Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Fear of Football

    When I told my friends in Suzanne Byerley’s Thursday writing class at the Kingsville Public Library that I was moving to Columbus, Ga., Chuck Becker warned me about Phenix City, Al., just across the Chattahoochee River from here.
   “When I was in Ranger school at Ft. Benning,” Chuck said, “we weren’t even allowed to go Phenix City.”
   Not long after I moved into Covenant Woods, I happened to be sitting with Catherine at dinner. She’s a very proper lady of 91, and in the course of conversation she mentioned that she was from Phenix City. I told her what Chuck had said.
   “That’s right,” she said wistfully, “it was a wide-open town.”
   Alas, “was” is the operative word, and Phenix City in 2012 is no longer a notoriously wide-open place. But danger still lurks along the banks of the Chattahoochee – both banks – and, apparently, throughout the Southeast. The danger is football.
   Not all football. When I wear my Steelers T-shirt, no one notices. That’s not true. Joe noticed, but only because he’s originally from Pennsylvania, albeit from Pottsville, on the other side of the state.
   The NFL doesn’t generate much excitement here. In the race for space in the sports pages of the Ledger-Enquirer – home of The Chattahoochee Valley’s Largest News Team – the Atlanta Falcons run a weak fourth to the Georgia Bulldogs, the Auburn Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide. In today’s paper there was a story about each of those college teams. The only mention of the Falcons was on the agate page, in the list of the weekend’s pre-season games.
   As the 2012 season nears, have I come to realize that college football here is not for the faint of heart. It started with an e-mail from my brother, Jim. He and Susan, my sister-in-law, are thinking of driving over from Birmingham on Sept. 2, and he wondered if I’d be around. If I was going to be available, Jim said, I’d better hope that Alabama beats Michigan on Sept. 1. Otherwise, Susan, an Alabama native and a staunch Crimson Tide fan, would be a most unhappy woman.
   This was a joke of course, and it was my job as a wit – or at least half of one – to keep it going. I will be rooting for Alabama, I told Jim. After all, if the TV broadcast ends with a raucous rendition of “Hail to Victors” playing in the background, I’ll have to run out and purchase a couch. Then when they visit, Susan can, in the great tradition of Southern ladies, lie upon it with her hand on her forehead and say, “I do declare, life is hardly worth living when Alabama loses.”
   Jim, who apparently never heard the old saw about discretion being the better part of valor, forwarded the e-mail to Susan. “I am no Southern lady when it comes to Bama football,” she wrote back. “You will also find that Georgia women are no ladies either when the Dawgs are down.”
   I took the matter up with James, the maintenance man who has been previewing the high school football season for me – Carver High is the team to watch. I told him what Susan said.
   “She’s right. There ain’t nothing but Georgia fans here, and they get all worked up – all worked up. The men are bad and the women are worse,” he said.
   With that in mind, please pardon my trepidation as the kicker approaches the ball to start the 2012 college football wars, which down here take place both on and off the field. Or so I’ve been told.
   The Tide humbled what is known in Ohio as “that team from up north,” and Susan was delighted. Her only complaint was that the University of Alabama has put limits on the use of the cheer: “We just beat the hell out of you/Rammer Jammer Yellowhammer/Give ‘em hell, Alabama!” Political correctness, it seems, is everywhere present.

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