For the average New England sports fan, there are a few moments during the college football season one might guess is a shining example of the college football experience.
Opening weekend, for instance, when in all likelihood you watched your favorite college team – of which you likely have no true connection to – unapologetically pound some unranked squad to dust. Is that it?
Maybe it’s a rivalry game, or a bowl game … or perhaps a BCS battle in the national spotlight.
None of those.
Do you want to know what it is, and what makes college football one of the best things going in the sporting world?
It is one 24-hour period of sheer madness, electricity and frenzy. There is nothing like it that I’ve ever experienced in the world of sports, as a worker covering or a fan screaming at grown men running around a field.
It’s three words: National Signing Day.
Everyone south of the Mason Dixon Line just gave me a collective Amen.
As great a sports region that we reside in, with all the amazing moments we’ve witnessed and tradition we hold near and dear to our hearts … nothing comes close to the raw passion and fandom that embodies National Signing Day.
National Signing Day is the first Wednesday of every February when a slew of high school kids sign on the dotted line to attend the university that has been courting them for the last several months. Many have already verbally committed, some of them months prior, but this day makes it real. All the five stars wait until this day, but pretty much everyone knows where each is going.
Die-hard college football fans count the days down to this very date, and go absolutely bananas from start to finish. I lived and worked in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for four years (2007-2011) covering the Crimson Tide. I was born in Massachusetts, raised in N.H., and lived around Boston until I was 30. This particular day is a holiday for most. It’s an “I’m not working, I’m sitting in front on the Internet all day’’ declaration. Whenever college football kicks off, NSD is the first thing that pops in my mind.
Recruiting is EVERYTHING to the college football fan. Literally. Everything. You cannot report enough about it. If a kid let one rip, they needed to know. If he was a sophomore . . . even better.
I covered four different National Signing Days on TideSports.com, but none was greater than 2009, which was the first chapter to a novel that ended with Alabama downing the Texas Longhorns for the BCS National Championship in Pasadena.
We had a hot tip that one particular wide receiver from deep in Louisiana territory was switching from LSU to Alabama on National Signing Day. This was old Nick Saban territory, and he was going fishing in the pond he pissed in a few years back.
Kenny Bell had already verbally committed to the Baton Rouge university, but Scout.com buddy Andrew Bone had a solid source claiming he was switching to The Capstone. So we packed up the car and headed from Tuscaloosa to Rayville, La., in hopes Bell would be donning the Crimson A and we would have the exclusive.
Sure enough we got lost, because … literally … we were in the middle of nowhere. We were burning down this Louisiana two-lane highway with nothing on either side of the road but tall, wild grass for miles on end. We finally arrived at a small, half-decrepit field house where the signing day ceremony was taking place. And sure enough, when we walked in, there was Kenny Bell sitting there from head to toe in Crimson. We had the exclusive.
We had referred to Bell as Recruit X throughout the day on our signing board and in the forums. There was a fever pitch amongst the Crimson Tide Nation throughout the day, and it exploded when Recruit X was revealed: An LSU commit had jumped ship to join Saban at the University of Alabama.
To boot, Bell’s leap from LSU to Alabama secured the Crimson Tide the No. 1 spot as Rival.com’s Best Recruiting Class of 2009.
To this day on TideSports.com, and this includes three National Championships, that was the single most successful day traffic-wise and the video below is the most-watched in the history of the site. Still. Do you think the story we had the other day about Cuban defector Rusney Castillo signing with the Red Sox out-performed Boston winning the World Series in 2004?
It doesn’t make sense. But for some reason, college football fans love National Signing Day more than anything else in the galaxy. Perhaps it’s the clean slate mentality – a fresh start with new faces. I’m sure much has to do with pride, knowing that these young men will be representing the University for the next four or five years.
Or maybe it’s just February, they are bored, slightly insane, and college football is simply nothing short of a 7/365 operation.
Either way, it’s an amazing, surreal event and is the crystal definition of what college football fandom is all about.
It’s why they live for Saturday.