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!!!)