What is it about the start of a new college football season that is so unique?
Utah State ushered in its 2022 season last Saturday in Logan, while BYU and Utah kick off their campaigns Saturday in the Sunshine State.
It’s time! The week that felt like it was never going to get here — the first full week of college football action — is finally here. Thankfully, what went around came around and the hope that springs eternal each September is springing again.
During my youth, our mother would flip on the bedroom light each Saturday morning during the season declaring, “Rise and shine! The Cougars are taping their ankles!” That was the clarion call to climb out of bed, mow the lawn and get the chores done before heading to the stadium for those underappreciated 1:30 p.m. kickoffs.
Sun, rain, sleet or snow — we never missed a game. It didn’t hurt that our father, Dale McCann, was the executive director of the Cougar Club and was required to be there early to oversee pregame festivities.
Dad’s access made us feel like the stadium was an extension of our house. It may also explain why our family vacations just happened to be in areas where BYU was playing a football game. Coincidence? We didn’t care. It was football season.
There is a uniqueness to college football that is exclusive to itself. The game stirs feelings inside us that other sports try to mimic, but just can’t deliver. It rekindles our loyalty to the communities we grew up in, the schools we attended and the memories that happened while we were there. It also gives us something to defend no matter where we go.
KSL-TV news anchor Deanie Wimmer and I have been friends for years, but after I was hired in 2012 along with BYU alum Mike Headrick to team up with her on the evening news, we wasted little time putting our stakes into the ground.
After finding a perfect location on the wall for all the newsroom to see, and with a short ceremony, the two of us unfurled a banner that declared “House Divided!” At that moment, we began in earnest to take back whatever ground had been lost due to years of excessive hiring of Utah fans.
The landscape was challenging, but we were determined. This was our “Game of Thrones” — minus the content that relegates the series to HBO. The quest took some time, with more lows than highs, especially during Utah’s nine-game winning streak where Headrick and I had to frequently sing “Utah Man” on the steps of the state Capitol.
This was no environment for the casual BYU fan and many became lost in their own despair — some even defected to the other side. Despite the in-house onslaught of Ute propaganda, Mike and I never wavered. We retaliated with arrows of sarcasm, stubbornness and occasional reminders of BYU’s national championship, Heisman Trophy and the dominating 19-2 record against Utah between 1972-1992 under LaVell Edwards.
Those verbal efforts, true as they are, were in vain. All that matters in sports is what just happened or what is happening right now. No matter how hard we try, the pain of a defeat is not softened by past glory, which is why every Saturday in the fall means so much.
Finally, after last season’s convincing 26-17 Cougars victory against Utah in Provo, Deanie and her Ute colleagues relinquished their claim to the newsroom, and it will remain firmly in BYU hands until at least 2024 when the rivals meet again.
This is what college football does. It creates drama to defeat the doldrums. It spins the fabric that keeps rivalries alive. It’s also short-lived, which may fuel its romance more than anything else.
We wait for 39 weeks to get to the 13. It takes forever to get here and then it’s gone in a flash. This is what college football holds over the other sports. Every game is a memory maker because there are so few of them.
I hold that same fascination about Halloween. It’s the one day of the year when you knock on a stranger’s door and they give you a piece of candy. It’s fantastic and it stands alone because it happens so infrequently.
BYU opens the regular season at South Florida on Saturday and wraps it up three months later at Stanford on Nov. 28. It’s short enough to hold our passion compared to the eternity that separates the Jazz season opener in October from the NBA Finals the next June.
There is an innocence to the college game as well, at least for now. When a professional in the NFL makes a dramatic catch it’s because he’s supposed to. He is paid to do that. However, when an 18-year-old freshman, scared out of his mind, pulls in his first touchdown pass since high school, it is reason for true celebration!
While the business behind the college game threatens to change its future with realignment and revenue streams, none of that matters this week or this season. No. 14 USC and UCLA are still in the Pac-12 with the No. 7 Utes. No. 9 Oklahoma and Texas are still in the Big 12 and No. 25 BYU remains an independent for one last hurrah — against a schedule that rivals any in school history.
The essence is still pure. The game, the colors, the bands, the Cougartails, the family togetherness time, the camaraderie, the temporary escape from our real problems, the fireworks, the flyovers, the magic — it’s all as vibrant as ever.
Welcome back, old friend. We have missed you. College football is back. My mother said it best, “Rise and shine! The Cougars are taping their ankles!”
Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host of “After Further Review,” “Countdown to Kickoff,” “The PostGame Show,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com.