In the moments after the final whistle at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, the Louisiana State University Tigers were crowned national champions Jan. 13 following a 42-25 conquest of Clemson University.
And the events that followed their victory showcased the extent to which fans will go for college football.
In case the blizzard of purple and gold confetti was insufficient, Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland Browns wide receiver and LSU alumnus, was about to ensure the Tigers knew they were football royalty.
Beckham bestowed congratulations to junior wide receiver Justin Jefferson. Among the smiles exchanged before the cameras was that of Benjamin Franklin, peering from the stack of $100 bills that Beckham thrust into Jefferson’s hands.
The postgame festivities continued into the LSU locker room, where the victors drifted atop a cloud nine of celebratory cigar fumes. When stadium security arrived to inform the Tigers that not even NCAA champions were allowed to smoke indoors, a jovial Beckham gave one unlucky guard a swipe on his hindquarters.
This article is meant neither to debate the legitimacy nor the morality of Beckham’s alleged wrongdoings. Instead, I wish to suggest that this is a prime example of what makes college football America’s finest sport.
The university was quick to insist the curious green papers doled out to its athletes were just that and nothing more. However, this testimony was challenged on the “Pardon My Take” podcast by LSU’s own golden-boy, quarterback Joe Burrow, who claimed the cash was no Monopoly money.
In the case of the spanking, a warrant was issued by the New Orleans Police Department for Beckham’s arrest. The warrant was recalled shortly thereafter when the man Beckham spanked chose not to pursue charges.
Beckham has been criticized by his former head coach Ben McAdoo and quarterback Eli Manning for his volatile behavior. Writers, pundits and people who think they are pundits have long condoned Beckham’s flirtatious relationship with scandal.
Point is, Beckham’s reputation is already buckling under the weight of his actions. Poking the starving bear that is the NCAA by seemingly giving money to an athlete who had not so much as unlaced his cleats was risky at best.
Beckham’s locker room shenanigans, meanwhile, could have been career-ending. These incidents may speak to the Beckham's character, but they undoubtedly scream the truth that college football exerts an overwhelming power over its fanbase.
Take, for instance, Shalene Ernsberger. Ernsberger was escorted off the University of Buffalo’s home turf in 2017 after leading a one-woman charge onto the field. Why? Her baby brother, tight end Donnie Ernsberger, had just scored his second touchdown of the day for the visiting Western Michigan University.
Four years prior, a San Antonio pizza parlor known simply as Big Lou’s made a menu change in honor of Texas A&M University’s appearance in the Cotton Bowl. The result was a 62-inch mosaic of mozzarella and marinara with the Aggies’ logo artfully replicated with slices of pepperoni.
Whether the pie itself was anything more than an unevenly cooked culinary Frankenstein is unknown. What is certain is that college football can stoke blazing fires in both hearts and brick ovens.
The sport's allure even pierced the stony exterior of economic turmoil during the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011. One disgruntled Texan was seen amid the cavalcade of protesters brandishing signs inspired by those featured on ESPN’s College Gameday.
The Longhorn faithful represented similarly important causes with messages like “Our economy is crashing at SEC speed,” written in capitalized letters and “No Jobs + No showers: Occupy Wall Street or Occupy Alabama Tailgate?” Though his identity went undiscovered, this gridiron activist could've been any one of countless individuals seeking levity in a troubled time through sports.
Hardly anyone remembers Shalene Ernsberger’s name. Big Lou’s laboratory experiment has long since passed through our collective thoughts and, in the case of a fortunate few, intestines. The acts performed in the name of college football all too often have little long-term reward, and in the case of Beckham, could yield serious consequences.
Yet the fact that fans continue to risk money, bodily harm and the occasional sleepover at the local jail to support their favorite school is a testament to the endurance of the sport. No matter what hot-button issues or watershed controversies arise, so long as it maintains its full-moon-like effect over the crazed loyalist in all of us, the greatest game in the states is going nowhere.
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