On the long list of strange, small things that amuse me about college football, “city football” is probably in the top 10. “City football” is what happens when you take college football — a sport that thrives in the spaces between major metropolitan areas, a sport that can turn out-of-the-way stadiums into small American cities for six or seven Saturdays each fall — and plop it down in a place where football isn’t the only game in town. It always makes for an odd but interesting juxtaposition, like a defensive lineman with a single-digit number.
Such opportunities are pretty rare for Nebraska. The Big Eight offered no such visits. The Big 12 did occasionally thanks to conference championship games. In the Big Ten, Northwestern and Rutgers approach it but aren’t quite it.
Vanderbilt’s John Rich Complex is it, however. It’s just a field bounded by city streets on an urban campus. (The possibility of bound-for-street football feels real!) Fallen leaves line the field because cities have trees and space isn’t endless. Helicopters take off and land at a nearby hospital. Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Porter Wagoner and Ernest Tubb all recorded at RCA’s famed Studio B less than two miles away. Bobby Bare recorded “Dropkick Me, Jesus” there.
Point is, even larger-than-life football programs feel simply a part of a larger context in a city. Life isn’t happening around football, but alongside it and that’s the difference.
It’s fun on the rare occasions when that balance bulls its way into the room and forces you to consider it. Not sure I’d want it all the time. I lived just up the street from Boston College for a number of years and it took me a long time to adjust to the fact that fall Saturday’s felt no different from any other Saturday.
But now that I get to experience the other thing all of the time, a city’s indifference is back to being just a random and rare delight.
Nebraska showed up to Nashville Monday with new decals on their helmets. The Huskers will be wearing “Mountain Tough” stickers this week in honor of victims of wildfires that affected people in and around Gatlinburg, Tenn., earlier this fall.
Tennessee announced previously that it would wear its Smokey Gray uniforms — which feature a depiction of the Great Smoky Mountains on the helmets — in the Music City Bowl as a Gatlinburg tribute.
The Grab Bag
- Antonio Reed, who grew up just outside of Memphis, will have plenty of family members at the Music City Bowl and a little extra motivation.
- John Adams of the Knoxville News Sentinel looks at Vol fans’ growing skepticism about the direction of the program under Butch Jones.
- If you missed our first practice report from Nashville, it’s right here.
- Washington is a two-touchdown underdog against Alabama, but ESPN’s Ted Miller writes the Huskies might just be getting started under Chris Peterson.
Today’s Song of Today
No. 4 on my year-end list of best songs.
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.