Professional is not Always the Best.

18 09 2010

None of these athletes are paid....yet

The man with the cowbell has been silent for some time. Slumped against the bar, he has watched in disbelief as the team he follows with slavish devotion has failed to deliver the goods.

This all changes in the space of 45 seconds.

From trailing by 17 points to 10 with a minute left on the clock, 2 quick-fire touchdowns have changed the scoreline and the bar has erupted in a frenzy of excitement and cowbell.

OK, the minute actually took about 7 real minutes to play, it’s only the end of the first half (which in American Football can take some time), it’s college football as opposed to Professional but these fans don’t care.

The chant of “Go Blue” rings out and this bar in Massachusetts reverberates with the sound of happy football fans.

Michigan vs UMass on a Saturday morning in Boston. The entire bar, with the exception of one brave soul in a claret shirt, is rooting for Michigan.

Let me just repeat that. We are in Boston. Boston, Massachusetts.

I am surrounded by blue shirts and overwhelmed by Michigan supporters. Every Saturday, the non-professional circus that makes up college football in the USA takes center stage and the students/alumni/parents of alumni/friends of alumni watch their de-facto alma mater do battle on the football field.

She was unaware of the cowbell

Live on TV and with the sort of enthusiastic fervor those normally only paid athletes are privileged to encounter.

College sports in the USA still remains a mystery to me, mainly because in the UK the only universities worth mentioning are Oxford and Cambridge and they compete in the Boat Race once a year.

Apart from that, all our heroes are professional – or play games that don’t attract huge amounts of Rupert Murdoch’s money.

But in the USA, college sports such as football, basketball, ice hockey and lacrosse are almost on a par with their professional counterparts.

The stadium in Michigan that UMass have travelled to holds 112,000 people. Bigger than Old Trafford, the Emirates and Lords Cricket Ground. Larger than Wembley, more fans then saw the World Cup Final Live, or even the opening event of the Beijing Olympics.

And most college teams have a ground that fits at least 65,000 fans. Watching students play sport for the pure joy of competition – and the possibility of a professional contract when the draft comes.

A friend of mine claimed that it is no different to supporting the same soccer/football team all of your life, no different to cheering for Manchester United when you don’t live in Manchester. People go to college in the USA, root for the team and then, when they leave (irrespective of where they decide to live), are passionate about the place where they spent some of the happiest years of their life.

A valid argument.

But one that makes me think………only in America.

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