JJ Vincent, on College Football: Alabama vs Auburn style.
College football season is officially here.
Which means it’s SEC time.
Which means it’s Alabama vs Auburn time in my world.
Which means I, and many others like me, will endure 3-4 months of “Roll Tide!” “War Eagle”, while drowning in a sea of crimson, gray, houndstooth, navy, and orange. But it has to be the right crimson and orange. Too red, that’s Gamecocks (South Carolina) or Bulldogs (Georgia). Orange too bright? That’s Vols (Tennessee). We’ll be navigating the intricasies of soap-opera/WWE level rivalries for the rest of our time here.
If you live in another college-football-mad region, you understand. If not, take a knee.
When I first came here, I knew squat about SEC football. This did not endear me to my male peers. While on an outing with my partner, his best friend, and my MIL-to-be, I saw a display that said Roll Tide and had an elephant on it. My logical (to me) question was, “What does an elephant have to do with football?”. When they were done laughing, they explained that that was Alabama’s mascot. When I innocently asked a co-worker, who just happened to be a local sports radio personality, what this “Iron Bowl” thing that you could win tickets to was, he choked back a laugh…and got 30 minutes worth of airtime out of it. (side note: It’s the Alabama-Auburn game. BIG GAME. And he didn’t use my name, for which I am still grateful.)
Months later, on a job interview, I was asked, no joke, what I knew about college football, and I said, “Just enough to have a conversation.” The gent’s office was plastered in ‘Bama, but I guess it was a good-enough answer. I got the job. Years later, he told me that if I had said I was an Auburn fan, he would not have hired me. I believed him. Still do.
Weddings and funerals are arranged, or rearranged, around game schedules. Don’t expect much service if the game is close in the last two minutes, there’s a contested call, a player is down, or there’s about to be, or has been, an Epic Play. That second date may not happen if your teams aren’t compatible, or your date’s team won’t fly with your family. Some place you’ve been dying to go but is always swamped? Consult your nearest game schedule. If there’s a Big Game on, go. You’ll have the place damn near to yourself. If you are a small business who counts on Saturday traffic, see previous sentences. Unless you have a TV. On. In your location. And people know it.
You learn early on that the entire mood of an office on Monday can be predicted by the weekend scores. See who beat who and you’ll know who to approach with caution.
You also learn who does and does not take this lightly. I had the misfortune of, in front of several coworkers, questioning the salary of the current Alabama football coach. After they were done with me, I knew more about the finer points of college football economics and the outstanding character and qualifications of this gentleman than I ever wanted to, and swore to myself I would never make that mistake again. Another time, I told a woman about a cake I’d seen that said, “Go War Eagles”, a mistaken reference to Auburn, who despite their battle cry of “War Eagle”, are in fact the Tigers. (I was confused at first, too.) I found this amusing, figured that it had been done by an new arrival, said I once might have made the same mistake. You’d have thought I’d just beaten her dog. She was deeply offended and suggested that the cake decorator should have been fired for being so stupid.
To be sure, there are other SEC teams. And they do beat the sacred Alabama teams.
But here, I am still amazed at how deep this stuff goes. You pick your loyalty early, usually in line with your family, and you stick with it. And there’s a good chance no one in your family went to either school. I was cautioned before I moved here that if I was going to pick a team, it had to be Auburn, because my partner’s family is Auburn. Please note, none of them attended. If your child chooses to go to the rival university, you suck it up and deal with it, although I’ve heard about plenty of family fights over this, and parents and students receiving less-than-enthusiastic congratulations, if not outright, “Why on earth would you ever want to go THERE?”
That said, though, differences can be put aside when the fit hits the shan and Really Bad Things Happen. After Tuscaloosa got devastated by the April 2011 tornadoes, Auburn raced to help their sworn enemies. When two historic trees were poisoned and ultimately cut down at Auburn, Bama fans were there mourning along side their permanent rivals. Tragedy transcended trash talk.
But come most Mondays, I get ready to answer the Big Question….”Did you watch the game?” And I’m ready with my usual answer.
“Nope. Too busy sewing.”
Photo: Dave Martin / AP