SEC Football for the Uninitiated


In 2011, a man called Paul Finebaum’s ESPN radio show. (For the uninitiated, Finebaum is the King of SEC football reportage.) The caller, an Alabama fan, announced he had poisoned a tree, a specific and very important Auburn University tree. Just like a Southern gothic novel, he murdered a…well…a tree. As he hung up, I’m sure he yelled, “Roll tide!”

The SEC fans mean business….mafia-like business.

Coming from Virginia,  I wasn’t aware of the saying “Love God, sweet tea, and the SEC.” But, in the time I’ve lived here, I’ve been initiated even if I’m only beginning to understand. My husband graduated from Georgia, so his blood runs red and black. I’m serious; I’m not joking. When we lived in Virginia, I must have been blinded by love. I honestly did not know the extent of a football fan’s love for the game. Other than Virginia Tech, football fans in Virginia don’t compare to the SEC. On game day, our little Georgia town residents wear their colors and represent every SEC school. It’s like a homecoming or a family reunion. Even if a person didn’t attend an SEC university, they are still loyal SEC fans. My paltry purple and gold shirts from James Madison University, pale in comparison to the assortment of bright colors rippling through this part of the United States.

It’s more than a love for the game. It’s part of the culture, a love of the southeastern United States.

In church, the upstanding congregant who sits reverently in the sanctuary will no doubt attend every game. But, that quiet, reverential countenance will change. In a stadium, on a comfy couch, sitting in a restaurant, those eyes will change to piercing focus. Words may spout from the mouth as the face turns crimson (oops, can’t say crimson) red, and those words will not be holy. At one Georgia game, I sat next to a sweet and petite lady. We exchanged pleasantries about children and her grandchildren. As soon as the game started, she stood up and never sat down, all the while screaming very colorful words at players and referees. Her husband sat quietly watching the game.  

After ten years of marriage, I shouldn’t be surprised. But, in those first years, I was being tested and didn’t know it. I was an initiate.

Would I meet the standards of the SEC? For the 2008 Sugar Bowl, I drove, yes drove, with my husband (boyfriend at the time), and his brother to New Orleans. They proceeded to haphazardly wrap our luggage in trash bags. I was so stunned that I was speechless. Who were these people? Who wraps their luggage in trash bags? Bonnie and Clyde? At the time, I was still living in Virginia, so this fanatical football behavior was new to me. When they threw our luggage in the back of a truck, I should have told them to drop me at the airport. But, I guess I was blinded by love.

Initiation continued that May when we were engaged and married that August. Who needs a year or even six months to plan a wedding? Uh, most people. We married in August, rather than October. My husband insisted no one would attend our wedding during football season. (Do you see what I’m dealing with here?) August, the heat of August. I was looking forward to small beads of sweat rolling down my back and into my underwear. Also I hoped that none of the groomsmen passed out. My husband chose full tuxedos for them. But, our luck held out. A hurricane, off the coast, delivered cool breezes. Only a person blinded by love would say a hurricane was good luck.

By the time, I was pregnant with our first child, I was familiar with Georgia Bulldog fandom. Our first child is an October baby, so I hoped his arrival would cause a mental football block (pun intended) in my husband’s brain. Husband: “How will I ever go to a football game again?” Me: “I don’t know. You will survive.” Or at least that’s what I thought. Silly me. When I was pregnant with our second child, he went to an evening game. Let’s just say, I am not a very good pregnant person. With this child, I basically became an agoraphobic. I could barely leave the house for fear I would faint or have a panic attack. But, football was calling. I asked a friend to come over for pizza. Golf widow, football widow. It’s kind of the same thing. Isn’t it?

As I said before, we’ve been married ten years. So, I understand the connection, the camaraderie with fellow fans, even if it is somewhat foreign to my character. I’m still not acclimated to the Georgia heat or game day food. I prefer a climate-controlled event where there are more appetizing food choices. There aren’t enough antacids to cease the long slow burn of stadium food. Who wants to sit in the blazing heat (or the pouring rain) and watch a four-hour game? Everyone but this Virginia girl. Georgia’s Sanford Stadium holds over 90,000 excited and devoted fans. 

Oh, it’s all in good fun. Isn’t it? The fans are just blinded by a love for the game and for the community it represents. And on that note, pass me an ice cold tea. On second thought, I might need something a little stronger. Football season has just started.