, or III. Whether the players are on full athletic scholarship, receive academic-based financial assistance, or pay for school completely on their own is insignificant.

Their common thread is the game. That's what really matters. Together, they practice and play it with heart and determination to the very best of their abilities. And what a grand game it is!

Yes, autumn is here, wearing its spectrum of colors on its sleeve and shouting out the promise of many exciting Saturday afternoons on the sun-baked college football fields of America. It's time for college football. Let the great American game begin!
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