On July 26th, 2012 Suzy Ferguson, the nicest person in the world, died. She was 31. She was kind, sweet, beautiful, and happy with everyone else and more importantly, with herself. Her soul was right with the world and with the Lord. She knew that she was going to be healed from the dreadful cancer in heaven, and she was. She was my wife.
The problem was that although her soul went to heaven, she left a whole lot of wreckage behind. We missed her. We still do. I made it through the eulogy, but I knew that the way I was feeling, it wouldn't be enough.
I needed something else. Sure, the Olympics would provide a distraction (and it did), and the Premier League would provide a longer one (it did, and still does), but in my soul, College Football is king.
College football has the three great 'Ps' about it - Points, Passion and Party. In college football games, a full, loud college football stadium is one of the most intense atmospheres you can ever be a part of it. You lose your voicebox trying to drown out the audibles of an opposition's drive, and your lose your arms in a hugging celebration when your team scores. That's passion. The points and party are self-explanatory.
I fervently believe that college football fanbases are more passionate than their NFL counterparts. College football games don't just fill a hole and help you win your fantasy league, they fill your soul. If you don't believe me, go to a night game in Death Valley, Happy Valley, or whatever valley you're looking to go to.
Anyway, I decided to hit up Austin, Texas, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana this season. I simply had to go. I had to go and find my soul.
With David Rogers and family, I found my soul in God and good food. David and I are similar people, we love the pigskin. When disasters hit the world, we call each other and finish conversations by: "More importantly, what do you think of Texas' chances this season?" After all, college football's more important than politics. And certainly on a Saturday during the fall.
We arrive in Austin, Texas. If there's anywhere to help you get a little bit of focus off a lost wife, it's Austin, Texas, home of the University of Texas. There's something about the Texan ladies that makes them that more attractive than the rest of the world. Maybe it's the cowboy boots, the short skirts, and the brown legs that go on for miles. Maybe it's the blonde hair. Maybe it's the southern accents. Or maybe - just maybe - it's the fact that they love college football almost as much as their male counterparts. In fact, their male counterparts are wearing sunglasses, and saying virtually nothing. "I love Austin, you fall in love about 400 times over every time you come back here," I overhear someone saying. I have to agree.
Me and a small crowd of 110,000 hit up Darrell K. Royal Stadium, and instantly I'm enveloped into a world that I've missed. As I jump up and down as the season kicks off, I feel my soul begin to heal. I feel better. THIS is my home. Not DKR, but in a college football stadium. Any college football stadium probably would have done, but a warm, clear night surrounded by beautiful people, this seems like paradise.
Texas wins, comfortably, but to be honest - and it's probably because Texas was playing Wyoming - it wasn't about that, was it?
My next stop was a November in New Orleans. Emily Schmidt has been a great friend to me through all of this Suzy rubbish, and she's a great person to know and love. I've been exceptionally lucky to know her, and she's happily holed up in New Orleans with her boyfriend David Liuzza. She's also a massive, massive LSU fan. I've come in for the pilgrimage to Death Valley. I've come for LSU and Alabama.
I'm here for the football game, not the soul-searching. This rivalry has had my attention for years, and on my bucket list has been a trip to Tiger Stadium at LSU. The stadium is reputedly the noisiest in the country, and Steve Spurrier once said that you can smell the bourbon in the air.
You can, as it goes - especially in the student section, where we made our home. And let me tell you - there isn't a funner place that I've been at a match than the LSU student section. Every first down, up-down, and downtown is greeted with a gesture, a mini-dance, or a chant. It's awesome. And seemingly, the LSU students have all been trained perfectly to do this, while I simply make it up as I'm going on. Although I'm wearing a LSU cap, I'm not a LSU fan. I'm a Penn State fan, but I'm here for the party.
The stadium was wild. The game was wild. Alabama won on a dying second drive, but LSU played out of their minds. Everyone came out a winner, but particularly the LSU students for me....made me want to go back there.
Oh, and as the Three Ps, go, LSU's a much greater party than Texas. The passion at LSU was off-the-hook. They went up with each other (before the game), down with each other (first half) and went up with each other (second half), before coming out and being told by Mumford & Sons that they'd ****ed it up this time. The party was attended by approximately 150,000 people. 90-odd thousand went to the game. The rest - like my friends David and Emily - sat around and drank beer and cocktails,and enjoyed the party.
Every time I come back from The South, I always suffer from the DTs. I miss my friends over there so much - and this time's not an exception to the rule. If I could have gotten back to NOLA, I would have done in a heartbeat, such was the way that the city captured my heart.
So I booked a ticket for Atlanta for the start of December. The SEC Championship Game. Georgia and Alabama would end up playing, and the Three Ps was off-the-hook.
While Atlanta doesn't have a buzz about it (unlike New Orleans), I think it's because General Sherman went through it during the Civil War and it's never recovered its identity. Some people think it's because there's no body of water. Some people think it's because it's too spread out. For a lot of people, Atlanta's a place that you don't identify with, but you work there.
Anyway, my hosts for the week (UGA grads Michael Ruppersberg and Sarah Kenagy) were absolutely amazing to me. They're engaged, and about to start the journey of marriage in March.
Before the game, I met a woman lining up for the toilet. "Why aren't you married?" she says, noticing the lack of ring on my finger. "I was, but she died in July", I said. "Oh my gosh! I'm sorry! I just got married two months ago and that's my biggest worry: My husband dying of cancer and leaving me alone!". I don't answer her. I can't face the conversation. Everyone else in the line thinks she's an idiot for carrying on like this. So do I.
I manage to compose myself for more bellyaching with Georgia fans, a few laughs, a few admirations of The Girls Of Our Dreams, before going to the game.
The game's one of the best you'll ever see - and it made the Top 5 in ESPN host Chris Fowler's book.
The season's not over. The regular season is. We've still got bowl season to look forward, and the fun surrounding that. We've still got time to get up, get angry. For me, my travels are over for the year, and my soul's a little saved. Thank you, College Football.