In a year full of canceled games and the same old end-of-season matchups, college football needed something. Something to break the monotony of Clemson-Ohio State part two and all the other things we’ve seen before.
The Coastal Carolina football team did exactly that, as the mullet-sporting, teal-clad Cinderella that delivered.
An American Lore Story
America loves an underdog. It’s in our blood. American entertainment is chock-full of stories of a particular person or faction standing up against overwhelming odds. Rocky Balboa and Star Wars, despite being entirely unrelated in most regards, are two popular examples.
And let’s think of our history: Don’t we love to tell the story of how a bunch of rag-tag farmers beat the mighty British Empire out of the Colonies?
But sports has long been home to the quintessential American underdog story. Nothing brings sports fans of all kinds together like a team that’s fresh, new, fun, and not afraid to tell the established powers exactly where they can stick to the status quo.
Coastal Carolina Football: Straight Out of Nowhere
Sure, there’s a yearly Group of Five squad that gets their fifteen minutes of fame and a spot in the New Year’s Six. And this year, that’s Cincinnati, not Coastal Carolina football. So why all the hype for the Chanticleers instead?
For one thing, the Chants came out of nowhere. Cincinnati was ranked in preseason polls and was thought of as a favorite to win the American. On the other hand, the Coastal Carolina football program was picked to finish dead last in the Sun Belt East. We’re talking SCLSU Mud Dogs (pre-Bobby Boucher) levels of poor play. A team like that doesn’t make it in the top ten. A team from the Sun Belt doesn’t make the top ten.
But alas, be it through Grayson McCall’s quarterback voodoo, the leadership of Jamey Chadwell, or some type of mullet magic, Coastal Carolina football did it. Somehow.
That’s the first step of becoming America’s sweetheart: you have to win, and you have to surprise people while you’re at it. Nobody’s going to bring out the cameras and applause for a 6-6 team, no matter how much personality they might have. They’re also not going to rally around a team that everyone expected to win 11 or 12 games. So you have to prove that you belong amongst the winners while also not being expected to be amongst the winners. Coastal has done that on both counts.
But you have to do more than win games; otherwise, people wouldn’t be bored with Alabama-Clemson for the seventeenth time. You have to be fun.
Hair of the (Under)dog and Other Fun
Oh boy, Coastal Carolina football is fun. They’ve done more to bring the mullet back in style than anyone since Mike Gundy—which is either legendary or a travesty, depending on one’s views of the hairstyle.
But the Chants don’t just keep the party in the back. The atmosphere at Brooks Stadium has been electric, even with a limited crowd. Coastal hosted what was arguably the best College GameDay production of 2020. And let’s not forget their WWE-style locker room celebrations.
Can you imagine Nick Saban dropping The People’s Elbow on Aubie the Tiger? No? Exactly. In a college football landscape filled with talk of a handful of elite programs run by serious coaches (such as the aforementioned Dark Lord of Tuscaloosa) and filled with the same repetitive storylines, a Cinderella-like Coastal Carolina football is refreshing and—most importantly—fun.
And at its core, isn’t that what sports are? Of course, it’s a massive multibillion-dollar industry that thousands of people (at minimum) have made their living off of. But it never would have gotten that far off the ground if a century and a half ago some dudes didn’t get bored and start tossing a ball back and forth and ended up discovering just how entertaining it can be.
That may be a gross oversimplification of sports history, but you get the point. Sports are what sports are because they’re fun. Fun to play, fun to watch, fun to follow, and even fun to write about. And what’s more fun than a trash-talking, mullet-sporting, eye-popping-bright-field-and-classical literature-mascot-possessing, good ole American underdog who can regularly flip the script upside down?
Not much, except maybe watching Nick Saban imitate The Rock.
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