There is something about a crisp evening in early fall that brings a sense of anticipation in the heart of every football fan. Friday night lights on a high school field marked with white lines and hash marks chase the growing darkness away. Smoke from the concession stand drifts out over the field, carrying the char grilled aroma of hamburgers and hot dogs. For a brief moment, everything seems right in the world.

This could be our year!

Every new season holds promise. Every team starts with the same record. Everybody is tied for first place. All of the practice in the hot August sun could pay out in dividends of games won and championships to be remembered forever.

Time stands still…and then the whistle blows and the ball is kicked high into the air. The game is on!

A true fan loves the game for what it is – some prefer high school, some college and some pro football. For others, the only thing that matters is that it’s football.

At the high school and college level, every game counts. There is no pre-season. In the NFL, however, the first few pre-season games are a chance for coaches to observe their team in action against an actual opponent, without it counting toward the ultimate outcome of the season. It’s different than just practicing against your own team every day.

While this is good for the teams to get ready for “the real thing,” it can be difficult for fans. The other day, a friend posted on Facebook, “Why is pre-season football so painful to watch?”

During pre-season, for the most part, it’s not the starters playing, and even hard fought victories don’t count toward the record. From all appearances, the outcome doesn’t matter.

But something does matter here. These new guys are working hard to make the team. Their future is on the line. The future chemistry of the team is on the line. It does all count for something, it’s just hard to see.

Casual fans are all about the thrill of the championship game, when the stakes are high and the superstars are playing at their peak. But students of the game realize that no one ever won a championship by coasting during the pre-season. Success begins by playing hard and making it count, even if no one is keeping score.

What very important aspects of your life are you overlooking? What could you be missing because you think what you are doing right now doesn’t really count?

The real pain of missing something in pre-season is felt later.