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"Star Wars" and College Football: Enough Passion to Fuel Two Empires


College football and "Star Wars" are American institutions. The passion existing within both fan bases could provide enough boost to kick the Millennium Falcon into overdrive or power the shield generators for the Death Star on the forest moons of Endor. These icons of Americana are as unique as they are global, swallowing up new worshipers at an early age and often through family insistence. Think about it: how many were introduced to either of these by a family member trying to pass on something they loved?

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It isn’t terribly hard to apply to the philosophy of "Star Wars" to other arenas of life, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. Tasked with leading a group of Rebel soldiers on a brave journey through the cosmos, I spent hours coming up with different ideas to tie in my love of this great film franchise with my love of sports. Several hours later, I had a ton of great ideas and no real place to start with any of them (except this one). Despite what AM/PM insist in their commercials, there is such a thing as “too much good stuff.”

I had friend after friend jumping at the chance to help me craft the perfect article, one that blended these two concepts together seamlessly and hilariously. There were some great ideas thrown my way. Whether it was imagining the Group of 5 trying to bust into the College Football Playoff through an opening no larger than the exhaust port on the Death Star or comparing power-running versus spread offenses to the Jedi’s long-standing war with the Sith, there were a million and a half things to write about and exactly one article to do it. That’s when I realized that the biggest common thread between these two things were the passion with which people discuss them.

It’s even easier to imagine a world where the NCAA is the Galactic Empire, led by a group of corrupt politicians with hidden agendas. The Playoff committee pick their phrase of the year and judge teams by that criteria, often repeating the phrase over and over again during the ranking explanation shows. In many ways, this is just like Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes (Mos Eisley Cantina band) playing the same song over and over again to the amusement of the crowd. From here, it’s not that difficult to imagine NCAA President Mark Emmert as Emperor Palpatine or Darth Sidious. In this situation, Jeff Long would be cast in the role of Grand Mof Tarkin — you know, the guy who blew up Alderaan to prove a point to Leia.

Related: What if College Football Coaches were Star Wars Characters?

It’s also not hard to picture the Group of 5 as an X-Wing fleet making a run on the Death Star’s exhaust port. In many ways, the Group of 5 need a little luck and outside help to complete their mission just like the Rebel leaders needed Han Solo showing up out of nowhere to help them pull off their miraculous run to end the Battle of Yavin. Even if mid-majors handle everything on their end and put in the preparation, there is no guarantee that their plan will pay off. They can go undefeated year after year, but it doesn’t guarantee a spot in the Playoff or an honest look at a Heisman trophy (Keenan Reynolds).

One of college football’s most storied programs, USC, is the birthplace of "Star Wars" and this is something that has worked its way back into the sport over the years. The 1997 Rose Bowl was grand marshalled by George Lucas and featured the 501st Legion marching in the Rose Parade. USC, Lucas’ alma mater, would go on to beat a favored Michigan squad, barely left out of the BCS National Championship Game, by two touchdowns. Even against the backdrop of a USC-Michigan Rose bowl, the parade before the game illustrated that "Star Wars" was a juggernaut in its own right, as it became a full-scale reminder of just how much each of these institutions mean to both communities.

The two also share a time-honored tradition of being passed down to those that we love. Many college football fans have fond memories of being brought to the stadium at an early age and introduced to the spectacle that was their parents’ favorite team. The bigger the spectacle, the more eager our parents were to share it with us. "Star Wars" wasn’t much different in that respect. A lot of people have stories that begin with some version of their parents sitting them down and saying “I watched this with my parents and now I’m going to share it with you.” Lifetime family bonds and timeless memories are borne out of these passions.

Oddly enough, the very nature of these passions being passed down from generation to generation has lead to a cultural divide in both worlds. Older generations of fans hate the new changes happening to both of them and wish that the powers-that-be would just leave them as they remembered. Whether it’s Hayden Christensen being digitally added to the end of "Return of the Jedi" or players receiving monthly stipend checks, a group of traditionalists are bound to have lengthy objections to both. The very public wars against the modernization of both is an endless internet debate. A debate that has no end in sight.

Whether you love or hate the new versions of "Star Wars" or college football is a matter of opinion, but one that most have formed. It’s one of life’s rare gems in that these opinions are rarely unpolished, most of them have been formed over the years and are ready to be worn upon discovery. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and ask the biggest college football fan you have in your friendship circle what they think of the Playoff in detail. Now go ask the biggest "Star Wars" geek you know what they think of the new trilogy or Disney’s ideas for a third trilogy. Just don’t do both in the same day because you might not have the time to get through both conversations in a 24-hour period.

Love it or hate it, they likely have an opinion and it’s probably a strong one. That’s what these two worlds do to do you if you allow yourself to get caught up in their traditions and lore. Both of them swallow people whole and spit them back out almost unrecognizable to their family and friends. Is there really a difference between painting your body half maize, half blue, and someone else building Stormtrooper uniforms from scratch? Have you read some of the fan theories on why programs escape punishments or are hit with sanctions? How is it any different than theories on whether Han or Greedo shot first?

Try having some of these passionate arguments with people who don’t watch or care about them. They look at you like you’re crazy and have too much time on your hands. You know that hour-long conversation you had with your buddy about the Playoff selections while your girlfriend was trying to hang out with you? Yeah, she felt the same way about conversation as the video store clerk did when you tried to explain why it was Boba Fett — not Stormtroopers — that killed Luke Skywalker’s aunt and uncle on Tatooine. That is to say, both of them were looking forward to the moment that conversation was over.

“May the Force Be With You,” and “War Eagle,” — it’s all the same. The same energy and passion have fueled both for generations. For many, they are lifelong journeys into a world different than our own. For many of us, that world is often more comfortable than the one in which we live. There will be one or two of you reading this article who are nodding your head in agreement at the thought of permanently living in a world where either is king. There will be many who see the next Comic-Con or tailgate as their home away from a home, a place to hang out with their “other family.”

There will be disappointment when children announce that they don’t share the same passion as their parents. When a child invariably announces that "Phantom Menace" is their favorite movie the same year they ask for a Stanford hoodie in a Cal house. Some parent will feel like they have been kicked in the gut. It’s not because they hate their kid’s choices, but because they hate their kid’s choices. If you're enough of a fan of either, this will make sense.

It’s passion personified. It’s nothing and it’s everything. Both bring us joy and both bring us sorrow. They’ve been the source of countless memories and many more to come. They are our past, our future, and part of our generation’s legacy. They will inspire the next generation and amaze those in the present. They are the building blocks of our personal philosophies and all that we embody as fans, in many ways they represent an ideal that we wish to become.

In the end, it’s less fandom and more a way of life.

— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.

(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)