it’s what dan would call “hope trafficking,” in part. RT @LJ2six: how do you feel about today being celebrated?
— El Flaco (@bomani_jones) February 4, 2015
Something’s been bothering me since September. I had inklings, intimations as to what it might be early in the fall. As the weather grew colder, I could clearly see the silhouette of what the pall over my typical, beloved college football season may be, but as those edges grew more defined I was terrified to put a name to the thing that had haunted me, shifting around in the periphery of my mind. During the national championship, I watched my graduate alma mater get absolutely man-handled by a third-string quarterback that I’m not wholly convinced isn’t a Land Rover Transformer and an RB that is the living avatar of thunder and lightning. After the final whistle, I was left alone in the room with my specter. After contemplating it for a few months, I’m ready to confess.
I was afraid I didn’t love football as much as I used to.
This probably sounds a bit inane from somebody who spent an inordinate amount of time on a sports blog the past few years, to the point where he even now writes for said blog (or at least the shiny new and improved version of it). It starts to sound a bit insane to myself when I begin to account the massive role football has played in my life. A majority of my fondest college memories happened during the season. One of the single greatest things I ever got to witness in person was 5 catching a ball, disappearing behind a pack of sideline denizens, and re-materializing in the end-zone, streaking along the back boundary with the ball held triumphantly in the air. I still get short of breath. More importantly, football is one of the greatest bonding tools I have with my family; the thing I love has allowed me to get even closer with the people I love most.
But this season was a slog. Missed catches, missed tackles, missed opportunities. Things would go right until they didn’t. Almost every game was like 3 hours of being inside the Death Star trash compactor, just watching those giant slabs of dread close in around you. And I watched every single one. Honestly, if it wasn’t for Twitter, I may not have watched all the games. But that shared experience made it fun, and I’m a sucker for gallows humor.
When our games ended, I didn’t always typically watch the rest of the day’s slate. Game Day was no longer appointment television, and I didn’t partake in many of the usual B1G or ACC train-wrecks I used to enjoy. Maybe the worst part of this entire season was, if I wasn’t able to watch football for whatever reason. . . I didn’t miss it. This was a new feeling, and I didn’t like it one bit. Was I sick? Depressed? Growing up, or worse, growing out of football? Honestly, I panicked a little bit. This was the equivalent of having your safety blanket torn away, or having the rug yanked out from underneath you.
* * *
The tweet at the top of this post popped into my Twitter feed as I was monitoring it on National Signing day for the site. I enjoy Bomani Jones, and the Dan he’s referring to is Dan LeBatard, who hosts both a TV show and radio show for ESPN. I found “hope trafficking” to be a very provocative and completely accurate turn of phrase, especially compared to what I had experienced the past few months.
You see, about a week after the national championship, I started to dip my toes back into the water. It was, after all, recruiting season. How could I miss it? I read all of Mike’s posts, got excited when we landed somebody, and downplayed when we lost a player. There’s no way a season could be as bad as last year, our coaches were learning, and we signed the highest rated defensive lineman Tech has ever had. Then, on National Signing Day, we stole two great recruits from a team that put up 82 points on us and I made a picture of Kliff as the Hamburglar. I was hope trafficking, and I was having a blast doing it.
So was my Doubting Thomas season just a phase? It felt so real, can this new-found joy last? Will I ask even more rhetorical questions in this post? The answer to all of those is simply this: probably! We have no idea how each season is going to go. Each spring we get dark horse Heisman candidates, playoff favorites, and coaches on the proverbial hot seat. All of these thing exist because fans and writers scrape through every possible scrap of information they can to infer something that no one could possibly predict confidently. And we do it because we love it.
* * *
Not every recruit in this signing class is going to graduate from Texas Tech. Some probably won’t even see the field. However, they’re all signed today! Right now! They all have the possibility to be All-Big 12 for all we know, and that’s much more fun to think about than them all washing out. It is the silliest thing in the world to saddle eighteen year old kids with expectations. I worked with one recently in a professional setting, and he might as well have been a computer literate lump of silly putty. But that’s the thing: it is absurd, and that’s part of the fun. This time of the year is made for wild speculation, unfounded optimism, and hope trafficking. Every season is a cycle: games are played, records deciphered, recruits are signed, hope is sown, hubris solidified. Spring ball means nothing, really, but because it is the yin to the actual season’s yang, it means everything. Then the actual games are played, the previous off-season more or less forgotten, and the cycle starts anew.
In the movie Brazil, the protagonist works in a drab, bureaucratic cube-mill stamping papers and day-dreaming of being a hero. Escapism is the only bit of color in his black-and-white existence, and as the movie progresses, he finally gets to live out those fantasies into which he had been putting so much emotional stock. Football is our daydream, and you wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t. I don’t know where you’re reading this, but I know where I’m typing it: in a cubicle, before work, in a place I’d rather not be right now. This season was rough, but next season will be better. If it’s not? You’ll be here next winter.
Spring ball starts tomorrow. Feel free to pore over any stats that get released. Get excited by the players that make plays. Keep your fingers crossed for those that are injured. And get excited as hell for the future, because the season starts in 188 days. So go ahead. Dream it in your head.