“It’s just different down here, son,” said an old man to me. The topic of conversation was college football, and not just any college football, but Southern football. Coming from the great state of Utah, I thought I had experienced what “big time” college ball was about, having been to too many games to count, and having watched ESPN before I could even talk.
I was lucky enough to spend two years of my life in the Southern part of the United States, while serving a mission for my church. While most of my time was spent preaching the gospel, being a football fanatic, I took the time to ask the locals about their respected teams, and the game that means so much to them.
One of my favorite memories discussing football with these great people, came during church actually, on a beautiful Sunday morning in the South. It was after the first hour of the service, and I found myself in the middle of a heated debate, whether or not Alabama was going to run the table again in the fall. I asked the man, “you excited for this upcoming season?” His responses was classic, “in 36 days I’ll be in Dallas watching Bama stomp on SC, but I’m just a little fired up.”
For any football freak like me, anytime you’re in that kind of environment of college football, you’re excited as all get out. I’ll never forget when I saw my first football “shrine” in someone’s home. It was a beautiful room dedicated to nothing but the Auburn Tigers, everything from banners, game programs from the 70’s, and a plaque remembering the game when the Tigers beat Bama in 2013. It was my first shrine, but it was far from the last.
My favorite fans to interact with were those who supported the University of Alabama. Ninety five percent of the people I talked to did not attend the University, nor had they ever been to Tuscaloosa. It was the like song “Mountain Music” played by Alabama, where one of the members says at the beginning of the song, referring to a mountain, “yeah, one of these days I’m gonna climb that mountain.” I could almost hear the Bama fans saying, “yeah, one of these days I’m gonna go to Tuscaloosa.” In their homes, family pictures were equally matched by art of Bryant-Denny Stadium, or a portrait of Bear Bryant standing on the sideline. Roll Tide is a term that the children know, and will say extremely often. High school kids most prized memory of their life, is when A.J. McCarron came to a youth football camp in Mobile, and threw them all a pass.
Florida State fans are no slouches either. Let me make this clear, I hate Florida State, having bled Hurricane orange and green since my birth. Having said that, I was extremely impressed by the dedication and loyalty by those who bleed garnet and gold. You go down Gaines Street in Tallahassee on a Saturday afternoon in the fall, and it’s a glorious sight. Thousands upon thousands of people dressed in Seminole gear, making their way down to Doak Campbell Stadium. You ask them about Bobby Bowden, and their face lights up like a Christmas tree, “you know, he’s just such a good Christian,” says an elderly woman. “I’ll tell you what, there was one time I saw him at a golf tournament in Thomasville, man still gets around!” You mention anything about the Hurricanes or the Gators, you will get an earful. Even worse, you’re spotted wearing blue, green or orange, and you will get called out, trust me, I’ve been there. Now, you wanna get a Nole angry? Talk to them about Chris Rix, and the early 2000’s. “You know, if we had a decent quarterback those years, or a decent kicker, we would’ve won five more national championships,” says a heated middle aged man, supporting a Columbia FSU fishing shirt.
Those who yell War Eagle are not to messed with either. The great part about Auburn fans, is that they’re very distinguished, polished people. Though Alabama has dominated the last decade of the rivalry, Tiger fans are quick to point out that they are more educated than those in Title Town. They speak, almost in reverence, about Cam Newton, and the 2010 season. They will tell you exactly where they were when Chris Davis ran back the field goal to beat the Tide. Mention anything about Nick Saban, and they may not offer you desert.
All in all, it’s a beautiful part of the country. You take a drive in Pensacola, Florida, and I guarantee you, that you will see a decal sticker on someone’s car supporting a college football team, every five seconds. You can talk all day about the tradition of USC, or the aura of Notre Dame, but until you are seated down in an old couple’s kitchen, waiting to be served peach cobbler, and hearing about the time Bo Jackson went over the top against Bama, I’m tellin ya son, ya haven’t lived yet.