Over the years, I have written many words trying to explain why football is the king sport on campus. I am beginning to doubt the validity of that long-held belief. I still love high school football, but even I have to acknowledge its grip on campuses and communities seems to be slipping.

Two weeks ago, Petaluma played a Saturday afternoon game at Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley. There were barely enough home folks in the stands to fill a good-sized bus stop. Last week, when the Trojans played at Terra Linda in San Rafael there were even fewer spectators. If the freshmen and junior varsity players hadn't stuck around, the home stands might have been declared a historical monument. It should be noted that at both games, Petaluma's visiting fans out numbered the home crowd.

It might be that Saturday afternoon games — and non-league games at that — don't attract the attention of the students or maybe there is a different mind set about sports in Marin County where the emphasis tends to be on active rather than spectator sports. There is nothing wrong with that. Going for a bike ride or kayaking on the bay is certainly much healthier than eating a hot dog in the stands.

But I've noticed a decline in attendance even at local games. And, it isn't just the numbers. It might be just me getting older, but it seems to be a decline in the excitement. It isn't something measurable. It is just a feeling.

My own theory is that there are many other sports pulling at students. Kids prefer to be participants rather than spectators, and the more students diversify, so do their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. They, rightfully, want to see their favorite play whatever sport he or she has chosen.

Then there is competition from all the media. College football, pro football, previews, recaps, every home has a 50-yard line seat for major events. The thought briefly crossed my mind to skip Petaluma's Saturday afternoon game to watch the Alabama-Texas A&M college spectacular. Even at the high school game, people had their misnomered "phones" blinking as they checked the scores.

That isn't to say Friday Night Lights are dimmed to a faint glow. They are still the brightest thing on campus. A big basketball game — either boys or girls — might draw a packed gym that brims with emotion, but it still can't match a big football game for fervor, excitement and passion. Crowds have been down at every game I've seen this fall, but league play hasn't started yet and the big games are yet to come.

There will again be no Egg Bowl this year, although and here's a secret revealed, it may be coming back very soon, but there will be some big games.

Casa Grande's unbeaten start has excitement building at the Big House and there will be some big crowds for home games against Montgomery on Sept. 27 and Rancho Cotate on Oct.. 18. Watch how many Gaucho fans travel to see the last regular-season game on Nov. 8 when the destination is Cardinal Newman.

Petaluma High has a chance to be in contention for the Sonoma County League championship, and, if that happens, Steve Ellison Field will be packed and boisterous when Sonoma Valley comes in on Nov. 8.

And, if you want to see the past, present and future of what high school football really means, try to get a seat at Andy Azevedo Field in Tomales on Oct. 25 when the Braves entertain St. Vincent.

That one game is enough to convince even a novice skeptic like me that, while high school football may be fading a bit, it is still a very big thing and still king sport on campus.

(Contact John Jackson at johnie.jackson@arguscourier.com)