Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Football culture -- The anthropology of the South
Camp Connell, CA -- A large number of my relatives -- Auburn fans all -- are enjoying post-BCS syndrome this morning.
For some that means sitting around telling each other "we always knew Auburn was a national champion," despite the fact it has been almost 50 years since Alabama Polytechnic Institute (then called "Auburn" and now named "Auburn University") actually won a championship.
But this is no time to quibble with a great success, and what I thought was a great football game even though I personally matriculated (is that a real word?) at the traditional football power in the south -- the University of Alabama aka The Crimson Tide.
(I went to graduate school at the University of Michigan, but only claim that school when they make it to the top ten rankings or discover a cure for disease...)
Auburn's last-second victory over Oregon will be celebrated for weeks, or years, by most of my relatives.
I take some pleasure in it, mostly because 70% of the New York Times readers picked Oregon to win, as did the columnists for the Los Angeles Times.
It is my humble opinion that people from outside the Southern United States have never really understood the SEC and regional pride that fuels these teams and their supporters.
Take THAT you effete western media snobs and you citified New York Yankees. (There, I feel better already. I have re-affirmed my football southern-ness.)
My father always used to cheer for Auburn or any other Southern school doing battle with universities from "up North." We had "schools" and they had "universities."
He used to say, rather politely, that he "attended" Auburn. He never really explained why he left school, but it later occurred to me that when he mentioned being arrested at a college football game for drinking from a flask under the stands, THAT probably was his memory of college.
It was the Prohibition Era, and he got off lightly.
And he always liked Auburn.
My brother-in-law Roy went to Auburn on the GI bill in the 1950s, and was such a fan he would sneak into games wearing a telephone lineman's belt to walk through the "authorized personnel only" gate when he could not afford tickets. He swore that he hung off a telephone pole to cheer Auburn on.
His support never flagged, even joining and leading his alumni association, something I never even considered. He has waited a long time for this recent victory.
His children adopted his fan-hood. Ben, the eldest, still lives in Alabama, and is a staunch Auburn fan, sending out Facebook messages every few minutes during the game and making sure I know of a web site where I can buy Auburn victory paraphernalia.
My niece Beth is an Auburn-trained engineer living in Colorado. I am sure the mountains were echoing late last night with shouts of joy.
Nephew Philip, who lives and works near my old stomping grounds on Mobile Bay, was unusually quiet until after the game, when he sent a short message: "WDE!" Translation: "War-damn-Eagle."
He is a sensitive soul, and was overcome by emotion.
And my late sister Mary would have been there cheering too, even though she went to the University of Miami. She was a convert, and you know how dedicated they are. She was probably cheering from on high.
May the joy in my Auburn family extend for weeks and months to come.
I, on the other hand, have never been an Auburn fan, or even for that matter a big football fan.
I attended the University of Alabama during the years when Joe Namath was quarterback, undefeated seasons were the norm, and we always went to educational places like New Orleans to play in bowl games. Alabama usually lost those bowl games, but we thought it only fair that the team had a chance to relax on Bourbon Street before the big game. And I furthered my education by closely studying the local culture as expressed in fruity drinks, great gumbo, and a variety of exotic dancers.Crowds seek educational opportunities on Bourbon Street
At Alabama's home games we drank a lot and left at halftime to go to parties because the game was usually wrapped up by then.
I once was hired to tend bar for the Law School students sitting together in the stands. Instead of "Roll Tide" I heard a chorus of "More bourbon!"
I even wrote a editorial once in the college paper saying Coach Bear Bryant was not a god and could not walk on water. No one took it seriously.
Nowadays there is too much money involved in college football for such frivolity and wasteful behavior.
Most of the talk is about how many millions the universities will get from the games, and whether the key players will drop out of college to join a professional team where they will earn even more than the university.
But the good old days still exist in my family.
And my relatives know that I cheer for them, and for one brief moment was actually happy that Auburn won a football game.
(I planned to insert a photograph of Auburn's "War Eagle, " or maybe even the "Tiger" mascot, but the University website charges a fee for that.)