' ' Cinema Romantico: My Favorite College Football Games: Game 1

Saturday, August 31, 2019

My Favorite College Football Games: Game 1

August 26, 1990: Colorado - 31 Tennessee - 31

If College football was always inherently an autumn game, once upon a time not kicking off until mid-September, bowl games were are an early sign of the sport’s creativity in finding ways to stretch that schedule, providing a gridiron respite in early winter. It was only a matter of time before college football prolongated its season going the other way, into the dog days of summer, beginning with the advent of the Kickoff Classic in 1983. In a sense, it was a preseason bowl game, born of a postseason contest – the Garden State Bowl – that decided its New Jersey locale, not conducive to winter, might work better in August, where it moved and took a new name. And just as one bowl game begat more bowl games, so did the Kickoff Classic begat more preseason classics as the Pigskin Classic – excuse me, the Disneyland Pigskin Classic – was born in 1990. And while I am against these college football season soft openings, preferring the resplendent suddenness of waking up one Saturday morning to find the sheen of thousands of helmets splayed on assorted channels across my television set with dozens and dozens of other precincts reporting non-stop, at least they remain true to the game’s event-oriented nature. And anyway, I wasn’t considering that when I settled in to watch the inaugural Disneyland Pigskin Classic on Sunday August 26th 1990.

That day just so happened to be the last day before the first day of my 7th grade year, and the last day before the first day of school was always – always – the worst, weirdest day of the year, an entire morning, afternoon and evening stricken by a sensation similar to a rollercoaster’s ascent, a pit in my stomach I could not expunge, every second feeling so precious yet so pointless. College football’s presence on that day, therefore, was at once life-saving and not right, summarized in the presentation. If the sport almost always looks best played either in the long shadows of a late afternoon or low grey skies of an early afternoon in autumn, this was one was played in the vivid sunshine of a California summer day, the brightness making the venue of Anaheim Stadium, a multi-use, cookie-cutter behemoth that housed baseball’s then-California Angels, meaning half the field contained the dirt of a baseball diamond, look as weird as I felt.

And the game, between the highly touted, top-ten ranked Colorado Buffaloes and Tennessee Volunteers was weirder still. If there is a legitimate critique that the nominally non-professional version of the sport is less compelling because the skill level is lower and the sport’s size means the best players are less evenly distributed, that is why I have always preferred it, the frequently tattered rhythms of over-excited collegians lending itself to great theatre. And so even if the first half of the inaugural Pigskin Classic was an absolute mess, a bumpy mix of turnovers and terrible plays, the teams’ accompanying high rankings, the idea that even though it was the first game of the season they needed to win or else, added palpable urgency. And the 4th quarter was magnificent anyway, overflowing with madness, a missed field goal, a muffed kickoff return, an interception in the end zone, Colorado scoring on a punt return for touchdown and, best of all, quarterback Darian Hagan’s madcap option pitch, the kind that causes misbegotten control freak coaches an aneurysm, making a 78 yard touchdown for running back Mike Pritchard out of nothing, and Tennessee not once but twice coming back from two touchdown deficits to eventually deadlock the game at 31-31 with mere minutes remaining.

That Tennessee’s star tailback Chuck Webb inadvertently ran out the clock while trying to muscle his way into field goal position was the perfect abnormal ending, as if the universe was nudging me in the ribs and reminding that no matter how entertaining the game had been, everything remained futile, for them and for me. School still started tomorrow at 8 am sharp.

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