Millions who watched electrifying college football on TV over the Thanksgiving holiday saw a brand of play more riveting, more innovative, more suspenseful than what NFL pros usually offer.
The difference is in motivation and discipline. College football teams excel because of love for the game, the athletic challenge and no-nonsense rules of coaches. Too many pros are there because of multi-million-dollar contracts that fuel their personal dissipation.
Sadly, some Saturday college heroes will soon be pros and become ego-driven troublemakers for coaches, bar-crawling tough guys spoiling for fights, abusers of women and wastrels who fritter away too-easy-too-soon fortunes on glitter, drugs, colorful tattoos and hangers-on leeching for a handout.
The NFL is a brutal culture that can rot morals of the weak-minded with mindlessly excessive contracts, fawning star treatment and indefensible tolerance of sociopathic conduct. Consider the wasted life of $130 million Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, convicted for running a brutal dog-fighting racket.
On the same day that a state court scheduled Vick for trial on new felony charges, Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor bled to death from a gunshot wound.
Tragic though the death was, Taylor is a metaphor for so many college players turned pro.
When shot, he was a 24-year-old multi-millionaire living in a mansion south of Miami, Fla. He lived with a girlfriend, not a wife, and their 18-month-old child born out of wedlock.
In addition to glowing tributes to remarkable on-field prowess, Taylor's obituaries include unflattering episodes as a misfit and police blotter habitué.
The NFL fined Taylor $25,000 for refusing to attend a rookie symposium after the Redskins drafted him in 2004. He was arrested for DUI a few months later. The same year, he was fined $17,500 for on-field infractions and violence. In 2006, he was ejected from a game and fined $17,000 for spitting on an opponent.
The NFL fined him $71,764 after he threatened men with a gun in Florida. Thereafter, someone sprayed Taylor's unoccupied car with an AK-47 automatic rifle.
In 2005, black Washington Post sports columnist Michael Wilbon painted a devastating portrait of Taylor: "This fool (Taylor) apparently thinks pro football and culture in general ought to be thankful to have him."
Wilbon also berated the Redskins for indulging Taylor's "thuggishness" and showed some clairvoyance about Taylor well ahead of others.
"Unless this young man does a 180-degree turn," he wrote two years ago, "coaches, attorneys and bail bondmen appear to be headed for sleepless nights."
On hearing of the shooting, Wilbon had a final word. "This latest news isn't surprising in the least."