In America, football is king

Published 12:29 am Sunday, April 25, 2010

There is no doubt that while baseball is the so-called national pastime, football is king in America.

Whether its college football or the NFL, legions of fans follow their favorite teams all year round, no matter the season.

If you don’t believe me, all you have to do is take a look at the past couple of weeks. Let’s start with college football first.

For many SEC football fans, the season never ends. There is the actual season in the fall, then the recruiting season takes over in the winter until signing day in February. After signing day is complete, spring practice season takes over and goes on until the spring games, which happened last week.

Spring games used to be just a fun thing for the players to participate in at the end of a long and arduous spring practice. The players get a chance to face off against each other and play for pride and bragging rights.

No more. Now, for most schools, spring games are fan events that are meant to get the fan base excited about the upcoming season as well as a recruiting tool to show potential recruits the university and stadium.

Last Saturday, over 30,000 people showed up at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford to watch the annual Ole Miss Grove Bowl. The Rebels are coming off back to back 9-4 seasons and excitement is running high.

That same day, over 34,000 fans turned out at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville to see the Maroon team defeat the White team. Many schools don’t get that many fans at a regular season game and fans of the two Mississippi SEC schools turned out to watch an intra-squad scrimmage.

But while those attendance figures are impressive, they pale in comparison with defending national champion Alabama, which had over 91,000 fans come out to watch the Crimson Tide’s spring game.

College football is a national obsession for many people, but even that pales in comparison to the National Football League at times.

Case in point is this weekend’s NFL draft.

Every professional sports league has a draft but no league’s draft is as much celebrated as pro football’s. What is basically just the commissioner going to a podium and reading a name off a card has turned into a theatrical production. Thousands of fans attend the draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York City and millions more watch it on television.

It has become so popular that the NFL put the first round in prime time on Thursday night. I’m sure the ratings were outstanding as Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford was selected first by the St. Louis Rams.

There was even a Natchez connection in the draft, as Tennessee safety Eric Berry, son of former Natchez standout and Tennessee captain James Berry, was taken by the Kansas City Chiefs with the fifth pick in the draft.

Even though Berry was born and grew up in Georgia, he becomes just the latest athlete with Natchez connections to standout at the college or pro level.

Now that the draft and spring games are over, perhaps the football fervor will die down a little. But, somehow I doubt it. After all, the college football preview magazines come out in a couple of months.