Posted: Monday August 29, 2005 1:43PM; Updated: Monday August 29, 2005 7:49PM
In the South, there are few stories bigger than the Steve Spurrier's return to the SEC.
My grandfather turned 90 years old this weekend, so I traveled from New York to L.A. (Lower Alabama) for the big celebration. Blogging from the farm is an interesting experience, because as much as I like living in Manhattan, pecking away on the laptop while sitting on a porch swing is pretty unbeatable. Except for the Alabama state bird, the mosquito.
Here in Alabama, and all across the South, for that matter, college football fever is in full swing. Reading the New York Post and New York Daily News every day, you'd have no idea how D.J. Shockley is adjusting to the starting QB gig in Athens, or that Steve Spurrier makes his Gamecock debut this weekend (with an offense he's dubbed the "cock n' fire," which sounds like something I learned about in 11th grade health class).
Unless the St. John Red Storm goes on an improbable run and sweeps the BCS -- improbable, I know, since they don't even have a men's football team -- the college game will probably never get its due up North in the media capital of the world. Understandable. And of course, no one in the South will ever really care about the Yankees or the Red Sox.
Here on the farm, taped to my grandfather's refrigerator are two newspaper clippings, both aged and yellow. One features Bear Bryant, his houndstooth hat pulled low on his brow, being escorted off the field after a bowl game victory. The other picture is of Gene Stallings, being carried off the field after Alabama's 1992 national championship win over Miami. There's also a ticket stub from the 1963 Orange Bowl, as well as a stub from some old regular season game between Alabama and Nebraska.
Submit a comment or question for Lang.
Just before we took the big family portrait yesterday afternoon, my grandfather unleashed a loud, "Roll Tide!"
And my grandfather didn't even go to Alabama.
This is college football in the South, where the only thing more important than where you go to church is what school you root for. Your allegiances are displayed by bumper stickers and by plastic flags projecting out the car window. It's not replica jerseys -- because they don't make completely accurate current college replicas -- so it's sweats and t-shirts. It's Winnebagos and paper plates, burgers and barbeque chicken. With a side of potato salad, of course.
It's Cokes that get watered down from the sun and humidity, getting sunburn on just one side of your face, and borrowing suntan lotion from stranger in front of you. Frat boys in dress shirts, ties and slacks, and regular people in shorts and sneakers. SEC coaches on TV shilling for pressure-treated lumber, ACC coaches overshadowed by the basketball coaches.
I've never been to a college game up North or out West, but I assume it's a similar, if smaller, experience. College football is equal parts family and funseekers. And at the risk of choking on a cliché, college football in the South really is a way of life, moreso than any pro sport has ever been and probably will ever be. This is partly a reflection of the Southern economy. Most people here aren't going to shell out $45 a pop to watch the Atlanta Hawks play the Los Angeles Clippers. Pro football is popular, as long as the teams are winning (note that the Atlanta Falcons have never had back-to-back winning seasons), and the Braves always average a solid crowd, but famously have had problems selling out playoff games.
Why is college football so enduring down here? I think it has something to do with spirit. It's easy and fun to joke about the schools turning into football factories, about the students not really being students, but at the end of the semester, they've got to pass classes like the rest of us once did. These are real kids, who hang out at the student center and for the most part will never play football again after they leave college. So for them this is it, the only memories they'll have to live the rest of their lives on.
And with a pro career eliminated, they don't have to worry about playing for the name on the back of the jersey, and instead can concentrate on playing for the name on the front of the jersey. We understand this, as fans, and we don't root for them, as people, but as representatives of our favorite schools. University presidents like to talk about academics and the importance of the school's rich sociology or math department. The day 105,000 people show up for a math competition, I'll start listening to them. We want to see football, hear helmets cracking, brass sections blowing.
Right now, it's 8:21 a.m., and I'm at a Panera Bread Company restaurant, strictly to rock the free WiFi, although the bagels aren't bad, either. (Note to self: Ask Peter King about the lattes here.)
Looking around, there are about 14 people in here, give or take a few. And I see two Auburn hats, an Alabama golf shirt and a car with an Alabama flag outside.
Are you ready for some football? We are.
Game Of The Week
After the brilliance of last week's Funky Truck game, this week we'll try another simple game, but one that requires an amazing amount of control. Perhaps too much.
College Athlete Of The Week
Last year, University of Miami linebacker Willie Williams shot to fame largely because of his amazing series of diaries that told of his visits to various colleges. I don't know much about Kenny Irons, but even as a Georgia fan, anyone who gives answers like this deserves our support. I did some research and Mr. Irons is a third-string halfback for the Tigers. We'll keep track of his stats here each week this season. Auburn faces Georgia Tech this Saturday.