When I left my home in Orlando to attend the US Naval Academy back in 1970, I arrive in a completely foreign land inhabited by football teams about which I had no knowledge. My plebe (freshman) year our first game was against Colgate. The place where Colgate toothpaste was invented? It had a recognizable name so I assumed it had a reasonable football program. What did I know? I knew that there was SEC football and who cares. Saturdays in the South are about as sacrosanct as Sundays. Football is tradition, loyalty, identity, passion an, to borrow a title from the book by Will Blythe, “To Hate Like This is to Be Happy Forever.” Passion runs deep.Saturday afternoons growing up before the days of the plethora a college football game choices, there was one nationally televised game. My real-time experience of the Florida Gators was confined to the transistor radio available to me only while working in the garden with my mom who was the football fan in the house (Baltimore Colts and Johnny Unitas to be exact). I remember breathlessly awaiting the results of Heisman Trophy winner Steve Spurrier’s 40-year field goal attempt to beat Auburn. He made it. Such as the stuff of legends. Auburn fans hated him then and later their hate was only fueled by his Gator coaching success in the SEC.
Yesterday in Stafford VA while checking out at the local Publix and wearing a Gator sports shirt, the bagger stopped halfway through a greeting of welcome and “did you find everything you needed”…. she continued. “You just ruined my day and soured my mood. I was having a good day until I saw your shirt. I hate you shirt. I hate your school. Go Dawgs!” The last was a reference to her beloved University of George Bulldogs. It was good natured rivalry…. sort of…. it’s always hard to tell. She was mollified somewhat when I told her my dad was a graduate and that I attended college elsewhere.
As I said, tradition, passion, and rivalries run deep down South. The Florida-Georgia rivalry is so contentious they play each year at a neutral site in Jacksonville, FL – ok, it’s not that neutral. It is in Florida and played at the Gator Bowl. In any case, it is the world’s largest cocktail party at which a football game eventually gets played – alcohol fueled passion let loose. To win is to reach ecstatic heights of joy. To lose is to have a year of success ruined in a flash.
The Universities of Texas and Oklahoma are joining the SEC. Ho-hum….hard to work up too much passion against a longhorn steer or a cartoon character driving a stagecoach. I guess they have their reasons ($$) but you have to feel sorry for their fans and alumni who are losing their own passions: the Red River Rivalry, The Border War and other conference annual events.
Maybe in time, but for now… ho-hum.
So…. Go Gator, beat Georgia, but….
Go Navy – beat everyone!