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Sunday's Word: O.F.N.

I know what you're thinking: what on earth is ol' Chuck up to? I'll give you a hint: on a bye week where the Patriot League went 2-3, two former Lehigh head football coaches were behind at halftime and came back to win, and James Madison pulled off a legendary comeback in an incredible 35-32 victory over last years' national champions Appalachian State, I'm going to be bringing up something a lot more frivolous.

Ever notice that everything right now is a "Nation"?

While frantically checking college football scores last night, one of my web stops is frequently ESPN - after all, they are the sun around which college football rotates, and they (I thought) were likely to have up-to-date scores that sometimes The Sports Network hasn't updated quite yet.

I didn't find FCS scores: but I did end up smiling at my screen. In the right-hand corner, I saw a link to ESPN's new "blog network" and College Football Nation. It's not so much about the content, which is basically a rundown of FBS highlights from seven veteran ESPN.com writers (e.g., "What Irby's Injury Means to Texas", or "Watch out for the Gators!"). It's the "Nation" that made me smile.

Calling fan bases a "Nation" was not my invention. It was an invention of Boston Globe writer Nathan Cobb in 1986 describing Connecticut's split allegiances between Red Sox fans and Met fans in the World Series that year. Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessey further popularized the phrase in 1996 with a book called At Fenway: Dispatches From Red Sox Nation which went further than Cobb's tribalization of Connecticut: it served to describe the body of all of the fans of the Red Sox from Connecticut to Maine.

Since I was born into the "Original" Red Sox "Nation" (with a father who saw games from the bleachers in Fenway for a dollar), the word "Nation" seemed like a snappy way to describe the blog I started in 2003. It fit in another way, too: the Mountain Hawks during the late 1990s had really blossomed from a regional university that largely attracted high school graduates (and football players) from Pennsylvania and New Jersey to a university that not only recruited nationwide, but internationally as well. Lehigh did have a "Nation" hiding in plain view - and with my passion being the Engineer/Brown & White/Mountain Hawk football team, calling it "Lehigh Football Nation" seemed to roll off the tongue pretty well.

The "Nation" was introduced to the wider world in 2004 after the Red Sox finally delivered a World Series title to the town that had craved one since 1918. (No more chants of "Nineteen-eighteen!" from obnoxious Yankee fans.) It's as if folks looked around after observing Red Sox fans and realizing that "Nation" seemed very appropriate to describe any sort of crazed fans, since by its nature it separates folks by tribes.

College football seems now like the most appropriate place for the "Nation" moniker to end up. After all, no people are more crazed than college football fans, and college football - with quirky rivalries and each game being so meaningful - invokes a tribal passion much more viscerally than a pro baseball team. The Red Sox and Yankee fans hate each other, but it's still mostly a rivalry based on regional marketing and fans can (and do) change loyalties over the course of their lives. Most folks feel an allegiance to the Yankees or Red Sox since they grew up in or around New York or Boston, or (in my case) my father grew up a fan of that team.

In contrast, once you're a Lehigh fan, you never go for Lafayette over Lehigh. It's a Law of the Universe. It's not a manufactured tribe, it's a real tribe. Think any Sioux went over to the Lakota because their horses were better-looking? (Must be the steroids.)

Over and over, I see the "Nation's" popping up all over the country. Any crazy fan base is now it's own "Nation", and I feel like I had some part in that spread since to my knowledge I was the very first. Even the corporate applications that really don't make any logical sense ("CSTV Football Nation", ESPN's "College Football Nation", "Bacardi Nation") I feel are something I - in albeit a very weird sort of way - had a part in their creation. (Note to Baracrdi, CSTV and ESPN: I'll be expecting those royalty checks very, very soon.)

But with all the other "Nation's" out there, I'm wondering if I should label this blog in some way "O.F.N." After all, this was and still is the "Original Football Nation".

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