This is Mitt Romney's big night. The people who understand American politics and make a living explaining its mysteries to the rest of us have said so, over and over, and it is hard not to agree. Governor Romney needs to go long with his acceptance speech and go into the campaign with momentum on his side. He cannot play defense. Cannot punt. And, certainly, cannot afford to fumble.
The football locutions are appropriate because this is the week when the game – the college element, anyway – returns. Tonight, in fact, while various Republican worthies are warming up the crowd, Vanderbilt and South Carolina will be teeing it up in Nashville. Kickoff is at 7:00 so if the game goes three and half hours, which many do, and it is close, then one team or another could be driving for the winning score just as Romney begins his address to the convention and, more importantly, to the nation. Less, that is, faithful fans of the Gamecocks or the Commodores or, simply, hopeless football fanatics.
The good news, for the Romney campaign, is that both South Carolina and Tennessee are solidly red states. And fans of both teams could be forgiven for choosing to catch the speech on instant, or not-so-instant replay. South Carolina has some horses this year and Steve Spurrier remains one of the best college coaches in the business. South Carolina fans are indulging themselves with visions of a conference championship and, perhaps, more. Vandy, meanwhile, may be coming around under a second year coach who has shown signs that he may be able to make the school competitive in the SEC, the toughest neighborhood there is.
Fans of college football need this game in more than the ordinary way of wanting the season and the hitting to begin. There has never been a more demoralizing off-season. Not, anyway, in the memory of anyone presently following the game. For months, the Penn State scandal has hung over all of college football like some kind of miasmic plague. Nothing will make it go away entirely or, perhaps, ever. But getting back on the field will surely help.
For the fan who cannot get enough, the weekend will be a feast. Navy and Notre Dame will be playing in Ireland on Saturday so that the American fan can watch kickoff over coffee at 9:00 a.m. In the evening, defending national champion Alabama will play Michigan. In Dallas. The Michigan student-athletes attend class in Ann Arbor. Their Alabama counterparts go to school in Tuscaloosa. Did they decide on Dallas as a neutral site? Or could it possibly be the money?
If Governor Romney will be competing with a college football game of regional interest, the Democratic convention will be going up against the NFL's opener. Dallas Cowboys vs. the New York Giants. "America's Team" vs. the Super Bowl champions. The NFL opener is normally played on Thursday night and this would have put Tony Romo and Eli Manning in direct competition with President Obama's acceptance speech. The NFL and its broadcast allies know a hawk from a handsaw and rescheduled for Wednesday night (September 5th) so if normal convention protocols hold, the game will be broadcast opposite Vice President Biden's acceptance speech. This has to be considered a major break for Biden. Whatever he says, half the country won't be watching.
The NFL has had its own woes this off-season, in the form of a scandal about bounties paid to players for hits big enough and hard enough to take a rival player out of the game. Which sounds like Chicago-style politics but ... well, anyway. The scandal has resulted in suspensions and fines. But no fan expects the hitting to be less violent. This may be a case where the normal economic rules about incentives do not apply. The great NFL players like Dick Butkus, Laurence Taylor, Ronnie Lott, James Harrison, and many others expect to be paid, and paid well, for practicing and working out and going to team meetings. The hitting is the fun part and that comes for free.
It is good to have football back, at last. It is a welcome diversion from the brutal world of big time politics where nobody has yet lost a job or been fined for taking a cheap shot.