Saturday, May 26, 2007

Southern Survival 101: Football

I had originally entitled this post "Sports" until I realized, um, football is pretty much the only sport down here. (Unless you're from NC or KY, in which case, basketball is the only sport!)

Remember, I'm a girl, so I'm probably going to leave out important football statistics/names/events. I'm hoping my male readers will help me out on the bits I miss. While I loooooove football, I doubt I'll ever understand it or appreciate it as well as a man. (Wait, did my Southern belle just slip out?? Oopsie. Sorry, feminists!) So feel free to add to this in the comments.

We are not big on professional sports down here. Maybe the Braves. But that's about it. Getting tickets to the Braves isn't nearly as exciting as getting tickets to the Bowden Bowl. (That's when Clemson plays Florida State. The coaches are Tommy and Bobby Bowden.) Down here, it's college sports all the time. Especially football. Holy cow. I cannot begin to explain how important football is down here. EVERYONE goes to the game or watches the game. EVERYONE can recite to you which teams we beat this year and which teams we beat last year. Football coaches are gods in the towns where they live. You see, we lost The War, and we're determined never to lose anything again. Having a winning football team does make Robert E. Lee's surrender a little easier to bear. Ok, that's just a joke.

There is a joke that if a Southern college received $10 million, everyone would rather see the money go to the football coach's salary rather than research. Only, it's not really a joke. It's kinda true.

Recruiting stories will make the front page of the paper. You can even get RSS feeds about recruiting sent to your cell phone. Everyone in town can name the first and last names of the starting offensive lineup. People attend the practices. I am not kidding. The stands are full of people, watching the team practice. Coaches have their own tv shows. They endorse products. People know things about their college football coach that they don't know about their own neighbors. Example: Spurrier, the South Carolina coach, loves to drink Sprite and play golf. His wife's name is Jerri. (See?)

My big claim to Southern football fame is that my dad played for Bear. (If you don't know who I'm talking about, then you have no business even reading this post to begin with. I'm not even linking to the Wikipedia entry because you ought to be ashamed of yourself.) When guys ask me if I like football, I bluntly inform them of my pedigree and wait for their jaws to drop. Sometimes, they grab my arm and introduce me to all the other men in the room: "Hey! Did you know her dad played for Bear??" It's far more impressive than saying "Oh, my dad was an astronaut!" or "My dad was Superman!"

There are no weddings between late August and whenever the home team's season is over. I am not making this up. People won't come to your wedding if you set the date for the third Saturday in October. Everyone knows that's when Tennessee and Alabama play each other every year. And if they do attend your wedding, they will have the little headphones in so they can listen to the radio as you recite your vows. This isn't even considered to be all that rude. Other men in the audience will be tapping the guy on the shoulder, asking for the score. It doesn't matter if they are Tennessee or Alabama fans or not. It's a Saturday in the fall. That means there's an SEC or ACC game on. And if you cannot attend it, you watch it. If you can't watch it, you listen to it. Then you read about it in the paper tomorrow. There will be 6 pages recapping the game, not including the photos.

And don't even get me started on tailgating. That's a whole different story. It's basically as important as the game itself. I have seen 40" flat-screen TVs in the middle of parking lots, mobile homes decorated like red roosters (we are the Gamecocks, you know), parking slots/season tickets willed down through generations (as in, people put it into their wills and have separate bank accounts set aside for season ticket money), bonfires and fireworks. And beer. LOTS of beer and alcohol. Tons of food. Enough to feed an army. (Surprised??) And everyone will let you grab a piece of fried chicken as you walk by. Unless you're rooting for the other team. Then people might throw empty beer cans at your face. When the game is going on, you won't see anyone walking around or driving anywhere. Because they're either at the game, or at a bar, watching the game on TV. Or they are at home, watching it on TV. Having to work while a game is on is total torture for a Southerner. I have known people to call in sick, claim a family emergency or tell their bosses they are going out of town for family reasons on fall Saturdays. Just so they can watch the game at home. When the game is on, if you want to talk to someone, just text them or wait for the commercial break to come on. Please don't interrupt. They won't answer their phone, anyway.

Did you know? They have to re-direct traffic downtown on game days. Otherwise, it would take twice as long to get in/out of the stadium. It already takes about 2 hours just to get to the stadium. There are policemen and orange cones everywhere, to direct traffic. The game traffic routes make the evening news, because people need to know which roads are going to be one-way the next day. People usually start tailgating the night before the game. Again, I am not exaggerating.

People assume you know all the big rivalries: South Carolina and Clemson, Auburn and Alabama, VMI and The Citadel, Florida and Florida State, Virginia and Virginia Tech, etc. People also assume you know which teams belong to which conference. Don't expose yourself as an outsider by asking if Texas is playing Georgia this weekend. Oh, and you need to learn the home team's fight song and accompanying hand gesture ASAP or you might not get very many party invites. At the very least, you'll feel left out when the entire stadium starts singing and you have to just stand there. While you're at it, better know the slang terms for all the mascots. You'll need to know what the following terms refer to: Tide, Hokies, Wahoos, Noles, Jackets, Heels, Canes, Terps, Pack, Keydets. You've got to know what the Golden Boot is and what the Tiger Rag is. You need to know which teams are involved in The Oldest Rivalry in the South. You need to know where The Valley of Death is. So study up if you are lost right now.

Ladies, don't forget to dress up and wear your team's jewelry when you go to the game. Little shops around town sell silver jewelry engraved with the team logo. You need to get some if you want to be official. And you don't wear sweatshirts or flip flops to football games, girls. You have tickets to the game. There's only so many games per year. It's a big event. I mean, if you're going to the Georgia-Florida game, it's even called "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party." Besides, we are Southern. That means we look cute all the time. You have to do your hair and wear heels. If it's cold, you can wear a slim-fitting turtleneck, jeans and stiletto boots. If it's hot, wear a sundress and heels. Just make sure you're wearing team colors and you look pretty. Besides, every eligible bachelor in town is at the game, anyway. You want to look good. Trust me. What do you mean you don't know how football works? What do you mean you don't like to watch it? Oh dear. So much for your social life next fall. Better get on that, sugar. Just don't tell anyone you think "false start" refers to your menstrual cycle. Keep that to yourself.

If you're single, don't be surprised if someone won't date you because you're a fan of the "wrong" team. Here in Columbia, headquarters for all things Gamecock, it's one of the first questions asked on a first date. "Wait, did he go to USC or Clemson?" I have asked before being set up on dates. If anything, I want to make sure to avoid wearing the wrong color or bringing up the wrong team. It can lead to an argument at worst or an awkward silence at best. And first dates are hard enough as it is. For a Gamecock to be fixed up with a Clemson fan just wouldn't work. They are too different. I mean, how are you both supposed to go to games together? It would be a long distance relationship each fall. And for parts of basketball season. You'd be fighting over the remote all the time, because those teams aren't even in the same conference. Not to mention all the harassment from friends and family about it. It's just easier to date your own kind. Yes, I am kidding. But some people really won't do it!

Similarly, families, generation after generation, hold strong loyalties to their schools. You'll hear of people being 4th generation Bulldogs or 6th generation Gators. To go to any other school is simply unthinkable. And you can forget Mom and Dad helping you pay for it. You've committed the ultimate betrayal. It would be a tragedy in a Mississippi State family if their youngest child decided to buck tradition and attend Arkansas. Fat Dog almost transferred from VMI to Virginia Tech, and The Czarina almost fainted when he told her. "Oh, God! I will never be able to tell my friends! I'll have to tell them you've just transferred to UVA or something. Oh, God! A hokie! In my family!" -- I am quoting this. There is no exaggeration on my part, y'all. For pete's sake, my my mother was the sweetheart of the UVA Zeta house in the late '60s! For her son to go to Virginia Tech???!! Unthinkable!! You see, my parents are both UVA fans. (My dad went there before transferring to Bama. He later went back and got 2 more degrees from UVA. My mom didn't go there, I think because UVA was still all-male at the time. However, she spent almost every weekend partying at UVA. So my family is most definitely NOT a Virginia Tech family.)

Here's another good tip: if you are visiting/moving/living here in the fall, it's a good idea to realize what you wear can say a lot. Similar to gangs in south central Los Angeles, what color you wear is important, and could get you killed. Wear deep reddish orange (Clemson's color) to a South Carolina game, and drunk people might try to punch you. I am not exaggerating. So if you don't want to be hassled, wear pink. It's the only color that doesn't correspond to any teams down here. Not only is it important to know which colors to wear/not wear, it's also imperative that you know which shade is the home team's shade. There's a huge difference between Duke "Blue Devil" blue and UNC's "Carolina blue". You can't just throw on any old blue shirt and expect people to know which team you favor. And when South Carolina plays Alabama, you'd better realize that a true Carolina fan will know the difference between garnet (SC) and crimson (AL). So get it right. Because if you are wearing Tennessee "Chee-to" orange to a Clemson game, and you try to pass yourself off as a Tiger fan, someone's gonna call you out. Trust me.

And don't think you can get away with knowing only the primary team color. You should also learn the 2ndary color so you don't confuse/offend anyone.

When in doubt, tell people you're a tiger fan. That covers LSU, Jackson State, Texas Southern, Clemson, Hampden-Sydney (I guess this is only important in Virginia, actually) and Auburn. So you'd be physically safe in 6 states, if you were forced to pick a team on the spot. If not a tiger fan, tell people you're a bulldog fan. That way, you're safe in GA, MS, AL (Alabama A&M) and SC (SC State and The Citadel's mascot is the Bulldog). You could also just say you like "The Aggies" and let the other person decide if you mean Texas, Florida or North Carolina. Whatever you do, never confess to disliking football. OMG, talk about social suicide. You'd be ostracized. Possibly jumped, depending on how many beers the men have had by that point in the day. Fake it if you have to. I have known a Gamecock fan who got into a fist fight when the stranger standing next to him began singing the Clemson fight song. (Long-time readers of this blog may remember to whom I am referring.) You have no idea how seriously we take this stuff. Remember the bonfire that killed several students after the Texas-Texas A&M game a few years back? Remember the massive fist fight between fans after the Clemson-South Carolina game about 2 years ago? The goal posts were torn down, I think. It was so bad, neither team was allowed to go to bowl games that year. We are out for blood, people.

What about other sports? Basketball only exists because we need something to do until football season starts up again. And there really aren't any other sports. Unless you are talking about high school football. Which is almost as important as college football. Ever seen Varsity Blues? It's very accurate. High school (and even middle school) football is important to us, because we know we're watching future players for Mississippi State, Texas, Georgia or Virginia Tech. It's history in the making. Today's high school record pass-thrower is tomorrow's starting quarterback at Florida State.

There are rumors of hockey teams existing in the South, although we only go to the games because we are amazed that a block of ice can last that long down here, and we want to see it for ourselves. Plus, we like the fights. It reminds us of the parking lots during football tailgates. And the hockey tickets were free. Other than that....we have no idea what the hell is going on. "Wait, don't they sell beer there? Ok, I guess I'll go. If I have nothing better to do," a Southerner will say.

Some schools get into lacrosse or basketball. Some even get into baseball or golf. But truly Southern schools know there is only one sport. Everything else is just to kill time until the next pigskin matchup. Which people are counting down to on their calendars. You think I'm making this up. People record the football games off of the tv so they can watch the games over and over again throughout the year. The coach's strategy in Saturday's game is the number one topic at watercoolers all over the state on Monday mornings.

Let's see. What else. No one here knows how to ski or ice skate. No kids own sleds. Nothing like that. But most people know how to water ski. And fish. Our athletic activities are dictated by our climate. So not a lot of people even watch the winter Olympics. We just don't really "get" speed skating. Why not just watch NASCAR?

But most importantly, everyone knows you're supposed to shut the hell up during the third down, and offer to grab beers for everyone else if you get up.

And as a side note to Charming -- We will find out whose mascot kicks whose ass on September 22nd. Wait, isn't your team's color purple? That's kind of a girly color, don't you think? ;)

(Oh yes, the smack talk is starting already, folks!!!)


RWA said...

You described this perfectly. I am glad you included the fact that people plan major events (weddings, etc.) around football schedules.

You are also 100 percent correct that college football is year-round here. There's football season, recruiting, spring practice and then the "countdown" to the start of the next season.

Very well done.

cmk said...

Even though we live and breathe hockey here in the great white north--and I am a more rabid fan than my husband--I don't know of ANYONE that acts the way football fans in the south do. It completely and totally astonishes me. I don't understand feeling that way. (The only people I know who come close to southern football fans are Green Bay Packer fans--and in my household, they aren't even worth talking about.)

Anyway, you can have your football--a game I DESPISE!!!!!!!--and I will keep my hockey. And, please, give hockey back to those of us who appreciate it! Did anyone down there even KNOW that Carolina won Lord Stanley's Cup last year??? :)

charming, but single said...

Oh, honey, you have no idea what you're talking about. You and your little chicken are going to be some tasty Tiger Bait come September.

They don't call it Death Valley for nothing ...

cmk said...

By the way--my post wasn't meant to be as nasty as it sounded! Oh, my goodness--I hope I didn't offend. Not intended in the least! Unfortunately, my 'teasing' tone of voice doesn't translate well to the written word--I'm sorry if I hurt any feelings.

You can have your football, I'll have my hockey and we all will be happy. Different strokes, right? :)

Newspaper Hack said...

Just for that phrase, "my Dad played for Bear," I owe you a few drinks the next time I head to Columbia, just to listen to the story.

Also add to the list – do not attempt to crash the governor's luxury box. People will know you're not supposed to be there, especially after dropping f-bombs in reference to the opposing coach (see: Hack, Carolina vs. Auburn 2006).

teahouse said...

Your dad played for Bear? That's pretty cool. His name wasn't Forrest Gump, was it?


Stuck said...

VB - The fight between the Cocks and Tigers wasn't the fans. It was the players. The fans just jumped in after the fact. I'm also surprised that you didn't mention that this is one of the only states you can walk aroun din a hat or sweatshirt that boldly says COCKS and not get strange looks. (Well, unless you're in Clemson.)

cmk - Yes, someone down here IS aware that the 'Canes won the Stanley Cup. And we'd appreicate it if you did not call them the Carolina Hurricanes. They're in North Carolina. Just like the friggin Charlotte Panthers, who also dared call themselves "Carolina." We're a little bitter down here.


cmk said...

stuck: Sorry about that! And I even WANTED the 'Canes to win last year--should've known better. (And, even though you didn't ask, I'm slightly bitter because the Wings didn't win--so I know about bitterness. :))

MC said...

Just a note, there is no team in Florida called "Aggies." We do have Florida A&M, but no one ever refers to them as Aggies, we just say A&M or FAM or maybe Rattlers if you are really familiar with them.
And your Dad played for Bear, that is so awesome.

Meghan (The Declaration of MY Independence) said...

Holy crap! Something we may have in common! So of course, I'm going to have to elaborate...

First off, I have no idea who Bear is. I even tried to look it up on the internet, but I could only find the definition for the ones you see at the zoo.

OK, so football. This is something I am all too farmiliar with being that I live in Pittsburgh and went to Penn State. People live, eat, and shit football in these cities.

Let's talk about PSU first. As far as I was concerned, this was the football capital of the north. Everything revolved around game day, and even I got into it, b/c the games were FUN! I'm convinced that JoePa is going to be buried under Beaver Stadium. But back to the game.....God forbid if someone should be wearing the other teams colors or logos in the stands that day. And in some cases it doesn't even matter if we're playing tht team....go still will get messed with. You are ONLY allowed to ear blue and white on Saturday afternoons. I've harassed the shit out of people myself, including some poor soul who wore a VT hat saying "Virginia Tech! Didn't the loose to PITT?!" Losing to Pitt is a big deal in Lion country. Pitt is our arch nemisis. So big is the rival, that we don't even play them anymore. Also, a student stole a Nebraka Cornhusker's hat right off some old man's head once. We have no shame. But honestly, I think that old man was harassing him. We usually don't act until we are provoked. And to elaborate on what you said about having a SC and Clemson fan date? Well guess who went to Pitt? Yep, that was Alex. This is the main thing we usually argue about. I even refuse to wear anything of his that says Pitt on it. He got really mad at me b/c I ironed on a Penn State logo on one of his old tshirts that he didnt wear anymore.

Now I will move onto the Steelers (Stillers). Oh lord. Their choice of weapon, The Terrible Towel. This town WORSHIPS them, and honestly this is something that I cannot get into. However, I did go out to a couple sports bars when they made it to the playoffs and the superbowl 2 seasons ago and let me tell you how I was seriously scared for my life. The game was a nail bitter, and I serioulsy thought my friends and I would be in a pretty bad situation if they a riot was going to break out. Thank god they won. People were literally hanging off the rafters when they did. I also saw people crying after they won the superbowl....weird. When Big Ben got hurt in that motorcycle accident, people camped outside the hospital. Pittsburgh fans hate all things Cleveland and Philadelphia. Lucky me, I went to the college that was made up half of Pittsburgh students, and half of Philly students. Fist fights would break out regularly on buses when either fan would do their team's chant. Because of all this I HATE PITTSBURGH FOOTBALL. It is something I can never get into. I refuse to plan my day around it, and on game days, you can catch me grocery shopping b/c no one will be out. When I tell people this they just stare at me with their mouths open. The best is when I tell people that Big Ben is white trash. I've literally gotten in fights at bars because of this.

As for me, I'm a big hockey fan. Nothing comes between me and my hockey. Instead of Big Ben, I admire Mario Lemiuex, and am constanly scheming on how I can make him fall in love with me and make dozens of hockey babies with him. By the way, I love how you describe hockey down there...hillarious!

And girls wear heels to football games? Are you kidding me!??!! Wow, this is such a stretch from a Pittsburgh Girl. Here is something from an article we have up here saying what a Pittsburgh Girl is:
A PG knows more about fooball than her guys friends
PG's wear winter coats and scarves more than bikinis and flip flops
A PG goes to church on Sunday hungover, only to be let out early by the priest b/c the Steelers kick off at one
A PG can drink a Pittburgh guy under the table

Girls here are pretty hardcore, I try to stay out of the way with most of them!

Phantom Hater said...

Go 'Noles! Clemson sucks!

It's no different here in Tallahassee. Florida is pretty much football country as well. I have family in Kentucky and Indiana and basketball is big there.

I do like all of these SC blogs. The whole dressing up thing is interesting. I noticed that about the Carolina Cup. Here in FL the girls wear very little to football games, although I definitely can't complain about that. And I just had something called Beaufort Stew (also called a Low-Country Boil and a bunch of other names, I think) for the first time this weekend. Quite an experience.

jennster said...

lmfao- this is so awesome! i am laughing so hard at the wedding shit. LOL and the colors, and the fact that y'all are fucking CRAZY! but it's cute. yes. CUTE.

coffeesnob said...

in the simpsons homer tells lisa he'll send to the best college. before adding the devastating coda "in south carolina". lisa screams "i will not be a gamecock?" what does she mean? is she talking about a specific university, or a town, or the state?

as a non-american i can't begin to describe to you how boring gridiron is.

Gypsy said...

Florida State, Florida State, Florida State, woooooooooo!!! :)

'Round here, Bowden is right up there with God.