A Rite of Summers Past: College Football Preview Magazines

It seems hard to imagine all these years into the internet and smartphone age, but there was once a time when college football fans young and old alike had to wait through seemingly endless summer days for the first College Football preview magazine to appear on the shelves of their closest newsstand.

That first appearance signaled that the season was getting close….close but still several weeks away.

There were magazines by Athlon, The Sporting News, Street and Smith, Lindy and Phil Steele. The Sports Illustrated preview was usually the latest and came mailed to the homes of subscribers and populated news stands as well.

It was always interesting to see who was on the cover of the National magazines. But the real excitement was seeing your favorite team’s high preseason ranking, or the insult you felt when your team wasn’t ranked as highly as you felt they should be.

Athlon was a favorite because they had a section of photos featuring the color and pageantry of major college football—and it was almost all pictures of cheerleaders or majorettes from schools across the country. That section seemed to favor women from the warmer climates like Ole Miss, Florida, LSU, Texas or the song girls from Southern Cal.

As the markets localized, technology allowed the bigger preview magazine companies to offer regional issues for each conference and even one for Eastern Football before the big schools in the East had joined conferences. Regional issues featured more in-depth write-ups on the teams in that conference or region. Notre Dame’s write-up appeared in every regional issue.

After the regional issues became a thing, so did regional covers for the national magazines. Publishers knew a national edition selling in Texas featuring cover shot of a player from Michigan wouldn’t sell like a cover with guys from Texas, Oklahoma or Texas A&M.

Most people in my age range (some younger and anyone older) remember getting their hands on that first magazine—usually sometime in July. We studied the projected depth charts, the returning starters, coaching changes and yes the sideline pageantry photos and then decide on our own Top 20 (there was a time when the polls only ranked 20 teams).

These magazines were also a source for recruiting information listing the top senior recruits for in the upcoming season. That became outdated when early commitments started in the mid-1990s and took off.

Before long the magazines started appearing in June and eventually one or two companies made the jump into late May. Inevitably the earliest ones were almost obsolete the minute they were printed as one team or another had a player get in trouble or transfer.

It must be hard to imagine for today’s kids who can have any stat, any roster and any information pulled up on their smartphone in a moment’s notice that there was a time you had to wait for, and pay for that kind of information.

But they’re missing out on a rite of summers past—that moment when the first preview showed up on the newsstand and your heart skipped a beat knowing that the hazy dog days of summer would soon turn to the chill of autumn and the sounds of pads popping and the roar of the home crowd as a running back breaks into the open field……

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© 2014 Jay Paterno