bruces1g's Football Blog
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Recently, on one of the message board threads, a young man made a few negative comments about Southern football programs, and to some extent, about Southerners in general. Needless to say, this stirred the ire of many of the Southern football fans and he found himself barraged by comments refuting his perceptions.

Now I don't think that he really meant any great ill will with his comments. I don't think he even understood why so many of the Southern fans became so irritated. For the most part, we have all "known" each other for sometime via Fannation. However, I don't think he really understood the psyche of Southern football fans or how deep our passions run. 

So I decided to post this blog as a way of trying to explain why football is such an intrinsic part of the Southern lifestyle and culture. I had orginally penned it as a response to the aforementioned young man's classy apologetic post to all that may have taken offense to his remarks. However, it was too long for a "Comments" post so I decided I would morph it into a blog post of its own. 

Sometimes we Southerners CAN be a thin-skinned bunch. Sometimes we can be hard-headed. Most all of us are very passionate about our sports - particularly football. There are a lot of reasons for this, deeply rooted in the history of the region. Articles, books and thesis by the dozens have been written by far more knowledgable people than me about this subject, so I will not pretend to be an expert. These are my perceptions as a life-long Southerner and college football fan. However, I can recommend an excellent article that was written about a couple of years ago by Frank Defoe for SI: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2008/writers/frank_deford/10/08/sec/index.html

I will venture with this brief history lesson though. In the 1920's the South had little to be proud of and little of anything period. The Civil War was only 60 years removed and the Southern economy still suffered. The people were bitter and times were extremely hard. The game of football was just beginning to really take root and Southerners grasped at it and relished it. Back then, football certainly wasn't the multi-million industry it is now. All you needed were a few warm bodies, some sturdy clothes and an open space to field a team. Club, high school, and eventually, college teams sprung up all over the South. Very soon it became the prime source of entertainment in the South. A social gathering, a sport that appealed to our Celtic background. And it didn't cost much - which was very important to a very poor region. It also restored a sense of lost pride to the people as it was something that the hard, tough Southern boys excelled at.

However, in the world of college football at that time, Southern football was considered second-class. The teams in their rough uniforms and crude equipment were considered not to be on the same level as football played in the rest of the nation. Once again, the South was ridiculed and looked down upon. Of course, this only made Southerners prouder and more passionate about the sport.

After years of being shunned, finally a Southern team was given some credit as perhaps being good enough. Or maybe it was a determination to teach the upstarts a lesson and put them in their proper place. Whatever it was, the University of Alabama was invited to play in the 1926 Rose Bowl (actually they were the 4th choice - Dartmouth, Princeton, and Colgate turned down offers). It was the consensus among the majority of football experts that the upstart Tide stood little chance against a mighty Washington team. As it turns out, they were all proven wrong. But that is not the point here. As Alabama traveled by train to Pasadena, they had to make frequent stops (it took them about a week to get there) along the way. As they traveled across the Southern leg of the journey, they were met by hundreds of people in various Southern states. These were not particularly Alabama fans, they were just Southerners who had something to be proud of. Something they could rally behind. A bright spot in a bleak time. On the victorious return trip, the crowds were even larger and the joy of the championship did not belong to just Alabamians, but Southern people in general. (for more information about this first game: http://www.rollbamaroll.com/2009/12/21/1197952/the-1926-rose-bowl-alabama-vs)

That first appearance and win by Alabama (along with 5 other appearances) paved the way for respect for Southern football nationally.  At last, the South was recognized for being very good at something. This even further fueled the passion of Southern people and their football. Even today, the South is still the butt of jokes and ridiculed throughout much of the rest of the nation. We are still considered "backward" and "different". But the one thing that no one can dispute is that we are damn good at football. It is nearly a religious institution in the South and we take great pride in it. The rivalries between states, and within states, fuels year round debate and animosity. Yet, let an "outsider" make offensive remarks about our rival and we will defend them vehemently. Many of you wonder about, and ridicule us, for our "SEC! SEC!" chants. It is another way for we Southerners to express our pride, and even our defiance, in a sport many of us started at age 6 or 7. It is our "Us Against Them" mentality. You can put us down, make fun of us, but we can still whip your ass on a football field. It is something that cannot be taken from us. Ask most any Southerner about their fondest childhood memories, and the majority of the time it will involve the game of football. Many of us grew up huddled around the radio, later TVs, agonizing, bleeding, crying and cheering for our teams. In other parts of the nation, a 40,000 seat college stadium is considered large enough. Here in the South, we call that a high school field. Yes, it is a passion and unless you are from the South it is incredibly difficult to understand.

Yet, do not confuse this passion for a lack or morality or a "win at all cost" attitude. The South is not known as the "Bible Belt" without good reason (personally, I think that one big reason why pro football has never really caught on here has much to do with interfering with attending church). Ask any good Southern football coach, at any level, about "priorities" and he will list God, family, and school - in that order. Believe me, if a program is found to be breaking the rules, the harshest critics - and the first to call for the coach's head, are that team's fans. Cheating, and any other moral breach is just not tolerated. It does not fit into our Southern idea of morality and ethics. For the most part, you will find Southerners to be very conservative in our views and in our pollotics. 

During the DuBose years at Alabama, much was tolerated because he was "one of us". Eventually, it was discovered that he had an affair with a secretary at the college. Then the NCAA investigation. He was gone, and the ones howling the loudest for his head were the Alabama fans. Mike Price arrived at Alabama as a bright hope and considered to be a good man. But he never made it to the first practice before he was fired for a fling with a stripper. We Alabama fans were furious and embarressed by his behavior. Terry Bowden led Auburn to one its most successful stretches, yet the rumor persists that he left just ahead of the axe because of an "indiscretion". Mike Shula came to Alabama with an extensive football pedigree. Certainly, his winning record did not do much to endear him, but to make matters worse was the rise of players in trouble with the law. Not only do we hold our coaches to a higher standard in terms of success, but also to a higher standard of behavior. We are trusting our young men to them, to be taken care of, to be educated. We expect the coaches to also be the father figures.  Does this mean that all the coaches or programs are the bastions of morality or righteousness? Of course not, but we do not long tolerate it.

Want to know why coaches like Bear Bryant, Vince Dooley or Shug Jordan are so revered and long lasting? Not just because of the winning or losing - they all had their share of bad seasons - but they "raised" generations of young men that went on to become successful members of the community. They instilled discipline and ethics into their players. But they also taught compassion and understanding. Where do you think the careers of Joe Namath or Kenny Stabler would have went if Bryant had not given them a second chance? To this day, both men credit Bryant for saving their careers and possibly their lives (Although Stabler might not have completely learned the lesson - he was removed from the radio broadcast team after a DUI arrest. We even hold our announcers to a higher standard). An example: Gene Stallings was well known as a no-nonsense disciplinarian with little tolerance for bad behavior. During his tenure, a young man named David Palmer got in trouble twice, in a short time span, for drinking related incidents.  Many in the state of Alabama, and the Bama fan-nation, called for his immediate dismissal. Instead, Stallings, suspended and disciplined him, keeping him on the team in spite of the howls from all corners. Palmer went on to graduate from Alabama and have a successful NFL career. To this day, he says that Stallings saved his life, because without football, without the discipline that he learned, his life would have spiraled downward. Stallings said later that he realized that football was all that Palmer had and that the young man's well being was more important than what others might think of his decision. For Alabama fans, this story is as important to Stallings' legacy as his National Championship.

Many have questioned Houston Nutt's descision at Ole Miss concerning Jeremiah Masoli. Many of us were apalled by Nutt allowing someone with such a checkered past into his program. Yet, we do not personally know this young man or who he truly is. Maybe Coach Nutt's reasoning was truly altruistic or perhaps he was just trying to bolster a poor team. Regardless of his reasoning, we all begrudge the man some respect for giving the young man a second chance. After all, we are talking about a 21 year old man and who among us led a perfect and trouble-free life at that age? Or exhibited sound judgement? I certainly cannot say that I did. But none of this is indicative that we Southerners are willing to sacrifice morality for wins. I think you will find the vast majority of us find that idea extremely distasteful. 

I am sorry that I have gone so far in this, but I hope that it helps some to understand why it is that football is the source of such pride and passion for we Southerners. We are all far from being perfect. And certainly we can, at times, be arrogant, irritating, and over-the-top with our passion. For many of us, football is woven into our Southern psyche and permeates all levels of our society. We are proud and unapologetic for it.

If any of you would like to read more about the pride, passions, and history of football in the South, please let me know. I will be glad to recommend several excellent books for you.

September 13, 2010  08:29 AM ET

Good blog Bruce!

September 13, 2010  09:00 AM ET

Very good blog, Bruce. I am one of those that have grown up with southern football and living in Florida I existed in the mix with an inordinate number of transplanted Big 10 fans who openly looked down their nose at southern football. It became part of my life experience in having to put up with behavior ranging from condescending to obnoxious. It has been good for me to come on this board and find so many really nice, upstanding and fair Big 10 fans. It has changed my perspective on a conference and their fans, even though I always did admire the tradition and atmosphere of the Big 10.

September 13, 2010  10:29 AM ET

This was a good read Bruce. I knew in general about the background of football in the south due to the harsh conditions after the Civil War, but this really explained a lot more. It seems as if the game has been integrated into the culture due to the tough times prior to the game being invented, and the skill at which the south immediately displayed.

With what you said about Southern football not being respected and as you described "second-class", perhaps you can understand where I am coming from with the Pac-10 with my constant defending of the conference.

Too many times, we are viewed as a second level conference behind the likes of the SEC and Big 12 and more recently the Big 10. I won't question the strength of the SEC, it's the premier conference, but the Pac-10 IS better than the Big 10/12. And even if it wasn't we should at least be giving credit for our accomplishments (*cough Toby Gerhart *cough ;)). We aren't given our fair dues though given our location on the map and that is why I occasionally lash out at the SEC fans, even the good ones who do give my conference it's respect.

Proof of this, everytime I want to watch a game, baseball, football, hockey, you name it, when I look up the time, guess what it says:

Stanford vs Cal 10: 30 pm ET.
Giants vs Dodgers 7: 00 pm ET

"ET", every thing in my world revolves around the other side of the country. You'd be amazed at the toll that takes on you. I get sick of it. Two teams, both from my state, both from my area, and I'm being told to watch the game based on when it's convenient for the other coast?

Now granted I always know that 10: 30 is 7: 30 and 7:00 is 4:00, would it hurt to post both times, just to show some respect?

So with that said Bruce, I think we share that, a feeling of loyalty and passion towards our conference that goes beyond just football. It's about pride.

September 13, 2010  10:37 AM ET

dammit. The North shoulda lost the Civil War so the Big Ten could dominate College Football.

September 13, 2010  10:37 AM ET

Awesome read, Bruce. A must for every Yankee.

September 13, 2010  11:03 AM ET
QUOTE(#4):

dammit. The North shoulda lost the Civil War so the Big Ten could dominate College Football.

Nothing like playing with a chip on your shoulder, eh? And you Yankees did not realize that we LET y'all win just so we could dominate football in the future.

September 13, 2010  11:14 AM ET

Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis sitting around shortly after the First Battle of Bull Run. Davis says "Gentlemen, we can go ahead and win this war, become our own nation, and vex the Yankees. OR we can let this one go, wait a few years and dominate them on the football field and really piss 'em off. What do you say?"

September 13, 2010  11:27 AM ET
QUOTE(#7):

Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis sitting around shortly after the First Battle of Bull Run. Davis says "Gentlemen, we can go ahead and win this war, become our own nation, and vex the Yankees. OR we can let this one go, wait a few years and dominate them on the football field and really piss 'em off. What do you say?"

Hmmmmm... yea, Ok.

And all those ships were simply recruiting trips for SEC speed. Right. ;-)

September 13, 2010  11:28 AM ET
QUOTE(#7):

Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis sitting around shortly after the First Battle of Bull Run. Davis says "Gentlemen, we can go ahead and win this war, become our own nation, and vex the Yankees. OR we can let this one go, wait a few years and dominate them on the football field and really piss 'em off. What do you say?"

That meeting occurred Appomattox Courthouse

September 13, 2010  11:35 AM ET

Great read, Bruce. As a kid, I idolized Bear Bryant-- I saw lots of similarities between him and Woody. And because I grew up in the integrated 'Bama era, I didn't see the racial politics that he had to deal with as something to be held against him-- he was just a great coach with an awesome hat. :)

But I do think that racial politics help to explain some of the struggles the South has had in gaining the respect it deserves from the North and the West, a remnant of the laughable "Yay us-- we don't (openly) discriminate" mentality. If you've never seen it, HBO's Breaking The Huddle is an amazing exploration of the integration of college football.

I still hold that there is very little difference between Southern football fans and Midwestern football fans... except all y'all get dressed up for games. What is up with that?! I am not wearing pearls and pumps to a football game!!

:)

September 13, 2010  11:46 AM ET
QUOTE(#10):

But I do think that racial politics help to explain some of the struggles the South has had in gaining the respect it deserves from the North and the West, a remnant of the laughable "Yay us-- we don't (openly) discriminate" mentality. If you've never seen it, HBO's Breaking The Huddle is an amazing exploration of the integration of college football.I still hold that there is very little difference between Southern football fans and Midwestern football fans... except all y'all get dressed up for games. What is up with that?! I am not wearing pearls and pumps to a football game!!:)

I agree, the stain of discrimination did/has tainted the South and the sport. However, in defense, that has come an gone. And, yes, I did see the HBO show and thought it was great.

As for dressing up at the games, well we Southerners are known for our grace and civility. And keep in mind, that football down here is something of a high-holy thing. So when you go to the Stadium/Church, you must dress appropriately. But as I pointed out in the blog, football is, and has been, very much a social affair. Even though most now do not remember the origins, it is a tradition that still carries over somewhat today: you go to a social event, you dress up in your Sunday best.

September 13, 2010  01:11 PM ET
QUOTE(#11):

I agree, the stain of discrimination did/has tainted the South and the sport. However, in defense, that has come an gone.

Absolutely agreed. I've posted before, and I firmly believe, that because the South was forced to deal with its racial issues, it has progressed FAR further than anywhere else in the country. Up here, we pay great lip service to racial equity, racial equality, blah, blah, blah, but in reality, there are still a crapload of issues simmering just below the surface. But because we don't acknowledge them (because we had de facto racism rather than de juris racism), we've never dealt with them.

I'm sure there are still pockets of overt racism there, just as there are everywhere in the country. But as a single, multiracial woman often travelling alone, I have never ONCE felt threatened or uncomfortable anywhere in the South (everywhere from rural Kentucky to the Gulf Coast, from South Florida to Texas) because of my race. And I unfortunately cannot say the same about the North...

September 13, 2010  01:40 PM ET
QUOTE(#12):

Absolutely agreed. I've posted before, and I firmly believe, that because the South was forced to deal with its racial issues, it has progressed FAR further than anywhere else in the country. Up here, we pay great lip service to racial equity, racial equality, blah, blah, blah, but in reality, there are still a crapload of issues simmering just below the surface. But because we don't acknowledge them (because we had de facto racism rather than de juris racism), we've never dealt with them.I'm sure there are still pockets of overt racism there, just as there are everywhere in the country. But as a single, multiracial woman often travelling alone, I have never ONCE felt threatened or uncomfortable anywhere in the South (everywhere from rural Kentucky to the Gulf Coast, from South Florida to Texas) because of my race. And I unfortunately cannot say the same about the North...

I really appreciate this post. Thank you.

We do still have racism in the south, but southerners hate having the finger pointed toward them as being racist, like it doesn't exist elsewhere. The south has made tremendous progress during my lifetime.

September 13, 2010  01:42 PM ET
QUOTE(#13):

The south has made tremendous progress during my lifetime.

And before anyone says anything, my lifetime is post-slavery. :)

September 13, 2010  01:47 PM ET

My goodness! I am surprised!

You spelled all of the words correctly.

September 13, 2010  01:48 PM ET

Southern teams RARELY travel north to play games.

September 13, 2010  01:48 PM ET
QUOTE(#15):

My goodness! I am surprised!You spelled all of the words correctly.

Amazing what an education, and a few typing, courses can do.

September 13, 2010  01:54 PM ET
QUOTE(#16):

Southern teams RARELY travel north to play games.

Alabama will be traveling to Pennsylvania about this time next year. I am planning to try and attend that game, just to say that I have seen a "White Out".

But to contradict your statement, I believe that Miami just completed a (not so good) trip to Ohio. Ole Miss has a home & home with Boise starting next season. Alabama is trying finalize a deal with Michigan starting the 2012 or 2013 season. I believe that Texas has a deal with Notre Dame up coming. And those are just a few that come to mind.

So tell me, outside of bowl games, and the above mentioned games, how many NORTHERN teams come South?

September 13, 2010  01:59 PM ET
QUOTE(#15):

My goodness! I am surprised!You spelled all of the words correctly.

Almost.

He missed a few here and there, but we're not keeping track.

 
September 13, 2010  02:04 PM ET
QUOTE(#19):

Almost.He missed a few here and there, but we're not keeping track.

Good sir, if I did, blame my backwoods Southern education - and the spellchecker ;)

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