Geoffrey Norman felt right at home when he Visited Valdosta, Ga., for his story, which begins on page 68, about that small city's tradition of successful high school football teams. Norman, 45, grew up in Atmore, a small sawmill town in Alabama with much the same cordial feel as Valdosta.
Norman knew, however, that Valdosta wasn't just another Atmore after he was picked up at 6:30 one morning at his motel and driven to a little restaurant on the outskirts of town where he observed a local ritual: Friday breakfast with about a dozen members of the Touchdown Club and their families. "They're there every week during the season—eating eggs, sausage, grits, and biscuits with redeye gravy—grown-ups talking about a bunch of teenage boys playing football," Norman says.
Norman knows his grits and pigskin. Two years ago he wrote a book entitled Alabama Showdown: The Football Rivalry Between Auburn & Alabama. "There just isn't anywhere else I know about where football is as much a part of the real culture as it is in the old Confederate South," he says. "But I've never found a place quite like Valdosta, which takes that high passion and raises it another notch or two."
Norman's own high passion is the outdoors. From 1978 to '82 he wrote the "Outdoors" column for Esquire, and several of his books—he has written four—and short stories have been about the environment and the pursuit of game. And when he and his wife, Marsha Daniel, a photographer-filmmaker from North Carolina, decided it was time to raise a family, they moved from New York City to Dorset, Vt., with summers spent on Alabama's Gulf Coast.
When he's not writing, Norman hunts, fishes or canoes. Two years ago he joined the Oswegatchie Irregulars, whose members hunt deer with flintlock muzzle-loading black-powder rifles. Even though such activities make the outdoor life in New England special, moving back to the South is always a possibility for the Normans.
And certainly his visit to Valdosta didn't diminish his affection for the region. "I went down there with an open mind, but kind of expecting to find some things we deplore about sports," Norman says. "I didn't find much. Sometimes the enthusiasm for the team is excessive, but I'd rather see people get excessive about football than the state lottery."