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August 12, 2012

Stronger Than a Religion: College Football

I feel no need to apologize for my inveterate college football addiction. It is as much as who I am as my name and my family. To steal a Lewis Grizzard line, "I'm Bulldog born, and Bulldog bred and when I die, I'll be Bulldog dead." However, when you meet fans of just plain football or regular folks, especially from outside the South, they have a hard time understanding the devotion or distinction.  

Recently, I had the opportunity to Tweet with a Tweeter who took umbrage with Southerners' disrespect for Ohio State football. Rather than go for the easy win (0 fer 10!), I decided to parry with him/her. The end Tweet was thusly summarized from me: "Don't take it personally, we don't respect each other. But you better not take on any one of us." Only we get to make fun of each other. That is our birthright.

Rick Bragg hit the nail on the head with his recent piece in ESPN: The Magazine. Will his writings ever sufficiently explain Southern College Football to the masses? No more so than I'll ever have the Higgs Boson particle or Justin Bieber adequately explained to me. Does it do a good job of capturing what we, the corporate we of Southern College Football, feel and think and see? Yes.

Is it simple to make the academics joke? Sure, but having lived in other parts of our great country, I can say with absolute certainty absent a few schools, Vanderbilt included, there is nothing magical about the level of academics at any major university outside the South. Furthermore, I can say with all certainty that those other parts of the country want, no desperately need, to be more like us, or for us to be more like them. Yet, it will never be so:
The point is, and we talk real slow down here, so it may take awhile to get to it, that we believe some things regardless of science and sometimes common sense. And what we mostly believe in -- across racial, political, religious and economic lines -- is football. We believe absolutely in our supremacy over all pretenders, upstarts and false prophets from the North, East, West and some heathen parts of Florida that are too sissy to mix it up with the real men of the SEC.
Finally, there is something extremely visceral about the shared experience of that belief. That singular thing that sets Dawg fans and 'Bama fans and Ole Miss fans and, yes, even Clemson fans, apart from nearly every other fan base and region of the US...that being the salve to the soul and the real, abject pain that our football can bring us.
In the winter of 1993, in an attic apartment in Cambridge, Mass., I sat homesick and watched Alabama beat the trash-talkin' Hurricanes -- I mean beat them like they stole somethin' -- to win its first national championship since Bear died. Late that night I walked through a deserted Harvard Yard, through snow and bitter cold, and thought I might yell "Roll Tide," though no one would hear. I did it anyway.
That is what fans of programs and conferences and regions that are outside of the South miss. We don't care if we are heard. They desperately need to be seen and heard and respected. For us, this isn't for show. It isn't for bluster. You can love us and we'll love you back. You can hate us and we'll just love our team and school more. That you don't like us or respect us might hurt our feelings, but in the end we care not if you like us or respect us because we are pretty damn happy with who we are

Because that is who we are.



AthensHomerDawg said...

That was a fun read. Gonna be a great season!

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