By BJ Bennett
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Down here, you’re not born a boy or a girl; you’re born a Gamecock or a Tiger. Down here, football is just as entrenched in our culture as Jesus, sweet tea and BBQ sandwiches.
Simply put, it’s different down here. Just ask former Heisman trophy winner Frank Sinkwich.
“I’m from Ohio,” the University of Georgia legend once said, “but if I’d known what it was like down south, I would have crawled down here on my hands and knees.”
Football in the south is an interesting beast. It’s not a game, it’s not a pastime…it’s a way of life. It’s a mixed drink of family, religion, politics and pageantry, spiked with shots of antagonism, arrogance and pride.
Critics label our view of college football as naïve and tendentious. Our response? We couldn’t agree more. Southerners revel in regional bias and why shouldn’t we? In the south, we transform a vast picnic area into The Grove. We see a stadium on the river and bring a Navy. We take a plain desert stone and make it magic. We have The Chop, The Chomp and The Ramblin’ Wreck. We root for the same team as our dad, the same team as his dad and say “to hell” with the team of your dad’s dad. We call players by their first names, anyone on the athletic staff “coach,” and to the chagrin of media pundits and those who just don’t understand, we say “we.”
Southern football is why my grandmother spent fall Saturdays in orange capris, blue Reebok classics and alligator jewelry and had a football card of Danny Wuerffel taped to her dresser. It’s the same reason why my mom can’t watch the fourth quarter, my dad won’t watch the first quarter and my uncle and his two sons have walked around Valdosta, Georgia with a little more pep in their step since December 7, 2002.
Southern football isn’t tailgating, it’s all-nighting. It’s not about painting your face; it’s about painting your chest. It’s not about grills, it’s about cookers. Inside the stadium, you don’t talk to your neighbors, you yell at them. Those around you aren’t strangers; they’re 85,000 of your closest friends. You don’t go on the road when you travel to see your team play…you go home.
Down here, you’re not born a boy or a girl; you’re born a Gamecock or a Tiger. Down here, college football is just as entrenched in our culture as Jesus, sweet tea and barbeque sandwiches. We say “Yes Ma’am” and “No Sir,” but we also say “Roll Tide,” “War Eagle” and “Pig Sooey.” Down here, two plus two equals third down and six.
Southern football is why you drive through Wrightsville, Georgia, and see “The Home of Herschel Walker” on Highway 15. It’s why hundreds of adults in the state of Alabama are named “Bear.” Southern football is Billy Cannon, Bo Jackson and Archie, Eli and Peyton Manning. It’s Bobby Bowden, Vince Dooley, Eddie Robinson and the Ole’ Ball Coach. It’s detergent boxes under toilet paper, frat boys in team-colored pants-it’s Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molley Hatchet in button-down shirts, Southern Living with a cowboy hat; it’s a clash of styles that produces a scene often imitated but never duplicated. Ever.
The setting? So picturesque you don’t want to touch it, yet so enthralling you just can’t let it go. It’s a similar one in Knoxville, Tennessee, Starkville, Mississippi and Blacksburg, Virginia, and it has been for years.
Southern football is Erk Russell joking, “We don’t cheat at Georgia Southern, that costs money and we don’t have any.” It’s John Heisman saying, “It’s better to have died as a young boy than to fumble the football.” It’s Bobby Dodd saying he’d rather face the lions in the coliseum than the Tigers in Baton Rouge. And it’s Clemson fans stating they would rather be on probation than lose to Furman.
The players, the coaches and the rivalries are captivating here in the south. Florida-Georgia weekend causes more people to call in sick on Monday morning than the stomach flu or strep throat. Alabama-Auburn divides households, neighborhoods and the entire state and The Egg Bowl is a true late November tradition. The storylines are just as alluring. Think “The Choke at Doak,” “Lindsay Scott!!” or the 1961 Clemson-South Carolina game where a group of USC students impersonated the Tiger football team in pre-game warm-ups, catering to the crowd and the band before flopping all over the field and mocking Clemson’s agricultural background with milking hand motions.
Though the press tries to hype the last week in the regular season as rivalry week, every week is rivalry week.
Something down here makes this game different. College football has a legitimate influence on state government, a major affect on commerce and local economies and is the lifeblood and pulse of God’s country.
Perhaps former Tennessee Volunteer radio personality George Mooney put it best.
“Southerners are proud of their football heritage, their schools, and their teams. And they share a deep pride that goes with being from the South,” he said.
It’s a match made, and currently outplayed, in heaven, Down Here.
Email B.J. Bennett your southern college football thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.