The 12 Months of Football – December
My intent with this "12 Months of Football" series has been to open people’s eyes to the incredible diversity that exists in football. From the smallest of indoor venues, to the massive playing fields up in Canada, to the 100,000 plus crowds at a University of Michigan game, each of the games I attended with my kids in 2005 was an enjoyable experience.
What a journey it has been. This is definitely a year that my kids and I will be talking about for a long, long time!
The Month in Football
December is a month traditionally filled with football, especially major college bowl games in the latter part of the month. But there were also other games, bowls and championships in several other college divisions played in December. Many of them were televised nationally as well.
The Mid-American Conference Championship game took place on December 1 at Ford Field in Detroit. The Akron Zips played the Northern Illinois Huskies in a game that was shown live on ESPN. Akron came out on top with a 31-30 victory. As the MAC Champions, Akron advanced to the Motor City Bowl to take on the Memphis Tigers of Conference USA. (More on that game later)
On December 3, the annual Army-Navy game was played at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia before a crowd of 69,322. It was the 106th meeting between the two service academies. Navy won the game 42-23 and retained the Commander-In-Chief Trophy for the third year in a row. Navy now leads the series 50-49-7.
To me, however, the most impressive aspect of this historic game is not necessarily what happens during the game, but what happens after the game. No matter who wins, both teams stand at attention together on the field as the songs from the two service academies are played. Where else in sports do you find such a wonderful tradition? For these young players, it’s not about trying to impress pro scouts or going on to play in the NFL. Instead, they are focused on something bigger after graduation, serving their country. Most of them will never play professional football.
However, there have been a few exceptions over the years of service academy players going on to play in the NFL. One was Roger Staubach, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1963 while playing for the Naval Academy. He was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the 10th round of the 1964 NFL Draft, but it wasn’t until 1969, after his Naval career was over, that Staubach finally joined the team at the age of 27. He led the Cowboys to two Super Bowl titles during his ten-year career with the team.
December 3rd was also the date of the Vanier Cup, the Canadian college football championship game of Canadian InterUniversity Sport. The game was played at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton, Ontario. The Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks kicked a 32-yard field goal with 19 seconds left in the game to beat the Saskatchewan Huskies 24-23. A crowd of 16,827 was on hand for the game.
One other game on December 3 was the seventh annual Division II Pioneer Bowl played in Charlotte, North Carolina. The game features the runner-up from the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SAIC) and the runner-up from the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA). The SAIC Tuskegee Golden Tigers defeated the CIAA Bowie State Bulldogs 28-26.
On Saturday, December 10, the Grand Valley State Lakers (13-0) won the Division II National championship. The game was played in Florence, Alabama in front of a crowd of 6,837 and was shown live on ESPN. They defeated the Northwest Missouri State Bearcats 21-17. Both teams are no strangers when it comes to playing for the Division II title. The Bearcats won national championships in 1998 and 1999 and Grand Valley won national championships in 2002 and 2003. Grand Valley, who was also the national runner-up in 2001, is located about an hour north of where I live here in Michigan.
Later that same night, running back Reggie Bush, a junior from USC, was awarded the Heisman Trophy. That ceremony was also shown live on ESPN.
On December 16, the Appalachian State Mountaineers defeated the Northern Iowa Panthers 21-16 in the Division I-AA championship. The game was played in Chattanooga, Tennessee in front of a crowd of 20,236 and was shown live on ESPN2.
On December 17, two other college football championship games were played. Both were on TV at about the same time so I was able to flip between the two games. The Division III championship game, a.k.a. the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, was shown on ESPN2 and featured the Mount Union Purple Raiders and the Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks. The game was played in Salem, Virginia and saw Mount Union win 35-28. It was the Purple Raiders’ eighth Division III title in 13 years. Also that day, the 50th National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) championship game was played in Savannah, Tennessee between the St. Francis Saints and the Carroll College Saints. The game was shown live on ESPNU. Carroll College won the game 21-10, capturing its fourth straight NAIA championship.
Also played on December 17 was the Aztec Bowl in Toluca, Mexico. Team USA, an All-Star team made up of players from Division III schools, defeated an All-Star team from Mexico 53-15.
The Division I-A college bowl season kicked off on December 20 with the New Orleans Bowl and continues through the national championship game, the Rose Bowl, on January 4. During that time, at least one bowl game is scheduled every day, except for Christmas Day and New Years Day. Since January 1 falls on a Sunday in 2006, and it is also the last Sunday of the NFL regular season, all the traditional New Years Day college bowl games will be played on Monday, January 2.
On December 24, the Magnolia Gridiron All-Star Classic was played in Jackson, Mississippi. The White Team was made up of Division I All-Stars while the Red Team consisted of players from Divisions I-AA, II, III and other schools. Both teams also had NAIA players as well. Players on the White Team came from schools that didn’t go to a bowl game or had already played in a bowl game. The White Team won the game 19-7.
On December 26, the final Monday Night Football game on ABC was played. The New England Patriots defeated the New York Jets 31-21. Ironically, on September 21, 1970, in the first ever Monday night game, the Jets lost to the Cleveland Browns by the same score.
My December Game
The 12 Months of Football was capped off with my first ever college bowl game. The ninth annual Motor City Bowl was played on December 26 at Ford Field in Detroit and featured the Mid-American Conference champion Akron Zips taking on the Memphis Tiger from Conference USA. Akron was making its first ever bowl appearance.
This was the third time in the last five months that I had been to Ford Field. Since the stadium opened in 2002 my sons and I have gone to games every year and we even took a guided tour of the stadium in April 2003.
As usual, I was planning to take my two oldest boys to the game. Unfortunately, my 11-year-old son woke up sick that day so I wound up taking my oldest son and my 13-year-old daughter to the game instead.
The game started off slowly and the score was 13-3 in favor of Memphis at the half. It looked like the game was over as Memphis had a 38-17 lead with two minutes left in the game, but Akron scored a touchdown to make it 38-24. Akron then recovered an onside kick and scored again to make it 38-31 with under a minute left. The Zips went for the onside kick again, but it was recovered by Memphis, who ran out the clock to preserve the win. A crowd of 50,616 was on hand for the game.
Memphis running back DeAngelo Williams rushed 30 times for 233 yards and three touchdowns in the game. The Motor City Bowl was the last game scheduled to be played at Ford Field before hosting Super Bowl XL on February 5.
We got home from the game late that night after making the drive home across the state from Detroit to Kalamazoo, but our football day was not quite over yet. We got home in time to watch some of the last Monday Night Football game on ABC. After 36 years and 555 games on ABC, the Monday night game moves to ESPN in 2006.
Two days after the Motor City Bowl, Memphis discovered that DeAngelo Williams had one more carry for five yards than he was originally credited with. If the NCAA agrees, Williams will have 31 rushes for 238 yards, which would be a new Motor City Bowl record.
2005 – Football Year in Review
Had it not been for the fact that the Arena Football League decided to move up the start of the 2005 season to the end of January (i.e., the weekend before the Super Bowl) this 12-month football journey with my kids would not have been possible.
Our football year began by attending the Grand Rapids Rampage home opener at the Van Andel Arena on January 28. The kids and I then attended Rampage games each month through May, when the AFL regular season ended. In April, I also attended the annual spring football game at Western Michigan University here in Kalamazoo. Before May was over, the boys and I drove down to Indiana and saw the Fort Wayne Freedom of United Indoor Football play a game.
In June, we made an overnight trip to Ohio for a Canton Legends game. The Legends played in the Atlantic Indoor Football League, but the league has since changed its name to the American Indoor Football League. (The AIFL uses a really cool red, white and blue football) Two weeks later, we made a short drive north from our home in Kalamazoo to the town of Otsego, Michigan and took in a Southwest Michigan Jaguars playoff game. The Jags were members of the National Women’s Football Association. They have since changed their name to the West Michigan Mayhem and will play their 2006 home games here in Kalamazoo.
In July the boys and I traveled to Canada for a few days and saw a Toronto Argonauts Canadian Football League game at the Rogers Centre (formerly known as the Toronto Skydome). I had been there once before, in 1994 for an Argos game, but I wanted my boys to experience the CFL for themselves. Former Rampage quarterback Michael Bishop was the backup QB on the Argos team. We got to meet with him the day before the game at a team practice where I interviewed him for an article that was posted on the Rampage official web site. We also met with him again the next day after the game as he was signing autographs on the field at the Rogers Centre.
In August we attended the first local high school football game of the season as well as a Detroit Lions NFL Monday night preseason game at Ford Field in Detroit.
September was a month filled with more high school football games, including a rare JV/Varsity double-header one Friday night. We also took in two college football games that month, one at Michigan State University in East Lansing and the other the very next weekend at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. At the Michigan game, we were part of a crowd of 109,511!
October included more high school games, another Detroit Lions game at Ford Field and a college game at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan. We also saw our first Division III college football game that month between two area schools, Kalamazoo College and Olivet College.
After attending six games each in the months of September and October, things slowed down quite a bit in November and December as we only attended one game each month. The November game was a college game at Western Michigan University here in Kalamazoo and in December we saw our first ever college bowl game, the Motor City Bowl, at Ford Field in Detroit.
Of the 30 football games we attended in 2005, only two required overnight stays, the trip to Canton, Ohio and the trip to Toronto, Canada. All the others games were within driving distance from our home in Kalamazoo.
What does it all Mean?
The whole point of writing about my football odyssey the past 12 months has been to show that football season never has to end, if you don’t want it to. In many cases, you don’t even have to travel very far from home to see a game, either. Oh, sure, the game may take on different forms at different times of the year, but it is those differences that keep the games interesting and exciting all year long!
Hopefully, through the course of this series of articles, I have helped to broaden your knowledge of the many different kinds of football there is out there. Like the fact that college football consists of much more than just Division I-A, that Canadian football is a heck of a lot of fun to watch, that there are college teams in Canada playing CFL style football, that indoor football is expanding by leaps and bounds around the country and that there’s nothing wrong with following any or all of them throughout the course of the year.
If you take the time to look around and see what kind of football is being played in your area, you might just find that you will enjoy following a new team, a new league and a new way of looking at the game of football.
While ‘sports fans’ jump from football to basketball to hockey to baseball throughout the sports year, the more highly evolved ‘football fan’ simply switches leagues and continues a year round passion for the game. It’s the only sport you’ll ever need.
I used to be one of those guys who would go into a deep funk after the Super Bowl each year when "football season" was over. But once I discovered that football season runs 12 months a year, my football emotional state has been much more constant throughout the year.
To paraphrase Will Rogers, "I never met a football league I didn’t like."
Looking Ahead – 2006
So, what can football fans look forward to in 2006? Well, the Arena Football League will have two new expansion teams, the Utah Blaze and the Kansas City Brigade and will field 18 teams. The af2 has three expansion teams, the Spokane Shock, Stockton Lightning and Everett Hawks, and will field another 23 teams as well. The af2 season kicks off in late March.
The American Indoor Football League has more than doubled in size for its second season, going from six teams last year to 16 teams in 2006.
April will bring the inaugural season of the new Great Lakes Indoor Football League. Unlike all the other indoor football leagues that use eight players per team, the GLIFL will feature seven-on-seven play. There will be two teams right here in the state of Michigan, the Port Huron Pirates and the Battle Creek Crunch.
The Intense Football League has also been resurrected after a one-year hiatus. In 2004, the league consisted of six teams, all in Texas. This time, they are expected to have more teams in at least two states.
The Grand Rapids Rampage will be opening training camp on January 3 and the Arena Football League will be kicking off its 20th season the last weekend of January. On February 5th, all eyes will be on Detroit when Super Bowl XL is played at Ford Field. February will also see the release of the EA Sports Arena Football video game.
So get ready gridiron fans, another 12 months of football is about to kick off!
The Complete List of Football Games I Attended in 2005
(*) = Overnight trip involved
Jan 28 - (Arena) Arizona Rattlers at Grand Rapids Rampage
Feb 19 - (Arena) Austin Wranglers at Grand Rapids Rampage
Feb 27 - (Arena) Columbus Destroyers at Grand Rapids Rampage
March 13 - (Arena) Chicago Rush at Grand Rapids Rampage
April 3 - (Arena) Nashville Kats at Grand Rapids Rampage
April 9 – (College) Western Michigan University "Black vs. Gold" Spring Game
April 23 - (Arena) New Orleans VooDoo at Grand Rapids Rampage
April 30 - (Arena) Colorado Crush at Grand Rapids Rampage
May 15 - (Arena) Grand Rapids Rampage at Chicago Rush
May 21 - (Arena) Los Angeles Avengers at Grand Rapids Rampage
May 28 - (UIF) Tupelo (Miss.) Fireants at Fort Wayne Freedom
June 11 - (AIFL) Johnstown (Pa.) Riverhawks at Canton Legends *
June 25 – (NWFA) Columbus (Ohio) Comets at Southwest Michigan Jaguars (Playoff)
July 9 - (CFL) Saskatchewan Roughriders at Toronto Argonauts *
Aug 26 – (High School) Vicksburg Bulldogs at Galesburg-Augusta Rams
Aug 29 - (NFL) St. Louis Rams at Detroit Lions (preseason Monday Night Football)
Sept 9 – (High School) Galesburg-Augusta Rams at Delton Panthers
Sept 10 - (College) Hawaii Warriors at Michigan State Spartans
Sept 16 – (High School) Battle Creek Pennfield Panthers at Galesburg-Augusta Rams
Sept 17 – (College) Eastern Michigan Eagles at Michigan Wolverines
Sept 23 – (High School-JV) Wyoming Lee Rebels at Galesburg-Augusta Rams
Sept 23 – (High School) Wyoming Lee Rebels at Galesburg-Augusta Rams
October 7 – (High School) Kalamazoo Christian Comets at Galesburg-Augusta Rams
October 9 - (NFL) Baltimore Ravens at Detroit Lions
October 14 – (High School) Galesburg-Augusta Rams at Hackett Catholic Central Fighting Irish
October 21 – (High School) Parchment Panthers at Galesburg-Augusta Rams
October 22 – (College) Miami (Ohio) Redhawks at Eastern Michigan Eagles
October 29 – (College-Div III) Kalamazoo College Hornets at Olivet College Comets
November 12 – (College) Central Michigan Chippewas at Western Michigan Broncos
December 26 - (College) Motor City Bowl – Akron Zips vs. Memphis Tigers
Randy Snow covered the Grand Rapids Rampage of the Arena Football League for ArenaFan from 2003-2008. He also covered the Fort Wayne Fusion of arenafootball2 in 2007. From 2004-2008 and in 2010, he was a member of the Arena Football League Writer’s Association and, since 2011, has been a member of the Professional Football Researchers Association. Randy lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan but will travel just about anywhere for a football game or a great football story. He runs the web site www.theworldoffootball.com and hosts a podcast with his son, Adam, called “This Week in The World of Football.”