Greatest Spring Football Game Moments in Recent Memory
Over the past few years, the season of spring games has provided some lasting moments and images. Quite tellingly, almost none of them has had to do with actual football.
Because no matter what the coaches or beat writers tell you, football is not, primarily, what the spring games are about. They matter a little more than an average spring practice, but only because so many people are watching. In effect, they are no more important than the Wednesday afternoon that came before it.
Spring games are about pageantry and tradition, about rapture, about the long-missed sight of uniformed football players. In places that aren't so blessed to be tropical, it's about getting to sit outside for a sporting event. It's about wearing a smile nonstop.
Here are some moments that made us smile nonstop the past few years, moments that perfectly captured the spirit of the season.
Chime in below with your favorites that I might have missed.
Beast Mode Returns
Marshawn Lynch was a big deal when he played at Cal, rushing for 3,230 yards in three seasons and scoring 35 total touchdowns.
He's been an even bigger deal in the NFL, however, where his legacy has grown from that of a really good running back to the man known as "Beast Mode"—one of the hardest players to tackle in the league.
That made it all the more awesome when, during Cal's 2012 spring game, Lynch made a surprise cameo—in full pads—and took a carry around the outside for a lightning-fast touchdown.
"Beast Mode" was in full effect.
Bo Pelini's Cat
Bo "Don't Call me Faux" Pelini took the cat joke to the next level this spring, marching onto the field with a cat raised above his head Lion King style, which was equal parts ridiculous and amazing.
In other words, the perfect microcosm of spring football.
The cat thing, of course, was started by Pelini's parody account on Twitter, @FauxPelini, which features an avatar of Pelini in a gray sweater holding a big, ugly cat.
It wasn't until the real Pelini replied and demanded to have the cat returned, however, that the joke blew up nationally.
At risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, let's hope this is the end of the cat fetish in Lincoln. If it becomes a "thing," there's a good chance it will soon become an "overplayed thing," destroying our memory of what once was a near-perfect joke.
Like George Costanza, this cat should go out on a high note.
Jack Hoffman Steals the Show
This isn't just one of the best spring game moments of the past few years, it's one of the best sports moments of the past...well, ever.
Diagnosed with pediatric brain cancer, heroic seven-year-old Jack Hoffman was allowed to take a snap at running back in Nebraska's spring game. He started the wrong way when he was handed the football, but quarterback Taylor Martinez guided Hoffman to his right, where he took the carry 69 yards for a touchdown.
The scene afterward was chaos—but the good kind. Both benches cleared into a huddle at Jack, celebrating what he had just done. What happened in the wake of the game was even better.
This was college sports at its finest.
'One Last Roll'
A deranged Alabama fan named Harvey Updike Jr. poisoned the famous trees at Toomer's Corner in Auburn.
The school tried to save the trees, but to no avail.
"It came to a point where we realized it wasn't going to work, said Mike Clardy, director of communications for Auburn University, according to MyFoxAtlanta, "and the amount of poison in the ground was such that the trees were not going to survive."
So the trees were set to be cut down. Better for them to die at the hands of the Auburn faithful than the hands of a lunatic zealot.
But before they came down, after Auburn's A-Day game in 2012, there was one last "roll" to say goodbye.
It was exactly as perfect as it needed to be.
Shirtless Wisconsin Fan Dance-Off
This one could just as easily be featured on a list of "Worst Spring Game Moments in Recent Memory."
However, in how it perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the spring game, I think it belongs on this list as well.
Spring games are silly and stupid and more about fan engagement than anything. So when this pudgy Wisconsin fan got to have a dance-off with senior linebacker Sherard Cadogan, he acted...well, silly and stupid and engaged.
Don't let anyone tell you he lost that battle, either. He won it.
He won it by a long shot.
ECU with Back-to-Back Awesome Moments
It didn't get the national acclaim of Jack Hoffman at Nebraska, but that's not what this is about. It's all about the moment.
Two weeks after Hoffman's touchdown in 2013, Noah Roberts, who was battling neurofibromatosis, scored a touchdown on a similar play at the East Carolina spring game. After becoming close with the team over the course of two years, per Bruce Feldman of CBSSports.com, he was finally allowed to suit up and give it a go himself.
The following season—just a couple weeks ago, that is—ECU student assistant Clifton Maddox proposed to his girlfriend during the spring game, according to WNCT in Greenville, North Carolina.
The Pirates understand the spirit of the season.
T.J. Yeldon Becomes 'Mr. April'
T.J. Yeldon is the Reggie Jackson of April—although it's not like he's a slouch during the regular season, either.
Still, Yeldon has won the MVP Award of Alabama's A-Day game in each of his three seasons, most recently after rushing for 95 yards on 11 carries on April 19, per Andrew Gribble of AL.com.
The real memorable performance, however, came when Yeldon was an early enrollee in 2012. Despite his youth, the consensus 5-star recruit stole the show in his first public exhibition, racking up 88 yards on the ground and 91 yards as a receiver, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com).
Since then, he's emerged as one of college football's best players.