College Football in The Last Of Us Universe
AKA an excuse to remember that Alabama once lost to NIU in football
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If you check the internet even a teensy bit during the day, you’re probably hearing a lot about The Last Of Us these days, a breakout drama on HBO, based on a video game of the same name. It’s easily the best TV show or movie based on a video game in history, although that isn’t saying much. Remember this?
In case you aren’t aware, The Last Of Us is the story of a society crippled by a devastating fungal infection that turns people into hyper-aggressive zombie monsters. It’s based on an actual fungal infection that eats away the brain of ants, which is not at all terrifying to think about.
Both the show and the games grapple with not just the horror of battling fungus monsters with limited ammo and supplies, but with how a total breakdown in societal order would impact our interpersonal relationships…how anybody tries to love, live and build communities in an even most disgusting version of the Hobbesian State Of Nature.
I just replayed the first game with my wife last week, and even though we know exactly what happens, we still cried during parts of it. It’s a masterpiece. If you have access to a PlayStation in your life, I highly recommend you play it…just with the lights on, and maybe with tissues nearby.
Anyway, if there’s one flaw in The Last Of Us, it’s that the universe fails to tell us what happens to college football.
Note: this newsletter will include light spoilers on The Last Of Us Part I, Part II, and maybe the TV show, idk I haven’t finished it all yet
Here’s what we know
First, let me acknowledge that the catalyst for this newsletter came from a post I read on friend-of-the-newsletter Meet At Midfield, from user VT_Ben.
We don’t know exactly when the first Cordyceps brain infection case occurs in the Last of Us universe, but according to the HBO Show, the pandemic reached a critical mass on September 23, 2003. This is when protagonist Joel Miller and his family attempt to flee the Austin, Texas area, where you can clearly see mass pandemonium, zombies in the streets, etc. I think it’s safe to say this would be a disaster that would register on the Waffle House Index.
Let’s say this moment is when anything resembling typical society stops. That would mean that the last FBS football game ever played was Wisconsin’s 38-27 victory over UNC, played on September 20.
That would make the Week 4 AP Poll of 2003 the last AP Poll ever taken. Oklahoma was the #1 team in the country then, with Miami, USC, Ohio State and Virginia Tech filling out the top five.
The last college football national champion before the total breakdown of society and civil order, of course, would have been my beloved Ohio State Buckeyes, a fact that shockingly has yet to come up in the HBO program. I understand the show is supposed to be 20 years about the initial outbreak, but the Joel and Ellie ever go anywhere near what’s left of Ohio, I guarantee there’s gonna be a dude in a goatee somewhere who wants to talk about the Bucks.
The last Alabama game before hordes of runners, clickers, and bloaters overran our cities? Well, friends, that would have Alabama’s 19-16 loss to Northern Illinois. The Tide would head into the undead apocalypse with a 2-2 record.
Also, Notre Dame would be 1-2, Frank Solich would have never been fired at Nebraska, Nick Saban never leaves LSU, and the Big East never vanishes.
Would that be worth trading off civilization as we know it? Well,,, it’s hard to say.
The video game, however, uses a different date
In the PlayStation game, ‘Outbreak Day’ actually happens on September 26, 2013.
In the game, we see pandemonium in the streets early in the morning, with Tommy waking up Sarah at 1:48 AM. If we’re to assume that’s 1:48 AM on September 26, that means the world ends before the two games scheduled that Thursday evening (Virginia Tech beat Georgia Tech, and Iowa State beat Tulsa). That would mean that the last college football game played in the video game was Wyoming’s 56-23 win over Air Force.
I CHECKED because I am a serious professional
Alabama (sigh) was the #1 team in the AP Poll after Week 4 of that season, with Oregon, Clemson, Ohio State and Stanford filling out the top five.
Of course, if we’re being honest here, we can’t say exactly when the last college football game was because it’s likely that in a true world-ending apocalyptic event, different parts of the country would react differently. We can see Austin erupt into carnage on September 26, but according to the game, schools don’t close in Lincoln, Massachusetts until October.
What are the odds that even as the military tried to forcibly impose quarantine zones, some SEC schools still try to play football? I reckon 100%. Did a player’s brain turn into liquified soup in the middle of a game? Well, brother, that’s why we have 85 scholarships! You need a next-man-up mentality to win here in the SEC. Hell, Ole Miss probably would have tried to play a clicker at defensive back. You can’t coach that kind of natural aggressiveness, after all.
Anyway, we certainly don’t get to the end of the 2013 season in this universe. Jameis Winston never wins the Heisman, we never get a College Football Playoff, and the last national championship game anybody ever sees is Alabama’s win over Notre Dame. Barf.
Why this fact isn’t the main impetus to find a cure for the fungal virus is a major oversight in the game, IMO. I’m not sure exactly what the show will do, but we never hear very much about the South or Midwest in the games. I have to assume Firefly spinoffs in those areas were trying to cure defensive tackles first.
Are there any other college sports tie-ins that we missed?
The actual gameplay in The Last Of Us takes place about 20 years after the outbreak reaches a critical mass. The game starts in Boston (and then in nearby Lincoln, MA), makes its way to Pittsburgh, then Wyoming, rural Colorado, and then finally, Salt Lake City.
I couldn’t find any references to any colleges or professional sports teams in the Boston or Pittsburgh areas of the game, although it is possible that I missed them while running for my life, trying to scrounge up essential duct tape and broken scissors. A major chapter of the game occurs on the campus of the fictional Eastern Colorado University, which appears to be based on Colorado State. The school’s color scheme is green and orange, and their mascot is the Big Horns. Joel is explaining the rules of football to Ellie as they ride to the campus for the first time.
The only explicit sports reference I found in the Salt Lake portion of the game was a bus station ad for a fictional Utah Snakes hockey team. While other Salt Lake landmarks are visible, I couldn’t make out Rice–Eccles Stadium or anything. Perhaps the clickers were BYU fans.
Did the Bruins move to Utah? Is THAT why the world is ending?
In the second game, The Last Of Us Part II, a significant chapter of the game takes place at SoundView Stadium, which is meant to represent the real Lumen Field in Seattle. I haven’t finished all the second game yet (mostly because this is very much not the kind of video game I can play while my children are awake), so maybe there are other college sports tie-ins that I don’t know about. Given that the bulk of the second game happens in Pac-12 country, though, I doubt it.
In conclusion, I’m not saying I would look forward to a universe where every single institution turns to fungus-encrusted dust, where daily life makes a Cormac McCarthy novel look like an episode of Teletubbies.
But if that world also meant that the last Alabama game ever was a loss to a MAC team? Well, that might take away the sting for just a moment.
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