Monday, August 26, 2013

College Football 101: Crash Course

Do you hear the rumblings? Can you feel the excitement in the air? Are you counting the minutes until kickoff? If you have no idea what I'm talking about, this post may help get you up to speed a bit. You see, we are entering a most magical time of year, especially in the South. College football season is almost upon us. Before we break out the koozies, sing the fight song, and head to the tailgate spot, let's cover some basics, shall we? A little preseason drill for the rookies out there. For the rest of you armchair quarterbacks, consider it a pregame show.

Some of you are puzzled by what you just read. Is this seriously coming from a girl who doesn't particularly like sports, and who will only break a sweat in the name of weight loss or sun tanning? Yes, it's me, but I can explain. Please don't think for half a second that we are about to discuss the hurry-up offense or the shotgun formation...oh heavens, no. You can get that pretty much anywhere; I am here to provide you with college football from a Southern belle perspective. Darlings, I am in it almost entirely for the social aspect.

For the sake of self-indulgence, please let me throw in that Clemson takes on the Georgia Bulldogs for their season opener on Saturday. ESPN's College Game Day (more on this later) will be live on Clemson campus, and the Good Year blimp will be there, too. Students started camping out in what was nicknamed "Tentville" nine full days before the game to make sure they got their tickets (all students are supposed to get game tickets, but it's not guaranteed and it's first-come, last-in-line-sits-up-near-the-blimp). To top it off, our head coach came out to Tentville and surprised all the students waiting with doughnuts for breakfast. It has given me serious heart palpitations from excitement. It's almost too much, except it's deliciously just enough. As great as all this is, it is not a fluke or anomaly: This. Is. College. Football. See what all the fuss is about yet?

So it's almost time, and it is practically a religion. But you don't want to get started off on the wrong foot. Badmouthing someone's team, especially if it also happens to be their alma mater, is right up there with insulting their mother. Rivalry runs rampant, so tread lightly. This is a house divided between my husband, the Georgia Tech alumnus, and yours truly, a Clemson grad. We pull for each other's teams all season long, until the dreaded day when the Yellow Jackets take on the Tigers. Then, we sit and watch in tense silence. The winner has unspoken bragging rights for the next year, which basically means they know their team won and have thereby earned the right to give smug looks whenever it is mentioned, but it cannot, must not, will not be spoken aloud.

While we're on the subject of bragging rights, in college football timetables, there is no statute of limitations. Clemson fans still talk about the '81 championship, Alabama has won back-to-back national championships (so your children's grandchildren's children will still be hearing about that one), Georgia Bulldog football fanatics will say Herschel Walker three times in a ten second sentence. Some years, nostalgia is all you have. The good years are the ones you will cling to and talk about...forever.

Now, let's get you dressed for the occasion. Most importantly, wear team colors. This is all about spirit and is not the time to show up in your khakis and white button-down. Unless you went to GAP University, in which case, go Chinos! I, personally, would discourage you from body paint or spirit wigs and say keep it simple with a cute dress for her and a team appropriate polo shirt or button down for him. You aren't sitting in the sorority or fraternity block any more, so you don't have to go too overboard. Unless you (like myself) just enjoy dressing up. In which case, be my well-dressed guest. These lovely Bulldog belles have it down beautifully:

(Photo courtesy of Ashley Culberson)

It is inevitable that discussions of football will arise during tailgate time. If you have no idea what is going on or what is being discussed, always fall back on the aforementioned College Game Day. This is essentially the papal mass of college football Saturdays. This will be easier for you if you actually watch said program (on ESPN for the uninitiated), but if not, you can fake it. Say things such as, "Who did Corso and Herbstreit pick today? Well, they are doomed!" Bonus points if you can work in Lee Corso's mainstay, "Not so fast, my friend!"

And now more detail about my personal favorite: the tailgating. Tailgating is serious business. People show up hours, sometimes days in advance to get their spot and get the party going. And sure, everyone has grills and coolers, but nowadays there are real tablecloths, fresh flowers, flat-screen TVs, and signature cocktails. At my alma mater, a Tiger can't swing its tail without hitting a plate of just-smoked barbecue, and Ole Miss fans are infamous for boasting, "We may lose a game, but we never lose a party." You don't want to miss a minute of it either. I would be remiss if I didn't take the chance to brag, er, inform you that Clemson did in fact win the South's Best Tailgate Competition in 2012. Those folks at Southern Living know what they're talking about.

In the realm of college football, tradition (and superstition) runs rampant. There are chants, cheers, good luck charms, and rituals abounding. Don't question it, just go with it and enjoy the fun. At Notre Dame, before the game begins, the team makes its way to the "Touchdown Jesus"—a mural overlooking the stadium showing Jesus with his arms raised like a referee declaring a touchdown. Mississippi State fans will drive you insane with ever-ringing cowbells. At the University of Pennsylvania, fans throw toast on the field after the third quarter at every home game, a tradition started in the '70s when alcohol was banned from the stadium and fans used it as a way to "toast" the team. Ohio State's band is famous for it's tradition of "dotting the i" during their pregame show, and it's been dotted by tuba players, famous folks and tons of special honorees over the years. There are a million examples; every school does something unique--that is the fun and fascination of college football. It's pure spectacle.

There are so many things to love about college football; I think that is why the fan base is so enthusiastic. It takes something pretty special to entice a grown man to paint his team logo on his bald head, yes? At any rate, I can tell you about it all day long, but the best thing to do is pack up your cooler and your pom poms and experience it for yourself. And with only a handful of days left until the season starts (fourth and inches, if you will), it's time to get going. That tailgate isn't going to set itself up, and the die hard fans are probably already on campus, raring to go.

A few years ago, I got a framed sign for Christmas with some sage college football advice: "Arrive early, stay late, be loud, wear orange" (you have my permission to insert your own team colors into that equation). Amen to that! Now that you've had your tutorial, you are ready to live this season to its fullest. May the best team win--especially if it's MY team!


  1. WTF...I dont see a GT on that map!

    1. It's that tiny little sliver next to that huge chunk of UGA covering the entire state! (Clearly, not my map!)


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