ATLANTA — The first two creatures of autumn were spotted Friday morning at a breakfast table near 15th and L streets NW in Washington. Somebody somewhere had stamped their clothes with an orange rendition of a longhorn steer, and their matching orange steer clothing appliqués told of the September reality that Longhorns will go streaming into Maryland on Saturday. These two homo sapiens behaved as do most in 2018: They read their phones.
The next creature came down the aisle at Reagan National Airport hours later, and he wore a T-shirt telling of an animal unknown to biologists yet known to roam Alabama plains (or Plains). “WAR EAGLE,” it read in orange, so that if you were barely knowledgeable enough, you could know without asking him that he probably hopped this jet for the marquee Auburn-Washington matchup Saturday in Atlanta. His “WAR EAGLE” shirt might have seemed eccentric among human fashions and behaviors yet differed from the even more eccentric “WAR DAMN EAGLE.”
A few boarders behind him came another creature of the season, wearing a purple cap with a white husky on it, so that if you were barely knowledgeable enough you could know without asking that he probably will spend Saturday afternoon in the spaceship Mercedes-Benz Stadium at the Auburn-Washington game, where he probably will join his tribe in impersonations of dog barks.
Roaming college football remains arguably the best way to roam and understand the United States, that aberrant screwball of a land. Through college football, you can see so many of America’s customs, variations, excesses and dietary atrocities.
If the United States can be said to be troubled at a certain moment in history, then it can fit that college football is troubled simultaneously, and that has blared true lately. The season begins with Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer sitting at home perhaps with a clicker and a frown, absent from the Buckeyes’ game against Oregon State because of a three-game suspension, and it begins with a thought that all should remember, early and often, about 19-year-old Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair, who died in June.
As awful August gasps away its last minutes, the games flood in to make it disappear even if it won’t and shouldn’t. Starting Saturday, the country will be deluged with all the usual oddities that rank this among the oddest endeavors in the 200,000 years of humanity.
On Saturday, there will be a stadium in Clemson, S.C., where the fans storm the field after every single game because Americans are constantly reminded that life is short and you should maximize field stormings. On Sept. 8, UCLA will send its newly hired offensive lab technician to Oklahoma so that two offenses can aim to show again how the culture — and the playbook — flourished with artfulness in the 21st century, largely because of UCLA’s new lab geek.
On Sept. 29, more than 100,000 fans will wear white in State College, Pa., and while that’s a plenty strange anthropological twist, Penn State and Ohio State will play as reminders that this weird business of having students play American football before six-figure audiences comes with steep complications.
More innocuously, we lucky sorts who have frequented the city of Miami will know it’s always possible to spot garish jewelry there, and the Miami Hurricanes will persist in their fresh tradition of garish jewelry that signifies turnovers forced. Encouraging innovation will continue to sprout; near the stadium at Wisconsin, a fraternity house boasts an astonishing two-floor beer bong, an improvement over bygone days when boring beer bongs ran closer to the ground.
Arizona long has been more open-minded than some places, so it will reflect that with a coach (Herman Edwards) returning to the college game (Arizona State) somehow for the first time since he coached defensive backs at San Jose State in 1989. Seattle, home of those Washington Huskies, will reflect for us the age-old churn of greed and contempt — as when people with boat spots in the Lake Washington tailgate system occasionally covet the superior boat spots of others.
When you’re coveting others’ tailgate boat spots in a gorgeous setting, you’re by definition unhappy.
In the 50 states that feel like 50 nations, we’re about to witness months of Louisianians seething over Alabamian excellence, Mississippians seething over Alabamian excellence, Georgians and Tennesseans and Floridians seething over Alabamian excellence, and then, near the end in late November, the War Damn Eagles seething over Alabamian excellence. Sometime in there, Alabama Coach Nick Saban might name a quarterback, or he might not, all of which will remind us that traditions linger here.
Meanwhile, Michigan fans may or may not end up reminding us how Americans love to debate the worthiness of a coach who is better than any other coach available, while Ohio State fans will start off without their coach because he went heart-over-head for years before jettisoning the assistant who coached wide receivers, even when, for the last big chunk of that tenure, the Buckeyes-minded have deemed the wide receiving department a weak link that wound up hindering the running game and all else.
It shows, as college football does better than just about anything, that nothing really makes all that much sense.