I know that summer is done now, because the breeze through the window screens in the morning whispers of bonfires and pumpkins and trees aflame with color, and the sky is that perfect blue to which only September and October seem to sign their names, and I turn on the TV and there is college football again.
I know it's fall now, because Michigan is beating someone 600-3 and Ohio State, which cannot let Michigan one-up it ever, is beating someone else 601-3.
I know it's fall because a Mid-American Conference school is beating a Big Ten school again (it's Western Michigan over Northwestern this time), a rite of early September that has become as much a tradition as Labor Day itself.
I know it's fall because someone just lost in one of those oh-my-god upsets (Sorry, Oklahoma! Too bad, so sad, LSU!), and because all those iconic houses (Michigan Stadium, Ohio Stadium, Kyle Field) are well populated again, and because the Old College Try still lives everywhere, but mostly, and most touchingly, at the service academies.
Which brings us to one of the best stories of the first real day of college football.
It's the story of a Naval Academy plebe named Malcolm Perry, who started his Saturday sitting in his dress whites in the stands with the Brigade of Midshipmen. Navy's fourth-string quarterback, he'd been sick all week and missed practice, so he didn't dress for the opener against Fordham.
But then starter Tago Smith injured a knee in the first half and had to go off, and that left Navy with only one quarterback because Perry was sick and the third-string quarterback was suspended. And so Perry was summoned from the stands.
Someone raced around and found his uniform, and by the fourth quarter, Malcolm Perry was playing in the game, which Navy won 52-16.
And now you know why they call them "service academies": Because even plebes sitting in the stands are occasionally called to serve.