Thursday, May 13, 2021

Pigskin Panic

A while back, I was listening to the "Fresh Air" podcast on NPR, and host Terry Gross was introducing one of my favorite writers, David Sedaris. She mentioned that although Sedaris' writing generally tickles your funny bone, he also is not afraid to address subjects which may make readers uncomfortable. It occurred to me that my stories are typically innocuous, but to really stretch as a writer, I also should not limit myself. Hence, this post. What I want to write about today is sports, specifically football, and even more specifically, college football.

People get so excited about football. I have absolutely nothing against maintaining a healthy level of physical activity; in fact, I think that the more we sit, the worse we feel. The human body is just not made to remain in a still position for extended periods of time. But there must be something genetic about rabid fascination with football. What I mean here is the kind that keeps people glued to their seats for an entire weekend or screaming for their team to win, even suffering low-level depression when their team loses. It's all just a game, but it's a big game.

In this part of the South, college sports are front and center. When I moved to Atlanta, a female friend asked me, "So, who do you support in football, Georgia or Georgia Tech?" I replied that I had little interest in football, not to mention that having just moved from Chicago, I had little to no familiarity with either school, except that I knew Georgia Tech produced engineers. She said, "Well, you have to pick a side!" Believe me, it was years before I got around to it, and that was only when my oldest daughter enrolled at Georgia Tech. Then, the choice was clear.

Growing up in Memphis, we had a powerhouse basketball team at Memphis State (now University of Memphis), and of course, we had dedicated fans. The difference there was that basketball and football were pretty much on even footing -- you heard as much about one as the other. But honestly, down here, I don't believe the area would even function were it not for college football season. I am barely aware when teams start playing, but many of my friends, who are kind and decent people, know exactly when that first game is happening. Weddings (and probably even some funerals) get rescheduled around football games. It's amazing.

I went to Northwestern University, which back in the 70s did not have a winning football team. In fact, we were everyone's homecoming game, because we were so awful. That situation has improved greatly in the intervening years, to the point where Northwestern has played in several bowl games, including the Rose Bowl. But back in the day, we might get 9,000-10,000 fans at a game, and that was in a stadium that seated roughly 55,000. Down here, the stadiums are full to the brim and then some. At Northwestern, many Saturdays came and went without any evidence of a football game even happening. It was just quiet and peaceful on campus, and if it wasn't freezing, it would be nice to go outside for a while.

I have to admit that it's easy to get caught up in the whole thing. I have friends who say they are a "house divided" in that one person attended college (usually) at the fierce rival of the other. But going to a school is not a prerequisite for being a fan. For example, I have many friends who hail from points far north of here, but they are dyed-in-the-wool Georgia fans. Even me, myself, and I am entertained by LSU fans -- sure, I've been to Louisiana a number of times, but I didn't go to school there. However, I am totally fascinated by the level of celebration which these people are able to muster. I mean, it's Louisiana -- if you don't know how to party, you need to find another place. Also, I like the LSU colors.

So I just observe this whole thing and marvel at those people who maintain such strong ties to their alma mater or would-be alma mater. I don't totally get it, but I guess that if you like team sports, it's the bomb. Whenever I watch a football game, though, I am reminded of Andy Griffith's lines in his comedy monologue "What It Was, Was Football." In this piece, Andy plays a bumpkin sort of fellow who attends his first football game without really knowing what it's all about:

"I think it was that it's some kindly of a contest where they see which bunchful of them men can take that pumpkin and run from one end of that cow pasture to the other without gettin' knocked down or steppin' in somethin'."

We've only got about three months until college football season, so get your spirit wear while the gettin's good, amigos. Until then, review those stats from last year and prepare to make some party talk in the fall. May the best team win.