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COLLEGE VS. PRO FOOTBALL // MY GAME'S BETTER THAN YOUR GAME

You went to Florida State (or Florida). One or both of your parents went to Florida State (or Florida). Your children, if you have anything to say about it, will attend Florida State (or Florida). And from the first week in September to the first day in January _ and, for that matter, the rest of the year _ you hate Florida (or Florida State).

You just gave your best friend's brand-new baby a "Class of 2016" bib in garnet and gold (or orange and blue). You bought a Ford Taurus because Bobby Bowden told you to (or drive a Dodge Stratus because that's Steve Spurrier's kind of car).

Admit it: You've never, ever felt this passionate about pro football. If you're a Cowboys fan and your kid ends up rooting for the 49ers, do you feel betrayed? Of course not.

But if your favorite color is crimson and your kid is partial to, say, auburn, you're probably asking yourself where you went wrong.

Let your beloved Seminoles lose to Maryland (or your Gators fall to _ heaven forbid _ Vanderbilt) and you're devastated. Your season is over. Nothing means anything to you. Your taste buds die. Is that indigestion coming on, or a heart attack?

One loss and a national championship is out the window (psychologically, so are you) and a national championship is everything. Finish second in the polls and you might as well have finished second in a presidential election (see Thomas E. Dewey, 1948).

Every game is the most important game of your season, even the one where your team is such a favorite that it's off the betting line.

Even winning can hurt. Do it, but play only so-so (see Nov. 5, 1994: Penn State 35, Indiana 29), and it can kill you two months later (see Jan. 3, 1995: 1. Nebraska; 2. Penn State).

Lose six games in the NFL, maybe seven, and you're still pretty solid for the playoffs. Please.

Renegade and Ralphie III

Tradition? With expansion and realignment, NFL rivalries change. But Auburn will always hate Alabama. Michigan will always hate Ohio State. Almost everybody will always hate Notre Dame.

Put the Wolverines and Buckeyes on the same field, each with a 4-7 record, and you still have a blood feud. Put the Eagles and Cowboys on the same field and, as ESPN football analyst Beano Cook said about any Monday night NFL game: "Take away the betting and Casablanca gets more viewers."

Tradition? Get a rush at Ohio Stadium as a tuba player dots the i on the Buckeye band's script Ohio; as the Sooner Schooner careens around the field in Norman; as Renegade gallops to midfield and Chief Osceola thrusts a flaming spear into the Doak Campbell Stadium turf; as Ralphie III charges onto Folsom Field ahead of the rest of the Colorado Buffaloes; as the Twelfth Man at Texas A&M, the entire student body, stands at the ready at Kyle Field should the Aggies need them.

Tradition? How many years have Army's cadets been trying to get Navy's goat? How often have the midshipmen managed to swipe Army's mule? How many college football fields, statues and mascots are zealously guarded by students lying in wait for enemies with spray paint?

History? Attend a Colts-Giants game and try to envision Alan Ameche busting through from the 1. You can't because they weren't the Indianapolis Colts and the New York Giants didn't play in New Jersey! And speaking of the Colts _ and the Cleveland-Los Angeles-St. Louis Rams, and the Chicago-St. Louis-Arizona Cardinals _ when's the last time Northwestern moved to the Southeast to get a better deal?

Every game

a morality play

Talk to a college player. Every game is a morality play, every yard gained against him an insult. He isn't defending his goal line; he's defending his heritage. On offense, you will see diversity _ the pro set, the wishbone, the veer. Everything but the single wing. And the enthusiasm you see on the field will be genuine.

Look on the sidelines. Who do you see?

Joe Paterno. Eddie Robinson. Lou Holtz. Bobby Bowden. Tom Osborne. Collegiate legends. Gentlemen of personality, held up as examples for our children to follow. Movies get made about college coaches (Knute Rockne, Bear Bryant), and about the game. Knute Rockne, All-American. Rudy. Everybody's All-American. The Program. White Tiger. Horse Feathers.

What coaching legends has the NFL got besides Don Shula? Dave Wannstedt? Norv Turner? Jeff Fisher? Bill Cowher? June Jones? Who are these guys? Clones. Suits with headsets.

Oh, you want a gentleman of personality?

Buddy Ryan. Yeah, right.

Now a word

from our sponsor

What do you get at a college game? Great bands, and drum majors and majorettes, and color guards and card sections. Pageantry and passion.

And if you've ever been to Stanford, you've seen the funkiest band in the game. It routinely makes political (and not always politically correct) statements. The bandleader once welcomed the New Year at a Rose Bowl game wearing only a diaper.

And if you ever go to a Grambling game, you're almost sorry when it's time for the start of the second half. Listening to and watching these musical gymnasts is unforgettable.

What do you get at an NFL game?

Commercials.

Awards? Do you remember last year's Most Valuable Player in the NFL? Is it something you chew over every week for most of the season like the chase for the Heisman Trophy? The competition for college football's most prestigious award has a nation arguing for months, before and after it is presented.

Do you like to tailgate? It sure can be fun in a parking lot in Foxboro, Pontiac or Irving two or three hours before kickoff _ but have you been to Tuscaloosa, to Clemson, to Lubbock? That's where they park the van, break out the spirits and fire up the barbecue two or three days before kickoff.

Can you remember the greatest NFL game you ever attended? Do you have one? Does it matter? Was your honor riding on the game? Did grown men and women (besides those to whom the point spread meant everything) cry in joy or pain?

Of course not. It only happens in college.

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