First the NBA shuttered its doors. Then Covid-19 set its sights on March Madness. Then the MLB. Then the Olympics. Finally, it came for the NHL.
As the novel virus continues to ravage the U.S. economy and with the death toll close to 81,000 and counting, sports seem superfluous. And yet I am sure that I am not alone when I say that the thought of no college football this fall fills me with ice-cold dread.
During this current sports-less void, I’ve observed my MSU-loving brother-in-law avidly re-watching the 2014 Rose Bowl in which Michigan State eked out a win against Stanford. And who among us hasn’t watched cherry-pit spitting contests on ESPN8: The Ocho to find some sense of normality? SPORTS!
As it remains in doubt whether college football will take place this fall, take heart—“though we are trained from birth to believe otherwise,” writes ESPN’s Ivan Maisel, “college football does not need to occur in autumn.”
In fact, some of the game’s greatest rivalries were born out of late winter and spring. Stanford first stunned the more experienced University of California, Berkeley in March of 1892; Auburn and Georgia first met on the field in February of 1892; USC randomly decided to play four of their games in January or February from 1888-1893; Alabama and Auburn first tussled in February of 1893; and finally, in one of college football’s greatest rivalries, the University of Michigan traveled down to South Bend to beat Notre Dame first in November of 1887 and then for a second time in April of 1888. (Full disclosure: I am a Michigan fan so no, I cannot be neutral on that one.)
“Games were played in those years almost on an ad hoc basis,” USC football historian Michael Glenn told ESPN. “There was no concept of seasons.”
Granted these 19th century games were more akin to rugby than the football we are familiar with today, but as we steadily lose all concept of time, days, weeks, and seasons, it doesn’t hurt to look at the ad hoc spring football games of yore.
While it might feel like blasphemy—“thou shall not play football in the spring”—remember, as we co-opt the words of the great F. Scott Fitzgerald, “so we beat on, boats against the current [Coronavirus], borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
And to anyone who has stood out in those brutally cold late November games, a springtime game might be a welcome change for your poor, frostbitten toes.