I'm going to tell you two stories. Both are sad. The first involves the death of a baby animal, and the second involves the saddest ending to a football game I have ever seen.
When I was eight years old, I rescued a kitten I found under a bush. It was very small and very cute and making very sad meowing sounds, and I was eight and already a staunch fan of all small animals. The kitten was also very, very sick, and my dad did not want me to rescue this kitten because he clearly saw where this was going to end. You probably do too. I did not. I saw a kitten in trouble and I wanted to save him. I named the kitten "Spike."
Last October, a Tennessee team with a first-year head coach and lots of talent went head-to-head with Georgia before Georgia was irreparably broken. Georgia was up 17-3 at halftime because Georgia is like the ending of "The Lottery" - they fling running backs and wide receivers at you until you die. Then Tennessee QB Justin Worley threw a touchdown pass to Marquez North, and then Tennessee blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown. Tie game.
Hope is dangerous. Hope tells you things that aren't true. Hope says "any given Saturday!" and "anything can happen!" Particularly in college football, land of the insane and home of the Boise State Statue of Liberty, hope tells you that any team could beat any other team because it's football. You never know! But you do know. You're just hopeful.
It happens to all of us. You read pre-season predictions of your favorite team and they say "Looks like they could go 8-5" and you nod in agreement because you're sure as hell not winning the conference with that guy as your defensive coordinator. Yet you know you're thinking somewhere in the deepest recesses of your heart about how if our running game got going, and those juco transfers work out and give us some size on defense, and a few things go the right way... The game within every college football game is between knowing and hope. Hope always wins.
If you can watch 2013 Georgia-Tennessee on television (ESPNU has been running it as part of their "2013's best games" series), turn up the volume after the blocked punt. It's the sound of "oh my god, we could really pull this off!" It sounds like chaos and catastrophe and it's the moment when every Tennessee fan threw everything they had into the hope bandwagon and held on for dear life. They are thinking about the time they went to Georgia in 2006 and scored 27 in the 4th. They are thinking about how winning this game is really, truly possible. They are thinking about screaming their goddang faces off, because Aaron Murray is frustrated, and UT's defense looks alive, and there's a quarter to go, and if they could just get some stops - they could do this.
The game went to overtime after UT and Georgia traded touchdowns. Georgia had the ball first on offense, and failed to score. Then Tennessee got the ball, and this happened (go to the :45 second mark).
Alton Howard goes heading into the end zone, and he loses the ball, and the crowd is screaming because touchdown but then it's not a touchdown. Georgia gets the ball back. Field goal. Georgia wins. Tennessee came back from being down two touchdowns to being ahead by seven and lost when a receiver reached for the pylon and lost control of the ball. It's all over. Hope is dead.
Hope isn't dead. It's never dead. You're down, but never out. There's always the next play and the next quarter and the next game. The week after losing to Georgia, Tennessee came back against 11th-ranked South Carolina and won. That's how sports works sometimes.
We wouldn't do college football without hope; hell, we wouldn't do sports or life or waiting for the next Kendrick Lamar album without hope. It's too damn hard and too damn tiring and too damn stupid sometimes to handle without the firm belief that someday, it will all be worth it. Someday, your team will be the one who gets the breaks or the fumble or the wild Hail Mary. Someday, that kitten is going to make it.
Hope will drive you insane. It would be easier to watch college football with a jaded eye towards the inevitability of loss, just waiting for the final bell to toll so that you can go home. But hope will also make you happier than anything not involving the birth of a child should. Hope is why we're so damn excited for the start of a new season. Hope is why we're all here.
The game within every college football game is between knowing and hope. Hope always wins.