Otherwise Known in Alabama as College Football Season
© B. L. Bierley 2012
It’s highly fitting that Cap and my wedding anniversary should fall this year, our unlucky thirteenth year of marriage, on the same weekend-week that college football season begins. It’s an especially unlucky year already to me, a woman who doesn’t like odd numbers in a way that borders on obsessive-compulsion! So it’s safe to assume this is going to be one ugly season. Did I mention that Cap and I attended rival schools? Oh yeah, that’s no secret. But we have a mutual agreement in our “House Divided” that we will not be what I call “Bully Fans” to each other. It’s not as if we don’t have fourteen years of football seasons under our belt already either. Heck, I took Cap to meet my folks on the night of the 1998 Iron Bowl- the one game a year when the two teams meet on one of their home fields to battle it out for bragging rights (and luckily Alabama won or it could’ve gotten very messy). Yeah it’s that rivalry, y’all. Despite that win, my folks still haven’t forgiven me for bringing an enemy inside the compound.
My collective family, God love them all, are Alabama fans of the acute, cultish kind. If you don’t like Alabama, then they don’t welcome you at all. They only tolerate Cap because he doesn’t beat me, he likes animals, and because I am very happy in my marriage—characteristics that they like and a fact they cannot dispute. To my family, Auburn fans are along the same lines as Hitler, the Devil, and Saddam Hussein. Sadly, they are not alone in their thinking.
The Alabama vs. Auburn rivalry is really that strong. It’s like an actual war breaks out the minute the television and radio programs start talking pigskin. Football season, particularly college football, is a huge deal down where we live. People you talk to by the coffee maker at work suddenly become people you try hardest to avoid. Good natured, friendly morning conversations suddenly become clipped and strained. People glance at you with narrowed eyes and judgment clouded by the challenge of a rival teams jersey waved at them like a red cape to a bull every Friday when the team colors are showing. These two teams in particular can bring out the worst in people. And all others are equally unacceptable, though not to the same degree.
Alabama, the state not the team, has two very distinctive Southeastern Conference football teams existing within its boundaries. One is my alma mater, the prestigious University of Alabama, and then there’s the other one. Okay, the other team is Cap’s alma mater, Auburn. There are a few other teams within the state schools, but these two have one of the most antagonistic rivalries in the history of college football. It’s an ongoing war with these two teams and their fans. People who grew up in this state have to pick a side in this battle at birth (or their parents dress them in crimson and white or orange and blue until they give up and accept it or rebel around age ten). If people move to the state they have to pick a side, right after they join a church and open a bank account to prove they’re serious. When people ask you, “Who do you root for?” in this state, well, you’d better pay attention to what they’re wearing unless you have a very good reason for your answer. If you say the wrong thing, you’re in for a sermon or a recruitment speech either way.
I’ve lived here most of my life, but I never have been what you’d call a fanatical fan of anything. While I love my home teams (high school, college, and my kids’ league sports and school teams), I have always had trouble with the near-hatred between these particular institutions. When I was a girl I was often so stressed out by the absolute loathing I would hear between my friends who were fans of opposite teams that I would tell them I rooted for a neutral school just so I wouldn’t upset the balance by taking sides. I usually claimed to pull for Georgia Tech (who never did much in football because the school is more about academics than sports—or so I’m told, and they’ve not been in the SEC since the 1960’s).
Fans here are fans year round! Sometimes it’s just tacky and fun, like when someone’s Christmas tree is done all in crimson and white, or their children’s Easter basket is delivered in its carrot orange and blue finest by a tiger rather than a bunny. When fans down here do anything they do it with their school spirit showing proudly.
Most people who support either team are content just to be the best fans they can be. They name their children after previous coaches or the famous landmarks of their campus. They wear the loudest, most noticeable attire that displays their dedication to their beloved team. They paper their Facebook walls with picture after picture of school spirit and slogans. The refuse to buy cars unless they coordinate with the customized license plate they have. I don’t mind those types of support, and in fact I count myself among those “lifestyle fans” from time to time. I’m not as dedicated as some, mostly because I don’t have the time.
The funny thing about college football is that most of the kids who play on the actual teams aren’t always natives to the state and therefore have no idea why people here go completely batty in the fall and winter months. To them the rivalry is like a beast that rises from the dead every September to wreak havoc on the humble, hospitable south. Of course the beast is never dead to those of us who live here most of our lives. To me the animosity has always seemed like a horrible sibling rivalry. They’re both in the same state, Alabama and Auburn, and yet they fight until they draw blood, or tree sap in one case of a highly unbalanced Alabama fan who did a horrible thing to a beloved landmark on Auburn’s campus. There are too many instances in the annals of state history when someone took the rivalry a little too far. When people become the dreaded “Bully Fans,” that’s when the gloves come off.
Bully Fans: Hate Crimes or Just Having Fun?
There are people in my life who take great pleasure and joy out of disparaging a rival’s fans and team. I do not support this type of bully fan, nor do I respond when they fling their poop at me. The way I see it, if you feel the need to slander my team, my team’s coach or rival fans, then you are just too insecure in your own team or coach’s abilities. I do not say that your fans have no teeth, live in trailers or have babies with their sisters but can’t go to the birth because they’re watching their team lose a football game. I don’t throw pictures up on my Facebook page that depict toothless Auburn fans or elephants humping tigers because I am smart enough to see how stupid and weak that makes me look (GJM- do you hear me?). And besides, I really just don’t roll that way.
The main rule I have is that I don’t attack my enemies when something bad happens (like allegations of player misconduct or school sanctioning) because it’s poor sportsmanship to kick a man, or a team or fan of the team, when he’s down. It’s a temptation of many bully fans to cut down the rival whenever they have a good thing going, like a flashy talented quarterback or a star running back. That’s life, friends. Sometimes the teams are nearly neck in neck, and sometimes one team will outshine the other. But digging up dirt to bring the other team low is just wrong in my opinion. It reeks of jealousy, so I won’t do it.
I also don’t support the idea of trashing the other teams with slanderous remarks or vandalism to their stadiums, their landmarks, or businesses. That’s just wrong. I don’t have to bully to prove my team is better than yours. I try to just let the game be a game. When Auburn recently had a good quarterback with alleged misconduct, I didn’t subscribe to the efforts to discredit the boy. I left that up to God or the universe to sort out. I keep my opinions to myself on what I think on such things. Instead I just hope that our boys will do their best out on the field and that the score will reflect their ability to play well and win. That’s enough for me.
Frenemies and Lovers
The fanaticism in our house is limited to good-natured teasing and fun poking. Sometimes we’ll get a wild hair and make little bets with one another on the Iron Bowl outcome. One year it was over the front door rug. If Alabama won, I would get to put an Alabama rug on the front doorstep, if Auburn won, we would put an Auburn rug. Another year it was the same with the garden flag. I’ve even heard of friends betting on lingering personal stuff if they lose—like having to shave their head or having to do specific things in bed for a specific period of time if their team should lose. The point of it is that none of that hurts anyone, and that’s why it’s fun.
I’m a highly evolved, pacifist kind of fan. I support my team. I wish my enemies well whenever they aren’t playing my beloved Crimson Tide. I do not wish them well when they play us, of course. I want to stomp them into the green grass and make them say “Uncle Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant.” But I say it with a smile. In truth Cap and I always do a little ribbing during the season. The teasing is along the lines of me poking fun at their current tight end with the hard to pronounce name. The kid’s name is Philip Lutzenkirchen, but when the announcers say it, my Alabama fan friends and I dub over it loudly so that it becomes “lotza Perkins” or “lucky jerkin’” or my personal favorite, “lick the gherkin!” And I love pointing out as often as I can that my team has more national championships (14) than his team has (2 (or will ever have, Cap, Dirk, Roof and the rest of you tiger-birdies! Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, Roll Tide!)). Ahem, as I was saying, we keep our fan support within boundaries of decorum.
I’m not a big sports fan to begin with, and in fact I get some of my best written work done when Cap is distracted by College Game Day or Sports Center. Still, being married to a man whose remote control finger is only able to find ESPN and the Golf Channel in the lineup I get plenty of exposure whether I want it or not. Together we will rib our friends a little, those who support other teams besides ours (like our neighbors, whom I’ll call Georgia- a Georgia fan and native whom I can’t call Uga, their mascot name, sounds too much like ugly, and her husband Vol- a Tennessee fan). It helps that some of our best friends and neighbors are in “House Divided” relationships like Cap and me. The mixed group of fans helps to even the playing field when we do team challenges during half-time throwing washers or darts. But it’s all in good fun.
Agreeing to Disagree
In our household we’re slightly off balance in our division among teams. I had almost eighteen months with DaVelma, after she was born and up to my divorce and before I met Cap, to keep her from going to the dark side. Ziggy was supposed to be Cap’s baby to draw over to the orange and blue. But Ziggy was born with a force inside him that gravitates to goodness. He bleeds crimson, and his coloring is just better wearing greys, reds and whites. And of course it doesn’t hurt that some of his favorite people in the world are Alabama fans! Poor Cap has to settle for Ziggy pulling for his rival. But one thing he does insist on is that we don’t discourage or encourage Ziggy either way. If Ziggy chooses Alabama over Auburn, Cap says he won’t be happy, but he’ll accept it so long as he doesn’t feel that we brainwashed his boy. So Ziggy has both Alabama and Auburn gear in his closet to choose from. That’s probably why Ziggy wears green almost every day.
The important thing is we never let our rivalry go to hurtful levels or use the media hype against one another to prove a point about whose team is better. Statistics speak a little, but mostly we just allow one another to have opinions and favorites without feeling threatened or lessened by the differences. I love Cap, even when he’s wearing an Auburn sweatshirt at my birthday party. And he loves me, even when I come to bed in my favorite Alabama sweat pants. My miniature Denny Chimes clock and Alabama sweater in a snow globe sit on either side of his little Auburn tiger bean bag stuffed animal he’s had since he was in college. I’ve even agreed to bake sugar cookies and frost them in both crimson and blue this year for the Iron Bowl. And this year’s bet on the Iron Bowl will be something along the lines of what kind of flag we will attach to the golf cart for a year or who will be wearing rival team underwear once a week for a month.
We agree to disagree over whose team is the greatest, mostly because we’re college educated and realize that it really is just a sport. Whichever team wins or loses won’t really affect our lives that much. Yeah, we’re blue (or grey if you’re me) for a day or so after a loss, but you always have the next game to look forward to. And there’s always the hope that things will be better once we get into the cooler weather in November. So to all my rival fans out there, friends or frenemies alike, you keep your chin up and shout your favorite team’s slogan (Roll Tide!) or sing your game day fight song (Yea, Alabama!) with pride as the boys come out of the tunnel tomorrow!