This is the 150th year of college football, which is kind of ironic since my most vivid earliest memories of the game surround its 100th anniversary.
That year, Texas won the National Championship during a season in which its most epic game was a 15-14 come-from-behind win at Arkansas with President Richard Nixon in attendance. Note the “100” logo over the Longhorn in this Sports Illustrated cover — most schools had those on their helmets that year (though, apparently, not Arkansas).
I spent those early years of football fandom following the late, great Southwest Conference, which featured eight major schools from Texas plus Arkansas. And following football in that way taught me some things I would not have learned otherwise. Such as …
How to count by sevens. Huh? One touchdown (with PAT) = 7, two = 14, and so on. My skill runs out at anything over 56, as teams rarely score higher than that anyway.
Texas Geography. “Dad, where is Texas Tech?” “Lubbock.” “Where is that?” “By the panhandle.” “Where is that?” “Go play in the street, will ya?” Not quite that way, but by following the teams I learned just how to find places like Waco, College Station, and even Fort Worth.
The difference between public universities and private ones. Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and Arkansas were all publicly funded, high enrollment, major universities. For the most part, we hated them (though with some love for Tech because they had a cool logo and were usually the underdogs to the other two). SMU, TCU, Rice, and Baylor were all private schools with smaller enrollment and, presumably, higher admission standards. Because of my dad’s job on the SMU faculty, we supported the privates over the publics and the Mustangs over all.
Clock management. Want to see a coach get fired? Then watch him blow a two minute drive with poor play calling and worse clock management. How does this help me today? Well, I know when it is 9:25, 10:55, or 12:25. Usually.
Better ideas sometimes beat better players. On a recent ESPN docudrama about college football’s first 150 years, the narrator suggested that innovative offenses such as the Wishbone or the Run & Shoot developed because of a talent imbalance between places like, say, Ohio State and Northwestern (there’s that public vs. private again!). The only way the underdogs could compete? With innovation. Because on occasion better ideas can beat better players.