One of the notable things about living in a climate that will, during the winter months, make serious efforts to kill you is that you spend an irregular amount of time actually thinking about the weather and the changing seasons. Every day of summer is a prized possession, and it's pretty much required on really hot days that someone say to you, "well, it's better than thirty below zero!" - for those of you living in Celsius based systems, that probably sounds worse than it actually is. As a northerner one senses seasons, and even months before there's a chill in the air, the first hints of impending autumn are not only tangible, but noteworthy.This is what I was thinking as I bought NCAA 2004 for my Xbox.
My love for American football was pretty much inevitable. I grew up in Wisconsin, where some smaller towns have probably passed city ordinances requiring citizens to memorize the career statistics for Brett Favre. I also attended, for a short time, an SEC (Southeaster Conference) school which is fundamentally only academic window dressing for a football program. We're talking about a school where, during the week of home games, alumni in massive RVs take up temporary residence across the entire campus, and the place you once called sidewalks become an odd football shanty-town whose tenants are comprised of predominantly drunk alumni cheering enthusiastically for a football game often still three days away. There's a special kind of resentment that defies words born of dragging your bleary eyed rump to a Calculus midterm while passing rows of drunk men, some wearing shirts, who've already cracked open the first or third Budweiser of the morning.
Anyway, my point is that through an absolute overexposure to such stimulus, my interest in, or the brainwashing from, the church of football was only barely voluntary. And so, every summer I sense time passing more or less as a countdown to the first hike of the pigskin. As that countdown nears its nadir I begin to sense the season slipping away. But the real turning point, the corner of Summer Dog Days Avenue and Impending Autumn Street is the purchase of the first football game for whatever console I'm playing on these days. And this year, it's NCAA 2004 for the Xbox.
It's kind of like coming home in a strange way, a yearly ritual that leads to broken controllers and an agonizing certainty that particular lines of football gaming code have been written with the express intent of humiliating me. I'm a pretty competitive person, which is my blanket excuse for throwing a temper tantrum when I lose. So, I generally prefer NCAA games over the all popular Maddens and NFL2kX. The reason: in the NFL the difference between the best team and the worst is not so dramatically great on any given year, and however unlikely, it is a feasible possibility that the Bengals might just beat the Packers. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, on the face of all the earth could create such a rage in my chest as the beloved Packers facing defeat by the hapless Bengals under my sage tutelage. However, the possibility that an Auburn, Georgia, Miami, Florida State, or Ohio State would be defeated by, say, Tulsa is so mathematically abstract that it can only be expressed in imaginary numbers. The fact is, sometimes I just want to win, and by win I mean beat my opponent into a kind of submission you only see by yelling at a puppy.
But NCAA is not only a game, it is a promise of even better gaming to come. Sports games are cyclical and predictable things, and the promise of NCAA is the impending release of NBA 2004, or one of a handful of great NHL games, and who knows, perhaps even Madden will find his way into my Xbox.
It is also the promise of Saturday afternoons spent in the recliner with a bag of chips, a bowl of salsa, and a cool drink as hopeful young athletes dance across my television dreaming their bowl dreams, or runnning the perfect option play, or winning the day on a hopeless last ditch Hail Mary. It is the promise of Monday Night Football, and beer commercials, and inane commentary that is somehow both inextricable and appropriate. It is Sportcenter's plays of the week, earth shattering hits, snow covered gridiron, and playing through the pain. Outside, as the snow piles up, I'm already looking forward to inundating, exposing, and perhaps brainwashing my own son to his inevitable football addiction ...
And I've already got the tiny Packers shoes to prove it. Bring on winter!