Allow me to wax poetic about football.
In her later years, my mother eschewed football in favor of baseball. “It’s just so…brutal…violent,” she said.
Many writers before me have observed that football is a ritual reenactment of the primal clashes of mankind. There are broad-shouldered, narrow-waisted men fighting on the field and hourglass-shaped women on the sidelines cheering them on. Mama was onto something. Nowadays, analysts have turned their thoughts to the consequences of the sport’s violence–brain damage, memory loss, dementia, neuromuscular disorders, orthopedic injury–and the failure of the industry to support players who have passed their use-by date.
People get all that, but people watch football games because they are fun to watch. There is a culture of football in the US; people schedule their lives around it. Home game? Whee! Excuse to let down your hair, paint up your face in team colors and escape your humdrum life. Party on! Tailgate cities and healthy economic support of the poultry industry ensue. The very existence of fried chicken, chips and dip and beer are justified.
College football, its rituals and rivalries are a religion in the South. My son went off to college last week. Yes, he attended high school football games, in a sort-of lukewarm way. He has never shown a lot of interest in football of any kind. Now all of a sudden, he is a student at the University of South Carolina and, GO COCKS!
Me, I cannot watch football at a crowded party, in a bar full of strangers or on a flat screen under a canopy at your tailgate. The rumble of voices, the distraction of folk coming and going, the food and drink–for me these things all take away from the purity of football. I have to concentrate, gird up my loins and (sort of) play. I watch to see the plays unfold and follow the announcers as they dissect the replay. I find it difficult to give the game my full attention when there are more than a couple of people in the room. It is as though I get in a zen state where the only things in existence are me…and the football game itself.
This week marks the opening of college football season 2014. I graduated from the University of Georgia during the Hershel Walker years, but I have always considered myself a Clemson sympathizer.
Lest you think I’m preaching from the sidelines, I worked as a clerk in the Wofford College Athletic Department. I personally assembled the playbook for the Wofford Terriers with whom the ClemsonTigers opened their 11-0 national championship season. I’ve also attended some mighty fine contests on the gridiron, games such as Clemson v UGA back in the early 80’s when these teams won back-to-back national championships, and I’ve felt the earth shake in Death Valley at Clemson-Carolina games. I’ve heard the Dawgs woof between the hedges and stood outside the coliseum in the ticket line. Heck, I separated my left shoulder playing intramural flag football at UGA. I’ve even been to the Esso Club on game day.
So I self-identify as a Clemson fan though I don’t wear their colors. I pull for Clemson even when they play my almer mater. But unlike many Clemson fans, I don’t hate the University of South Carolina. As a matter of fact, I yell for them like crazy when they play anyone other than the Tigers.
It gets a little more complicated when the two South Carolina powerhouses lock horns. Long ago, I would have remained true to the Tigers. Perhaps I’ve mellowed out over the years, or maybe it’s the respect the old ball coach has brought to Gamecock football, for now I pull for whichever team stands to gain the most in the polls.
There, I’ve said it and it feels good, like I’ve emerged from some kind of closet.
This week, South Carolina opens with Texas A&M at home and Clemson travels a few miles down the road to clash with the mighty Dawgs in Athens, Georgia. Have a happy–and safe–football season. Don’t punch some guy in the parking lot of a bar like one of my friends did one time. Travel safely, party responsibly and enjoy.
Don’t mind me. I’ll be watching in air-conditioned comfort, solo, in the lotus position with my head in the game.