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Good, Humorous Read on Southern Football

  • Written by Rick Bragg, uat professor. A wonderful piece on the inherency of football in the South. Either that or it's just gittin' to be that time of year!!
    WDE

    Down Here by Rick Bragg Football in the South

    WE BELIEVE SOME things, down here. Some of them, I have lived long enough
    to question. We believe that if a snapping turtle bites you, it will not
    turn loose until it hears thunder, but since I have seen a snapping turtle
    as big as a turkey roaster bite a broomstick in two, I believe it will
    turn loose any time it damn well wants. We believe snakes have mystical
    powers and will charm you if you look into their eyes. When I retire, I
    plan to test that theory on water moccasins at my stock pond, and if they
    have not charmed me in four or five seconds, I will shoot them. Then, in
    times of drought, I will hang them in a tree. That, we believe, will make
    it rain. My grandmother, God rest her soul, told me so, so it must be
    true.

    And we believe -- well, maybe all but the Unitarians -- that God himself
    favors our football teams. On Friday nights and Saturday afternoons, our
    coaches, some of them blasphemers and backsliders and not exactly praying
    men the other six days of the week, tell their players to hit a knee and
    ask his favor at the same exact instant the other team is also asking his
    favor, which I have always taken to mean that God, all things being equal,
    favors the team with the surest holder on long field goals.

    It is gospel -- the gospel according to Bear. After a rare Alabama loss in
    the Bryant era, Bear's sidekick on his weekly television show told him:
    "The Lord just wasn't with us, Coach."

    "The Lord," growled Bryant, "expects you to block and tackle."

    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. We have been fed that belief since we
    were infants. That, and an unhealthy amount of Coca-Cola in our baby
    bottles.

    But for years and years, we have even had the science of the BCS on our
    side and have grown accustomed to the pretty way that crystal trophy
    catches the light; for three years it has not even exited the state of
    Alabama. We are sure of this pre-eminence -- so sure that we view all the
    years when the South was not dominant in college football as a surreal
    space-and-time fluctuation, like the dancing hot dog and bun they used to
    show at intermission at the Bama Drive-in theater on Highway 21 north of
    Anniston, Ala., which we watched through a blur of Boone's Farm. It was
    just temporary, just intermission, 'til the real show resumed.

    We felt no disappointment in January, when two SEC teams played in a
    rematch for the national championship in New Orleans. We have long known
    that the real battle was in playing each other anyway. South Carolina's
    Steve Spurrier, who was nicknamed the Evil Genius when he was the head
    coach at Florida, said recently that it is harder to win an SEC
    championship than a national one. "Ask Nick Saban," he said, though he
    might have just been trying to be a smart aleck.

    My uncle John Couch, who made tires for 20 years at the Goodyear plant in
    Gadsden, Ala., is a Crimson Tide fan. Years ago, in the era of Bear Bryant
    and Shug Jordan, he suffered through a brief Auburn resurgence, in years
    he cannot precisely recall, nor cares to. But he remembers seeing a
    co-worker strutting around the plant in an old Auburn jacket. He remembers
    how he walked up to the man, leaned in close to him and sniffed.

    "I thought so," he said.

    "What?" the man asked.

    "Mothballs," he said.

    Somewhere, right now, an Auburn man is telling that same story, the other
    way around. We know the true big games. We might not even be able to tell
    you whom we played in a bowl game long ago, probably against a Yankee team
    that would melt like Crisco in the furnace of a Southern summer, but we
    remember how we did against Florida or Tennessee or Georgia. We know that
    if our teams survive the outright savagery of an SEC regular season, their
    regional rivalries, they can beat anyone.

    There will always be the occasional Utah or rare Boise State in down
    years, but they are an aberration, like heat lightning. "Somebody else
    might win a championship," says my uncle John, "sneaking out through the
    back door." Don't get him started on Notre Dame.

    We know deep in our guts that it is not truly a birthright. We know that
    it takes blood and sweat to win in college football. We know that dominant
    programs are built by smart and relentless taskmasters like Saban, who is
    so serious about the process -- the science of it -- that when he allowed
    himself a big smile after winning a second national championship in three
    years, it kind of scared me, as if Billy Graham had done a handstand.

    When Spurrier went to South Carolina seven seasons ago, he was
    disheartened when he heard fans applaud the team after a close loss.
    "Please don't clap," he told them, "when we lose a game."

    I, personally, think we're a little wack-a-doodle but usually in a good
    way. Before the hate mail begins to flood in, or people start leaching
    bile into a chat room, they should know that this story -- half of it,
    anyway -- is written in fun, because that is how I view this game.

    I had Alabama season tickets once, but it's hard to take anything too
    seriously when you're up around Neptune and can barely discern actual
    human beings. Situated somewhere above the catfish concession, I came home
    smelling like french-fried taters. And while it is a joy to watch real
    Southern football, from any seat, my self-worth has never been bound to
    this game, though there have been times in our history as a region when it
    seemed it was all we had. For Southerners, to say we do not care is to
    invite suspicion. We must know football to be Southern.

    "At LSU, for instance, everybody knows what Les Miles should have done,"
    says George C. Rable, the Charles G. Summersell chair in Southern history
    at Alabama, whose football heart belongs mostly to his grad school alma
    mater, LSU. That means last season he was 1-1...in a purely mathematical
    sense. A friend at LSU tells him that since the championship game, "one of
    the big donors has refused to wear any LSU attire...he is not wearing his
    hat." How mad do you have to be to not wear your hat?

    An award-winning author of books on Southern history, Rable is not a
    native Southerner but grew up in another football incubator, in Lima,
    Ohio, in the swirl of Ohio State-Michigan, rooting for the Buckeyes. He
    came down here to see real obsession. He once exited Tiger Stadium as the
    faithful chanted: "Go to hell, Ole Miss, go to hell."

    "And," he says, "we weren't playing Ole Miss."

    We do not care so much about professional football here because it is a
    new phenomenon and has had only 40 or 50 years to catch on. Whereas
    college football has been an antidote to an often dark history for as long
    as even our oldest people can recall. We are of long memory here. I gave a
    talk once in Mobile, Ala., and mentioned that the Southern aristocracy had
    been on the wrong and losing side in two great conflicts: the Civil War
    and the civil rights movement, prompting one older gentleman to rise from
    his seat, huffing that I did not know what I was talking about, and leave
    the room. Later, I said I was surprised that mentioning the turbulent
    1960s would anger anyone so, after so much time. A nice gentleman told me,
    no, that wasn't it. "He's still mad," the nice man said, "about the war."

    Wayne Flynt, professor emeritus of history at Auburn, says the South's
    devotion to college football probably reaches that far, to a time before
    there even was any football, to defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, "to a
    whole lot of times when we just got the hell beat out of us, as a
    culture."

    Reconstruction starved us. Then, the Ku Klux Klan swept candidates into
    pretty much every elected office in the state of Alabama and burned
    crosses on the skyline across the South. The rest of the nation, not that
    it was without sin, looked down in disdain. Then, just after Christmas
    1925, the Alabama football team boarded a train for California, for the
    1926 Rose Bowl, and fought back against that derision, even if the players
    did not know they were doing so at the time. Those young men drew, Flynt
    explains, "on a long history of not being afraid," of the hottest days or
    endless rows of cotton or a million bales of hay. "It's not like you're
    unprepared for a little physical suffering," he says, and next to the pain
    of just living down here, football was, well, like playing games.

    Not knowing any of this, the rest of the nation gave Alabama no chance
    against its Rose Bowl opponent, the vaunted University of Washington, but
    Southerners knew there was too much at stake to lose. "Even the president
    of Auburn sent a telegram," says Flynt, "telling them, You are defending
    the honor of the South, and God's not gonna let you lose this game."
    Halfback Johnny Mack Brown ran, as one writer described, like a "slippery
    eel," and the South won something of great value, at last.

    Years later, as the apparatus of Southern politics threw itself violently
    into the shameful oppression of civil rights, white Southern players again
    won national championships and acclaim on the gridiron, as front-page
    headlines belittled and ridiculed the region for its backwardness. College
    football was not a cure, not a tonic for what was wrong in the South,
    merely a balm.

    Then, as black athletes finally made their way into predominantly white
    universities, they fought their own battles on those Southern fields, "for
    something else," says Flynt, for a place not only of acceptance in the
    greater society and therefore a heroic place in the national history, but
    also a place in that shining legacy of championships, until the color line
    in college football finally faded away. Most of us cannot even imagine a
    team of any other character. And through it all, the winning continued
    'til it became expectation.

    Other parts of the country would try to condemn us for the South's very
    success, which made about as much sense, Flynt says, as our condemning
    someone else for being good at math. Our climate, culture and history made
    us supreme at this thing. "Why should you put us down," he says, "because
    we are?"

    Elsewhere, fans still grumble that Southern colleges are dominant at
    football for reasons that are, amusingly, no different from what makes
    their own programs successful from time to time. They say we have better
    athletes because we have lower academic standards, but that notion has
    become a glass house in which other colleges in other regions no longer
    wish to throw stones. Because history has shown that all programs have
    intelligent young men, some who possess the potential of Rhodes scholars,
    and other young men who think you spell that r-o-a-d-s. But region has
    little to do with which teams have more of the latter. Alabama's
    graduation ranking, as Saban points out, was third among BCS schools last
    season, behind Penn State and Stanford.

    A recruiting scandal has also proved to have no geographical bias, as much
    as other programs would like to pretend it only happens, down here. USC,
    for instance, the place where Reggie Bush's Heisman once sat, could not be
    farther from the South unless it was floating in the Pacific on a barge.
    Intolerance for losing has no geography either -- losing coaches are
    fired, even in places with ice fishing. The people who say "they're
    football-crazy down there" probably play on something called Smurf Turf,
    or wear blocks of foam-rubber cheese on their heads. The people who say
    "football is religion down there" should be reminded that we did not
    invent Touchdown Jesus.

    Remember: If The Jury Box Is Stacked With Foxes...The Chickin Is Always Guilty

  • I'd say he rather nailed it.

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    Scot by blood, Southerner by Birth, Auburn Tiger by choice - War Eagle!

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  • Great read ...funny and truthfully serious!
    Do you have a link?