I have been to night games for plenty of sports, nothing on earth tops the atmosphere of a night game in college football. It’s amazing how when the sun goes down and the lights turn on, college football stadiums become the most horrifying structures on earth, both for opposing teams and for fans who suddenly become rowdier than usual.
The reason I’m saying this is because a little more than three years ago, the best sporting event (non-US Soccer vs. Mexico in Columbus, Ohio division) I’ve ever attended took place. I was a senior in college and Penn State hosted No. 18 Michigan, the game kicked at 5 p.m. EST in mid-October, so the sun was down by 7 and the game went from a late-afternoon game to a night game in no time.
Here’s the thing, this game was awful. Sure, 43-40 in four overtimes in which the home team wins is probably great, but this game featured 10 punts, five missed field goals, four interceptions, and three lost fumbles. Michigan averaged 2.8 yards per carry, Penn State averaged 1.9. Watching as a person with no stake in the game, you probably thought you were watching complete trash where two teams lucked their ways into 83 total points, mostly because the other team kept shooting itself in the foot.
But being there gave the game an entirely different feel. Every play was life or death for the people in the crowd (of course, there was the added feeling of “Penn State doesn’t have a bowl game so this was as close as we’re gonna get so let’s go crazy” but that’s neither here nor there). Night games make the highs in college football feel higher and the lows feel lower. Ask any Nittany Lions fan what the best play from the last five years was, and their answer may very well line up with a Wolverines fan’s answer to what was your least-favorite play form the last five years: Allen Robinson’s leaping fourth quarter grab which has since been immortalized on Robinson’s torso.
This moment was great, but the thing that made it so special was the nearly 108,000 fans in Beaver Stadium collectively losing their minds. Those moments of unity that exist in night games are what make them so great: at Clemson and at Ohio State and at LSU and at Texas A&M and at all of these amazing stadiums around the country, games are just more fun when tens of thousands people come together under the lights to cheer on their team. Every sense is heightened, every moment in the game becomes life or death, and when it’s all over, you as a fan either feel a high the likes of which you’ve never felt before or the lowest of lows, because the opportunity to win a game in the most special of all environments goes out the window.
College football needs more night games. Every fan – student, alumni, person who just likes the program – should get the chance to experience at least one a season. College football is at its best when games are being played in front of huge crowds, and the sense of community that you feel when you’re in a stadium, under the lights, everyone dressed in a shirt of the same color is the best thing on earth. I understand that TV schedules dictate a lot of this stuff, but when a team is able to have a game on ABC/ESPN/ESPN2/Watch ESPN/Fox/FS1/NBC/NBC Sports/CBS/CBS Sports Net/[other channels I am missing], I’m inclined to think that we can be a little more flexible on stuff like this.
After the Penn State vs. Michigan game ended, my friends and I walked to Taco Bell. We got there around 10:30 p.m. The line was so long that we waited 45 minutes to order our food and another 45 for it to get made and served to us. It was the best meal I’ve ever had in my life. Night games are weird like that.