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The Winter of Our Letter of Intent

First Monday in October? The Supreme Court reconvenes.

Fourth Thursday in November? Thanksgiving.

First Wednesday in February? National Signing Day, which for many Americans is a more circle-worthy date on the calendar than the other two. Nobody loses a game on Signing Day. Everybody gains anywhere from one to two dozen (and, if Houston Nutt is coaching your team, closer to three dozen) new players, high school seniors and junior college transfers, and not one of them – not on this day – is a bust.

Hope, it has been written, is integral to happiness (unless it happens to be Danny Hope, whereupon it is integral to 5-7 seasons). It was hope and only hope, after all, that Pandora was able to salvage when she recklessly opened her box. National Signing Day (NSD from here on out) is all about hope. It’s about forgetting last year’s frustrating season, you know, the one in which your team came within five points of having a 7-5 record, and moving boldly into the future.

As strange as it sounds, NSD is probably a more exciting day than the date of the BCS National Championship Game. After all, by then only two schools are involved. On NSD, though, every institution is involved with every other one. There is no dearth of drama, or chicanery, or skullduggery or even comedy. Just a few highlights from yesterday’s shenanigans:

  • Wide receiver Stacey Coley announces that he would attend Miami and then donned a baseball cap that read “Swag”, which is an acronym for “Stuff We All Get.” Considering Miami’s recent troubles with the NCAA, this is a dubious choice of headgear.
  • Pittsburgh signs a placekicker named Chris Blewitt. As in, “He Blewitt!”
  • A fax machine malfunctions, delaying a commitment from a recruit headed to Florida State. Meanwhile Seminole coach Jimbo Fisher is conducting a live interview with ESPN in which he is prohibited from mentioning the name of the player having the fax machine issue, as that would be a violation.
  • Top overall recruit Robert Nkemdiche, clad in suspenders and a bow tie, announces that he will attend “The University of Ole Miss”, which technically does not exist. But who dares to correct a young man who stands six-foot-five, 260 pounds and bench presses 350 pounds?

Granted, silliness occurs every year on NSD, whether it be Isaiah Crowell pulling a puppy out of a duffel bag to announce he is headed to Georgia (a little more than a year later he’d be kicked off the team) or linebacker Ka’Lial Glaud literally flipping a coin to decide between Rutgers and West Virginia. Historians, note: it landed on tails, so Glaud headed to New Brunswick, where we hope he has been used extensively in nickel and dime packages while pressuring the quarterback.

Of course, as it has done with so much of sports, ESPN has changed the nature of NSD. Television, specifically ESPNU, now annually provides a platform for high school seniors to demonstrate just how full of themselves they have become over the course of two to three years of being wooed by the likes of Nick Saban and Les Miles. Who can blame them?

Our friend Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated tweeted out yesterday that he does “relate to the passion of college football fans, troubled by putting kids on TV like The Hunger Games.”

Deitsch may have a point, but the truth is that in 2013, if there were such a thing as The Hunger Games, there’d probably be no shortage of teenagers vying to enter them. In fact, it was four-star recruit Mackensie Alexander, who hails from a destitute area of south Florida, whose preamble to announcing for Clemson included the line “Mom and Dad gotta eat, so I gotta make this count.”

Hope. Hope for struggling college football programs to turn around their fortunes (see, University of Ole Miss). Hope for young men who are searching for better lives for themselves and their families. In the dead of winter, National Signing Day is a ray of light. Shine on, you crazy diamond.

Are you ready for the NEXT STEP!