Rivalry Week in college football: it is probably the most exciting week of the season, excluding some bowl games and the national championship game. In fact, Rivalry Week often produces games that are more exciting than their postseason counterparts. This year was a perfect example of this. The Civil War, the game between Oregon State and Oregon, came down to an Oregon touchdown with 29 seconds left in the game, concluding a 36-35 thriller in the Ducks’ favor. The Michigan-Ohio State game was equally exciting. Just having scored to pull within one point of Ohio State, Michigan Coach Brady Hoke asked his players whether they would rather go for a two-point conversion and the win, or kick the extra point, which would surely have sent the game into overtime. Hoke and the Michigan players went for the win but failed to convert the two-point conversion, losing to Ohio State 42-41 in an instant classic.
The game of the weekend, and maybe of the decade, belonged to this year’s Iron Bowl, the annual match-up between the University of Alabama and the University of Auburn. With one second left in the game, Alabama Crimson Tide tried to kick a 57-yard field goal in order to break a 28-28 tie to beat Auburn, all but solidifying the Tide’s chances of playing for a third consecutive national championship. The kick was short and was subsequently returned 109 yards for a touchdown, ending Alabama’s undefeated season. It also ended its hopes for the proverbial three-peat, and capping the most sensational ending to a college football game since the Cal band stormed the field during a last-second kick return against Stanford in 1982. People are still talking about this 31 years after it happened. People will talk about the 2013 Iron Bowl and its ending as one of the greatest college football games ever played. It was the stuff of legend. That is why people watch sports: to see something spectacular.
Furthermore, Cade Foster is the place kicker for the University of Alabama; he is twenty two, majoring in business, and a two-time national champion. At 6 ft 1 in and 221 lbs., he is a huge kicker. Alabama usually uses Foster to kick field goals longer than 44 yards. But after missing three field goals against Auburn, Foster was benched in favor of freshman Adam Griffith. Griffith’s charge: kick a 57-yard, game-winning field goal. Factor in the pressure of beating arch-rival Auburn, in Auburn, and that field goal must have been pretty daunting. Griffith missed, and Auburn won on a freak play for the second time in three weeks. After the game, many Crimson Tide fans directed their anger and frustration at Foster, taking to Facebook and Twitter to send Foster death threats.
No one should ever receive a death threat. Not because it is against the law and considered a criminal offense, but because that kind of violent psychological coercion is traumatizing, malicious, and inherently wrong . But it happens to athletes all the time. Both the 2013 Iron Bowl and the 2012 49er-Giants playoff match-ups were competitive, entertaining games. Both had memorable endings spoiled by the stupidity of fans that forgot a few key things: football is a game, and the people who play it are human and make mistakes.
Even if football players at schools with high-level programs are increasingly like professionals, Cade Foster is a college student and an amateur football player. Any fan who threatens a player, especially a collegiate athlete, with death cannot call him or herself a fan. They can call themselves cowards and idiots, and hopefully the state will soon call them criminals. Hiding behind the anonymity of a Twitter account and saying belligerent, murderous things about members of a “favorite” team doesn’t add inches to one’s fan-hood. It makes one pathetic. It is shameful. What other professional can you think of where the people that claim to love you turn around and threaten your life at your first slip-up? Politics, maybe? There really aren’t very many. It does make one question the culture of sports as it stands. Athletes aren’t people anymore in American society. They exist to play games for the audience’s pleasure, no longer for their own. They exist to unify alumni and sympathizers of certain regions of the US. Football players, especially, are gladiators, and when they fail, certain pockets of fanatics clamor for their death.