Forde-Yard Dash: My 10 most memorable college football game atmospheres

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (ball security training videos sold separately in Ann Arbor and Washington State):

[More Dash: 8 CFP contenders | Coaching grades | D’Eriq King saga]

THIRD QUARTER

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THE FANS ARE THE DIFFERENCE

Football is football, and it can be a wonderful sport on all levels. But what makes a big game at the college level far better than a big game at the NFL level is, of course, the passion of people in the stadium — primarily the spectators. The actual level of play is not as good; we all know this. But the sights and sounds — mostly sounds — create an experience that the pros cannot replicate.

The Dash has been lucky enough to see a lot of big games in a lot of places, which provoked a list — what are the most memorable atmospheres experienced on the job? Here they are, in reverse chronological order:

The Red Glow (21). When: Saturday night. Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Georgia. From erupting at the very sight of the Redcoat Marching Band before the game and onward through three quarters, this was occasionally tepid Georgia at its fiercest and loudest. When fan noise helped cause a whopping seven Notre Dame false starts, the homefield advantage is epically real. But the part everyone will remember was when Georgia’s new lighting system bathed the stadium in an infrared glow between the third and fourth quarter. The sight, combined with the roar, was a sensory bombardment even Hollywood would find impossible to reproduce in an IMAX theater.

Georgia turns Sanford Stadium red at the beginning of the fourth quarter against Notre Dame in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, in Athens, Ga. (AP)
Georgia turns Sanford Stadium red at the beginning of the fourth quarter against Notre Dame in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, in Athens, Ga. (AP)

The Spot in the Horseshoe (22). When: Nov. 26, 2016. Where: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio. When Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett was knocked down almost precisely at the line to gain for a first down on fourth-and-1, more than 110,000 people held their breath waiting to find out — game over and Michigan wins in double overtime, or Ohio State has new life. When the officials spotted the ball and signaled first down, by the barest of margins, the crowd erupted. And when Curtis Samuel scored on the next play to win the game for the Buckeyes, sending them to the College Football Playoff and sending the Wolverines into a wilderness which they still wander, the stadium went unhinged. The shaking of the old edifice when Samuel scored registered on a “FanQuake” seismology device used by university academic types.

Lamar vs. Deshaun (23). When: Oct. 1, 2016. Where: Death Valley, Clemson, South Carolina. This is always a rabid home environment, but the noise was absolutely ceaseless for four hours of fireworks between the eventual Heisman Trophy winner (Lamar Jackson) and the eventual runner-up (Deshaun Watson). The fifth-ranked Tigers prevailed 42-36, stopping No. 3 Louisville in the red zone at the end to send the place over the top and put the Tigers on their way to the national championship.

Cowbell Cacophony (24). When: Oct. 11, 2014. Where: Scott Stadium, Starkville, Mississippi. In what many considered the biggest Mississippi State home game ever, the No. 3 Bulldogs, led by Dak Prescott, jumped up 21-0 on No. 2 Auburn on the way to the win and the No. 1 ranking the following day. The primary recollection was the oppressive cowbell clanging for hours pregame, then between plays all game. This was absolute torture for the visiting team.

The Kick Six (25). When: Nov. 30, 2013. Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Alabama. You know the play: the greatest walkoff in the history of the sport, a 109-yard return of a missed field goal to win the Iron Bowl, win the SEC West, eventually win the SEC championship game and play for the national title. The fact that it derailed a potential Alabama national championship three-peat only added to the mixture. Single most memorable moment: a burley Auburn fan in his 30s or 40s literally skipping like a joyous child and waving pompons in each hand as he exited the stadium.

Camp Randall Loses It (26). When Oct. 16, 2010. Where: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wisconsin. When David Gilreath ran back the opening kickoff 97 yards, it touched off a startling explosion. When the Badgers led 21-10 after three quarters, the “Jump Around” interlude was unrestrained. And when Wisconsin won the game it actually got scary — students flooding the field and actually trapping some of their colleagues against the rail on the first row.

Mount Cody’s Block (27). When: Oct. 24, 2009. Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Alabama. It is tantalizing to think how the world might be different today if Alabama’s monster nose guard, Terrence Cody, didn’t break through the line and swat down a Tennessee field goal for the win on the final play. For one, it might have derailed the Crimson Tide’s first national championship under Nick Saban. For another, it might have made Lane Kiffin a hero in Knoxville — and made it harder for him to leave for USC. But Cody did break through, did block the field goal, and the stadium detonation that ensued was palpable.

Devastation in West Virginia (28). When: Dec. 1, 2007. Where: Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown, West Virginia. Saddest stadium The Dash has ever witnessed. At the end of the most tumultuous season in college football history, No. 2 West Virginia was on the verge of a berth in the BCS Championship Game and needed only to beat 4-7 rival Pittsburgh. But everything went wrong and Pitt pulled a 13-9 upset, after which the Mountaineer mascot dropped to one knee on the turf and sobbed. He had a lot of tearful company in the stands.

Hold That Tiger (29). When: Sept. 26, 2005. Where: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. After the state was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, LSU’s home opener against North Texas was canceled. Its second home game, against Arizona State, was moved to Tempe because Tiger Stadium was being used as an evacuation shelter. And its third home game, against Tennessee, was postponed by Hurricane Rita. Finally, on a Monday night near the end of a tragic month, there would be football in Death Valley. When the Golden Band from Tigerland took the field and hit the first notes of the school fight song, it was an emotionally cathartic moment. Inspired, LSU raced to a 21-0 lead — but sapped of emotion thereafter, the Tigers wilted and lost in overtime.

Tennessee Gets Over on Spurrier (30). When: Sept. 19, 1998. Where: Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tennessee. The one place in college football where you feel the press box shake is Kyle Field at Texas A&M. Except for this one night on Rocky Top. When Florida kicker Cooper Collins missed a 32-yard field goal in overtime to suddenly end the game, and suddenly end Tennessee’s five-year losing streak to the Gators, it felt for a split second like there was an earthquake. But the press box did not collapse, allowing a view of Volunteers fans taking down the goal posts and tearing up chunks of turf with their fingers. A Knoxville News-Sentinel story even documented a fan who infiltrated the Tennessee locker room afterward and embraced players and coaches while sobbing with joy.

No disrespect to other extremely loud venues I have experienced, including but not limited to: Penn State’s Beaver Stadium for a Whiteout night game; Notre Dame Stadium for the 1988 Catholics vs. Convicts game; Autzen Stadium when Chip Kelly had it rolling at Oregon; Vaught-Hemingway Stadium when Ole Miss upset No. 1 Alabama; L.A. Coliseum for a night game during the Pete Carroll Era; Cardinal Stadium for a West Virginia-Louisville Thursday night game in 2005. Honorable mention to the awesome bipartisan atmospheres for Oklahoma-Texas in Dallas and Florida-Georgia in Jacksonville as well, but those aren't quite the same.

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