Ian Kay: Real football is played on Sunday

Daily Sports Editor
Published September 14, 2009

Like a lot of football die-hards in Ann Arbor, I had trouble sleeping Friday night.

Saturday promised Michigan’s most important football game in over two years. Could Tate Forcier stomach the pressure of his first nationally televised game? Could Boubacar Cissoko hold his own against Notre Dame’s standout wide receivers? Could Charlie Weis devour Michigan Stadium’s entire supply of cheese nachos before kickoff?

But unlike most other people on campus, I also had trouble sleeping Saturday night. Even after Michigan football completed its return to glory, I still had gridiron fever.

Why? Because Week One loomed less than 12 hours away.

You see, I’m an NFL junkie. While I haven’t missed a game at the Big House in three years and college ball is a nice diversion, real football is played on Sundays. Real football means bone-rattling collisions, rocket-armed passers and diva wide receivers. Real football is played without marching bands, triple options or clock-stopping first downs.

I realize we only have four years to be a true part of the college game, but that’s certainly no justification for ignoring the far-superior pro product. Here are a few reasons why:

Superstars: College certainly has its heroes. Tim Tebow is one of the most recognizable athletes in the country right now, and certain regions will never forget Herschel Walker or Barry Sanders. But that’s hardly the norm. Limited by only four years of eligibility and a lack of endorsement opportunities, even the biggest college stars of one season can be gone from the national consciousness within a few months — just ask 2004 Heisman Trophy winner Jason White.

Not so in the League. Tom Brady is more than a football player. He’s a celebrity and an icon. Whether you love Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco or can’t stand them, they’re undeniably recognizable. When you see an enormous man gesticulating wildly over a fallen quarterback, you know that’s Shawne Merriman. As much as Roger Goodell tries to curtail the end zone celebrations and silence the Twitter feeds, the NFL has personalities and storylines that college football will never match.

No cupcakes: Defending national champion Florida was the 73-point favorite over Charleston Southern on Sept. 5. Appalachian State jokes aside, the question wasn't whether Gators would win, but by how much. As a fan, how can you get pumped up for that type of game? In the best-case scenario, you’re watching scrubs run halfback dives for the entire second half. Worst case, you’re subjected to a defeat that takes years to live down.

The NFL prides itself on being a league of extreme parity. While it’s frustrating that more and more teams seem to finish with records between 7-9 and 9-7 every year, the upside is in the unpredictability. The Detroit Lions may have been the worst team in the history of the sport last season, but they’re still likely to beat at least a few opponents in 2009 ... maybe. Unlike in college, when fans can circle a few rivalry matchups every season and rest easy through the remainder of the schedule, every week is a big one in the pro game. Every team has players worth watching, and outside of that one torturous bye week, there isn’t a single Sunday from September through December that NFL fans can wake up and be 100-percent certain of their favorite teams' destinies.

Fantasy football:Remember when Aaron Rogers hit Greg Jennings with a 50-yard touchdown pass Sunday night to beat the Chicago Bears? I jumped out of my seat as soon as the ball left Rogers’s hand. When Jennings glided into the endzone, I screamed “Yes!” and unleashed a fist pump that would have impressed Tiger Woods. Packers fan? Nope, couldn’t care less who won the game. But I have both Rogers and Jennings on my fantasy football team, and that play, along with the pair’s completely unnecessary two-point conversion hook up, locked down my Week One victory. Several trash-talking text messages ensued.

There’s a small college football fantasy movement, but the NCAA’s excessive number of teams, ever-changing rosters and frequent lopsided scores will likely prevent college fantasy football from ever going mainstream. An estimated 25 million Americans will draft NFL fantasy teams this year, and the reason is clear: it makes every game exciting. Otherwise meaningless tilts become must-watch nailbiters when you have a key player from your roster involved.

While I’ll catch the weekly Saturday night ESPN college game and other marquee matchups, I probably wouldn’t watch much NCAA football even if I didn’t spend my Saturdays at Michigan Stadium. I just don’t have a rooting interest. But because of fantasy, I have reason to watch almost every single NFL game. While college stats are skewed to the point of irrelevance by specialized offensive systems and weak schedules, fantasy football makes yardage and touchdowns paramount to the NFL fan. After all, I’ve never gone searching for NCAA box scores. But I’ll pore over game logs and scouting reports for hours if helps me uncover the next Marques Colston before everyone else does.

— Ian Kay roots for the New York Giants and his fantasy team — in that order. He can be reached at iankay@umich.edu.