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Spring Games: Much Ado About Something

For the past few Saturdays we’ve seen weekend after weekend of College Football Spring Games. While the outcomes of these games essentially mean nothing, they’re a big part of the College Football calendar. Universities and Athletic Departments recognize them as an opportunity to recruit, to gets fans in the stadium, to raise revenue, and as an excuse for alumni and friends to come to campus in the spring.

Some schools charge admission, some don’t. Some schools have a weekend full of events around the game as well. The pinnacle of spring game weekends were Penn State’s in the years 2008-2011. The weekend included a Penn State Idol contest, a Carnival that began Thursday night and ran through Sunday, an autograph session and even fireworks after home baseball games. But the game and parking remained free.

The game and parking remained free because Joe Paterno wanted working families to have an inexpensive outing, a chance to get in the stadium and see their favorite players in person.

In the late 1980s the quarterbacks called the plays for their teams. In every huddle guys would ask for the ball. Fullback Joe Strycharz (who had a beautiful older sister) asked me to call a play for him because his family was here for the game. I made sure he got the ball.

Across the country the games have become promotional vehicles. Ohio State had honorary Coaches in Nike Co-Founder Phil Knight and Former Notre Dame Head Coach Lou Holtz. This was a second Big Ten Honorary Coaching role as he served that same role at Penn State in 2005. One year ESPN’s Chris Fowler was on the sidelines and when we asked what play he wanted called he responded “Throw it to the tight end because Penn State’s defense never covers the tight end.”

Chris Fowler at the 2009 Penn State Spring Game

Spring Games now can create feel good moments for fans and teams. In 2013, 7-year old cancer patient Jack Hoffman brought the crowd to its feet when he scored a touchdown in the Nebraska Spring game. Last week 80,000 Ohio State fans cheered young Jacob Jarvis who is fighting Muscular Dystrophy. He took a handoff from JT Barret and scored. At Kentucky 9-year old cancer survivor Ryan Cremeens led the Wildcats out of the tunnel for their Spring Game.

Nebraska fans got another great moment when they roared to life as US Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Hawke dressed in full Nebraska uniform surprised his family. He removed his helmet for the coin toss to reunite with his family after 10 months in Afghanistan.

But Nebraska has a sense of humor too. Three years ago. Bo Pelini’s response to a “Faux Pelini” Twitter account that featured a picture of him with a cat was epic. As the Cornhuskers walked onto the field Bo carried a cat and the crowd roared. The expression on Pelini’s face was priceless.

These games should be fun.

At Penn State’s 2002 Spring Game defensive tackle Anthony “Spice” Adams—after pestering the offensive coaches for WEEKS—entered the game at fullback at the one yard line. He took a dive over the top for a touchdown. But the best part was his confidence that he would score displayed by his post-game media room appearance wearing a colorful hat, a matching three-piece suit and cane to hold court on his vast offensive skills.

While these games can seem meaningless, and all coaches hope no one gets hurt, they are an opportunity for some laughs, for fans to dream of the fall and even to provide moments that inspire us that have nothing to do with wins or losses.

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