To fans, college football is so important that weddings and babies are planned around the season. Tailgating, epic rivalries and traditions - Andy Johnston explains the passion and the mayhem
You really don’t have a choice.
Not where I live. Not in the South.
You must love college football to live here. It’s that simple, really, a mandatory prerequisite for life, something that’s ingrained from birth or required to learn if you move from another state.
College football is so critical, is so high on so many priority lists, that weddings are planned around teams’ schedules and babies are timed so that they will arrive between the end of January and the start of August.
Folks – and by folks, I mean men, mostly (but there are plenty of women, like my neighbor who has had season tickets to University of Georgia football games for years) – refuse to have anything interrupting those nearly five months of fantastic football fun that consume the weekends from the end of summer until a couple of weeks after the winter holidays.
OK, I might be overstating things a little bit, but you get the point. College football is beloved throughout the U.S., but it’s right up there with God and country in the South, where it has been a part of our lives for more than 100 years.
It’s a second religion, with Saturday services that are held in monolithic stadiums filled with 100,000 like-minded and fanatic devotees and are massive multi-million dollar tributes to the grasp that college football has on our lives. College football is more than a sport.
It’s a season-long succession of social events. It’s why some of us buy RVs and spare grills and why we hang 60-inch HD TVs on our living room walls like a trophy buck.
Every three-hour game is preceded by days of planning, driving, cooking, drinking, tailgating and talking about what’s going to happen. And when it’s over, more time is spent either celebrating with vast quantities of alcohol or wallowing in misery with vast quantities of alcohol.
And then it starts all over again.
The Rituals, The Rivalries and The Passion
For a lot of Americans, not just Southerners, our love of college football is entrenched in our overwhelming devotion to a certain university. We treat those beloved teams like priceless family heirlooms.
We learn to love the traditions and history of those schools because our grandparents graduated from there or our parents met there when they were undergrads. They bought season tickets and saw the big moments and adored the star players decades ago.
They bought more season tickets when their kids were born and they began taking them to the games, passing down their devotion of their favorite teams, such as Ohio State or Texas or Alabama. I have tons of friends who are doing the same with their kids, and many of them expect them will do the same with their children.
They started taking them to games when they were in diapers, dressed them in replica uniforms or cheerleading outfits when they were toddlers and bought them jerseys of their favorite players as teens. It’s basically law in some states – like Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida – to declare your favorite team and stick by it for eternity.
My wife’s family is from Alabama, and reunions can get a little dicey because half of them are diehard Alabama fans and the other cheer for Auburn. Say the wrong thing and you’ll soon be ducking bottles and plates and whatever else is within reach.
If it’s not clear by now, these allegiances don’t die and often grow stronger as you get older. My theory is something like this: Once you’ve paid thousands of dollars for season tickets over the course of several years, you’re more committed to the cause.
And even if you don’t own three jackets, six T-shirts, two hats and a spare tire cover emblazoned with your school’s emblem, it’s easy to love college football, for several reasons.
• State pride
There generally are one or two large football-playing universities in every state that are trusted to uphold its on-field honor every week. Fans rally around those teams and hope that they’ll prevail, but they probably have a strong dislike of the other.
Even in out of the way places like Oregon, the yearly game between Oregon and Oregon State is called the Civil War. In Georgia, the rivalry between Georgia and Georgia Tech has been labeled, “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate.”
Every program has its customs and rituals that its fans love — like clanging cowbells to singing fight songs to performing crazy hand gestures after every score – and its rivals hate.
It seems like the fans of every school in Texas, from the Longhorns’ hook ’em to Southern Methodist’s pony ears to Texas A&M’s gig ’em, all manipulate their hands and fingers in varying positions to show of their school pride.
College football is more than the games. It’s everything that revolves around it,like tailgating – the art of standing around in a parking lot or school green space for hours before the game while eating large amounts of fried chicken, holding various kinds of beverages in red cups and chatting about college football. They’re are also marching bands, anxious fans, the colorful uniforms and the fevered excitement that builds until kickoff.
Some teams are natural enemies. There’s Alabama and Auburn, Michigan and Ohio State, Texas and Oklahoma, among many others. These rivalries help fuel college football on a weekly basis, generating interest around the country.
Bets often are placed between friends, co-workers and relatives. And the losers have to do something humiliating, like wear a shirt of the hated team, shave their head or sing the other school’s alma mater.
Are you a fan yet? If not, you should be. It’s five months of unbridled passion.
Die Hard Fans
Like millions of other Americans, college football consumes my life from late August into the New Year. The shine has never worn off for me, even though, as a sportswriter, I’ve covered the sport for more than 25 years. Unlike most of the guys I know, I’m not a fan of a specific team, but of college football as a whole. Even as an unbiased observer and reporter, I’m eager for the start of every season.
I watch hundreds of games throughout the year – good teams and teams so pitiful they have no right to even be on TV – and, yes, I even mourn when the last game is over, knowing it’ll be about eight months before the next one begins.
So people are baffled, especially those in other countries, to why college football is so huge, so vital to so many folks.
Who doesn’t love tradition, team spirit and barbecues and talking about our joint love. With college football, there’s always something to look forward to.
Just the other day, a story came out about an Alabama football booster club paying off the house of beloved coach Nick Saban.
Big deal, right? You bet. Especially when you consider those boosters spent $3.1 million, so their coach can live mortgage-free in his 8,759-square-foot home.
See, I told you college football was huge in the South.