FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Football is back and for the first time in months there is a sense of normalcy for avid consumers of the sport like myself. 

While some choose to spend their falls picking pumpkins, sipping spiced lattes, or doing whatever else people with significant others do — aficionados or some might say, geniuses, spend this most splendid season pushing themselves to their limits by taking in as much football as humanly possible — while also consuming nearly twice the required caloric intake for a weekend, mostly due to beers and/or pizza. 

Okay, maybe that last part was a little personal. But for football fanatics, fall is truly the best time of year. So, when it looked like there would not be any action taking place on the gridiron locally, I couldn’t help but wonder, “what the hell am I supposed to do with all my time?”.

I knew we’d still have the Broncos as well as some other collegiate leagues to follow — which was comforting to an extent — because, well, content. Nothing felt the same though. 

Watching everyone else play while the teams that I normally spend all my time following all sat at home, was an extremely awkward feeling. Quite honestly, my entire routine was out of whack, and it was both disorienting and anxiety-inducing. 

To some folks, this might sound absurd. It’s “just a game” after all. But it would not be an exaggeration to say that during a normal season, I spend  50-plus hours per week doing something related to Colorado State and/or the Mountain West. Between taking in all the games, re-watching if they’re pertinent, the day-to-day reporting responsibilities, and hosting/producing a podcast, the process really does dominate my entire life. 

I don’t say any of this to brag or flex. Nor do I say this to pander for pity. For one thing, I literally have my dream job — and that’s something that I won’t ever take for granted — no matter what the grind is like or what opportunities I might miss in my personal life. No Saturday night out on the town ever compares to the electric atmosphere of a college football stadium at kickoff. 

More importantly, though, I know how many people would kill for an opportunity like mine — so the last thing I want to do is make it seem like I’m complaining about the work — especially because it’s far from unique. Everyone in the sports industry busts their ass if they want to make it. 

The point of bringing this all up, however, is to illustrate exactly how much all of this means to me. Over the years I’ve missed countless holidays, birthday parties, chances to hang out with girls, etc. — and I’ve done so willingly because I truly do love this s***. 

Most of my favorite memories in life have taken place inside a stadium somewhere — either as a fan or a working member of the press. To me, football is so much more than just a game. Football is my passion, it’s my livelihood. Really, football is my way of life — and without it, I don’t feel like myself — not fully at least. 

(*Brace yourselves. It’s about to get real personal up in here.*)

Like so many others, I suffer from depression. It’s not really something I like to talk about publicly as the subject can be awkward for an audience that predominantly follows me for information on their favorite team. But it’s also not something that I try to hide anymore. 

I’ve had multiple friends lose the fight with this ugly disease, so I wholeheartedly believe in the importance of self disclosure. Our greatest strengths often come from moments of vulnerability and accepting that there are days we simply cannot go it alone.

For myself, sports have always been a way to escape the darkest feelings. Honestly, to an extent, I’ve probably used them as a crutch too much. It’s pretty easy to ignore your problems when you have something to invest 100 percent of your time, emotions, and energy into. I think that’s what scared me the most about the reality of a fall without college football. I no longer had my distraction. 

Instead of socializing with my colleagues at the fields every morning, like I would during a typical August, I sat in my living room and spent way too much time on my phone. And instead of getting hyped to travel to new cities, experience new stadiums, and explore new campuses, I sulked about all the opportunities being taken away from me by COVID-19. 

If my life was a rom-com, a friend would have walked into the apartment at any moment to give an insulting yet inspiring speech about how I needed to get my life in order — and they would be right.  

For a solid month, maybe more, I felt genuinely hopeless. And I’m not even a player or a coach — I’m just the guy that spends way too much time tweeting about the Rams. That’s the thing about sports though — on the surface they may just be games — but the impact they can have in our lives is so much greater. Sports can uplift us during our lowest moments and distract us from the things that drag us down in life. In 2020, I’m not sure there’s anything we crave more. 

2020 certainly won’t be my last bout with depression. Even when life is “normal”, there are days, sometimes weeks where everything just feels grey. The most surreal example I have of this occured back in 2017 — when on a dream trip to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, I sat in my hotel room all night and drank alone as I pondered if it was even possible for me to feel happy at all. If I could not smile on a night where I was paid to write about the most important football programs in my life, I thought maybe I just can’t be happy anymore. Eventually, though, that feeling passed — at least for the time being.

I know that depression is always going to be there in the background, just lurking, and waiting for me to give in or accept defeat. But I also know that I will never be completely alone because I’ll always have my college football family.

So, to all the local CFB fans out there, or anyone else that has felt like a piece of them has been missing, know that you are not alone and we will get through this.  We still have a ways to go, but the tide is turning, and football will be here before we know it. 

Stay strong, be safe, and appreciate the good moments when you can. Life is too dang short to be miserable all the time.

Resources

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255

Alliance for Suicide Prevention of Larimer County 

Suicide Prevention — Mental Health Center of Denver

Colorado’s Suicide Prevention Resource Center

Justin Michael
Author

Justin has been covering Colorado State athletics since 2015 & has been featured in multiple national outlets. Along with keeping up with the Mountain West, Justin loves the local teams and has been going to Broncos games since he was six years old.

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