Sorry I’ve been remiss in my postings as of late. I kind of picked up this bad habit lately called working. You see, when I first began this blog I was “under” employed. So I had plenty of time to cartoon and satire to my heart’s content. Now I’m nearing the sixth month anniversary of my new job and I’ve been quite busy receiving congratulatory calls, texts, and emails. Or rather, I’m just receiving a lot of calls, texts, and emails asking me to do stuff. The nerve right?
Nevertheless, my site stats have begun to climb on auto-pilot, being that this is now college football season. So, I had to give the people what they want. We all know that 75% of Southern culture is SEC football, 10% is the Civil War, 10% beauty pageants, and 5% bourbon. So SEC football it is to start the new season of blogging.
But then I had another problem; writer’s block. Haven’t I already blogged all my SEC stories? After all I’m one of the few Ole Miss alums who graduated in less than five years, so I don’t have but so many football stories. But then a friend reminded me that I often go on rants about how other schools, conferences, and game day experiences fail to live up to the SEC. And there you have it…perfect topic. And while some of my closer friends reading this will have heard these stories before, that’s true of about everything I’ve blogged about. At least this time there’ll be new cartoons.
And that was the other problem; Cartoonist’s block. You really can get out of practice with cartooning. But, once the first one was completed, the mental storyboard kicked in and this post took off. So without further ado, here’s my rant about how my other college football experiences have never lived up to my SEC ones.
For those of you new to this site, I didn’t grow up in SEC country. I’m a native of Virginia. So while my birthplace is not as football crazy as points south, it does make me 64% more likely to be president and 78% more likely to win a Civil War battle. That is to say, every Southern state is known for something. But the “southern” portion of my state is rapidly shrinking. Our universities seem like Big East schools (more on that later), and even the “in-state” kids can seem like they’re from out of state. And while I grew up safely entrenched along the south bank of the James River my region of the state is in the minority. So I fled to Mississippi.
You can read in several of my earlier posts how my time at Ole Miss shaped my identity. It especially shaped how I view the Saturday religion of SEC football. And like all things religious in the South, we tend to be evangelical, devout, and rather fundamentalist. Lukewarm college football gets spit out of our mouths. It was in the Bible I think… Bryant 14:5.
So fast forward a decade. I’ve been back in Virginia for awhile actually working in my major. For advancement in my field of work it became necessary to obtain a Master’s Degree. It made financial and professional sense to stay in state. In other words…it was free. And I wanted to get my degree as quick as possible. So I ended up at Virginia Tech.
Well that won’t be so bad right? That’s a football school. “You’re going to love it!” everyone tells me. Just wait until I see my first tailgate and game and it’ll be just like my SEC days…
Now don’t misunderstand me. I made some great friends at VA Tech. And indeed it has advanced me professionally as promised. The team was okay but…the football culture was rather lacking. Not their fault. They just don’t know no better.
I tried my friends. I really did try. I bought some Hokie paraphernalia and decided to give ACC football a shot. I even got season tickets and toned down my game day wardrobe a bit…you know the casual polo and khakis look of a successful land grant student.
Well when I entered my first tailgate I saw a shocking site. I believe I said something out loud to the effect of “well you can take the school out of the Big East but you can’t take the Big East out of the school”. Backwards caps, “alternate” Oregon style jerseys peddled by Nike, a sea of cargo shorts where there should be sundresses, and lots and lots of cornhole. Where I come from (collegiately speaking) the only time you should be watching cornhole is if you get sent to Parchman.
I guess I just never got used to the idea of tailgating on asphalt.
But then I realized It’s not really them, it’s me. See it began to dawn on me that the college football culture that I experienced as “normal” was actually very unusual, and that what I was witnessing in the parking lot was the norm for 95% of the country. So, I took that to heart, realized people were just having a good time supporting their school, and then I took a deep breath and decided they were all wrong!
But wait…I haven’t gotten to the game yet. The first game was against Marshall. I don’t remember much of it. I know they kept blaring a turkey call, and two dudes in front of me were “celebrating” with miniature shots of Wild Turkey from miniature airline bottles. And they were doing so in a way that I think is still illegal in Montgomery County, VA. But I wanted to give it a chance and I stayed until the bitter end of the 3rd quarter when the crowd did the Hokey Pokey. Then I left. The ACC was foreign.
I went back to two more games to at least see the in conference opponents. Maybe that would get better. The UNC game was better, I think because I got along with the UNC fans very well. Then there came the NC State game. That was a dilemma let me tell you. Ole Miss was not awful yet. In fact, that was a Cotton Bowl season for us. Yeah yeah, go ahead and laugh Bama fans, but to us, the Cotton Bowl is our version of the BCS championship…or at least as close as we’re going to get. I had a bet going with my LSU friend (and what does that tell you about the state of the ACC fan base that my best friend at grad school had gone to LSU?), and it was the CBS game of the week at 4 O’ clock.
Meanwhile in Blacksburg I had my ticket to the Wolfpack-Hokie matchup. I wore my Ole Miss t-shirt under my Virginia Tech fleece and headed to the stadium. Along the way I had a chance encounter with a fellow Ole Miss alum. We did the Hotty Toddy cheer and we’ve remained friends since. So one positive…
But still but the time the game starts in Hokie-land I swear the whole time I’m watching the scoreboard for the Rebel-Tiger score. I think they gave two updates. The first update it was announced as zero-zero. In the meantime I had to listen to Hipster Northern Virginia Hokie kids trash talking clueless computer geeky NC State kids. I wanted to plug my ears and sing the “Ballad of Archie Who” but it wasn’t going to work. There would still be an ACC game on the field and an ACC student section surrounding me. When the second score update was finally announced Ole Miss held a slight lead at halftime.
That was enough for me. Surely Ole Miss would blow this lead and I would lose my bet if I didn’t rush home to watch the game in person on TV. Now, normally I’d never leave a game at halftime. The 4th quarter is my earliest, and only if there is a blowout. But this was different. This was life and death. This was the SEC on CBS. I exited to the gates. The nice lady reminded me that I wouldn’t be allowed to re-enter. I replied “that’s okay; I’ve got a real game to see”. I quickly unzipped my maroon jacket, and proudly displayed the shirt emblazoned with the name of my true love and sprinted home.
And I made it in time to see the 4th quarter. Ole Miss barely held onto the game, but not before nearly tearing my heart out, causing me to shout obscenities that would make a sailor cover his ears, and make several bargains with my maker. And thanks to Les Miles not understanding the concept of time….we won. About a minute passed. The minute that Ole Miss fans expect the referee to reverse a call to cheat us (see whenever we play Alabama close), or for Vern Lunquist to yell “PSYCHE!!!!” But no, we really won! And I went outside the house, right when all the ACC faithful were walking and driving home from their mundane game that had mercifully ended, and I yelled, and jumped, and danced, and screamed, and yelled filled with the spirit of Johnny Vaught.
The next day I sold the rest of my tickets to fund a trip to Oxford, MS. Four games were worth the price of one. Even though the game I attended in Mississippi was a loss, and I was told upon my return that I missed an exciting beat down of Boston College, I really didn’t miss anything. They missed it.
As another LSU friend of mine says “a bad game in the SEC beats the best game anywhere else”. See, different denomination, but same religion.
But that’s just the ACC. What about a football powerhouse conference?
Lemme guess? The Big Ten?
Let me tell you about the Big Ten folks. Not the same. Nope. Been there, done that…twice even. That’s enough evidence.
The first time was when I went to a Penn State-Iowa game in 2003. Now, I always knew something was wrong with that school and in the end it was the cult like mentality of the place…
“Now wait a minute Southern Blogger” you’re saying….isn’t the SEC a cult? No, we are the true religion. See, we choose to be fans and students of our SEC schools and when they don’t live up to expectations someone pays. Like a bad minister we will send an inadequate coach packing as quickly as you can say Houston Nutt. And we boo our own teams. The girls boo too. Heck, they’re the meanest ones. Our school cheers are complex, and we also have the complexity to dress ourselves without the aid of the student body president. The “white out” nonsense, “we are Penn State” banal cheer, and inability to criticize team and coach when they gave up an easy game to an easy opponent was lame to say the least. But the worst of all was the pre-game announcement that “Beaver Stadium is a smoke free, alcohol-free environment, and we thank you for your cooperation.” No sarcastic cheers from the student section, no boos… (No booze?) and no middle fingers of youthful defiance. Just pre-approved cheers, school-approved signs, and school-sponsored team spirit. No thank you. Not impressed.
And then there was the famous time I infiltrated the University of Michigan. Now that was a lot more fun. Mainly because I decided to dress up in costume to infiltrate Midwestern football. I came as a Gerald Ford era Michigan Wolverine. In fact, I dare say my Midwestern costume was more Midwestern than the other Midwesterners. In true Globe Trekker fashion I went “native” and did what the locals did including: participating in a Climate Change Awareness Rally, spinning a post-modern Art cube, playing beer pong without beer (that was the oddest thing of all), learning their fight song, playing nerf football with strangers while making Heisman poses, and eating copious amounts of cheese fries with ranch dressing. Perfect infiltration. Except for one problem.
During my munching of the cheese-ranch fries at the bar, a friend of my friend, a hardcore Wolverine got into a conversation about the “overrated SEC”. The apostasy included rants about the “unfairness of playing bowl games in warm states, the easy non conference opponents the SEC faces, the quality of Big Ten NFL draft picks, media bias…yada yada”. And then, in full costume, in the middle of Ann Arbor, after all my successful infiltration…I blew my cover and went full on cheese fry to cheese fry Preston Brooks mode calling out Yankee lies. I couldn’t help myself.
By the end of the evening I was in a room of people who were watching the Minnesota Michigan State Iowa Purdue Indiana game. Or something like that. I couldn’t tell. What I could tell was these foreigners were watching a crappy game and cheering loudly when a real SEC game was on on CBS. It was awful, just awful. So I did what any good Southerner would do in the midst of a pagan ritual. I began preaching.
I began sharing about the promised land of Southern girls in pearls and sundresses, the smell of fried chicken, fall leaves and bourbon, the utter hatred you have for anyone else in the visiting student section, the rules of said combat, the battle scars, the joys, the defeats, the best damn football conference in the land. Amen and Amen.
In the end there’s only one school for me. You grad school can give you a nice resume and an extra diploma on the wall but it is not, nor can it ever be your alma mater.
I know which one mine is. Hell yes, damn right! You finish the rest…
NEXT TIME: I will show the Show-Me state how to properly behave in their new neighborhood. So long as we’re stuck with them. I’ll try not to be so late this time.