Here's a great article by Memphis Commercial-Appeal writer Ron Higgins. In the article he talks about what makes college football so special in the south. If this doesn't get you ready for kickoff nothing will. Enjoy...
Ron Higgins has been covering college football for 28 years. On the eve of the 2006 season, he explains why Southern college football is a year-round -- and intensely personal -- subject. With apologies to the Turner South network and its "My South" promotion ...
IN MY COLLEGE FOOTBALL SOUTH:
A mixed marriage is an Alabama alum married to an Auburn alum, or an Ole Miss alum to a Mississippi State alum.
We don't think we invented college football, we just believe we perfected it.
It's cool for women to call the Hogs and for men to bark like Dogs.
An RV is considered a fall vacation home.
It's an honor to be arrested for trying to tear down a goalpost.
It was the most people I had ever seen.
It was the loudest noise I had ever heard.
I'd never actually seen drunk people before.
And Grandma, why is that live tiger in a cage sitting next to the bench?
Welcome to my introduction to college football, way back in November 1962. I went to a game in LSU's Tiger Stadium between LSU and TCU, won by LSU 5-0.
Funny thing is, after all these years as a sportswriter -- 28 and counting -- I've never seen another 5-0 football game. But what I remember of that night is something that gets me revved up every year, something that gets me through the dog days of summer, into preseason practice and finally another season.
It's the passion.
We like our other sports in the South, but we love college football every day of every year. We love the pregame parties, the games, the postgame parties, the Monday morning breakdown of the game at the office water cooler, recruiting season, spring practice, summer workouts ... it goes on and on.
In the South, we probably can't tell you the exact date of when man first walked on the moon. But we can tell you that a Georgia freshman running back named Herschel Walker ran over a Tennessee defensive back named Bill Bates. We can tell you it was Dana Moore who kicked the game-winning field goal for Mississippi State when the Bulldogs snapped No. 1 Alabama's 28-game win streak in 1980.
We can tell you former Alabama quarterback Joe Namath's middle name is Willie, that former Ole Miss coach Billy Brewer's nickname is "Dog," that Alabama beat Tennessee and Peyton Manning the exact number of times that the University of Memphis did (once) during Manning's career and that Steve Spurrier is the only person in SEC history to win the Heisman Trophy as a player and later guide a team to a national championship as a coach.
Once college football in the South grabs you, it never lets go.
It recruits you from the cradle.
My 12-year old son Jack is an LSU fan, his friend Sam is a Memphis fan, another friend Alex is a Tennessee fan, another friend Brad is an Arkansas fan and another friend Evan is a Florida fan. They settle their differences by playing each other on the EA Sports NCAA College Football video game. College football in the South also keeps you feeling as spry as a spring chicken.
Consider my dear late English grandmother, who lived to be almost 100 years old. She was kept going by two things -- hot tea and following her LSU Tigers. Thank the Lord her tea time never interfered with kickoff.
In my college football South:
Archie Manning is forever scrambling and giving LSU fits, Billy Cannon never quits weaving 89 yards through an Ole Miss kick defense and into immortality on a humid Halloween night, ol' Larry Munson can't stop screaming "Run Lindsay Run," Bear Bryant still looks fashionable in his houndstooth hat and the Majors boys never quit dancing through defenses in the crisp Saturday afternoon sunshine of Neyland Stadium.
Beautiful coeds never age, even 30 years after graduation. Once a Southern belle, always a Southern belle.
Roll Tide, War Eagle, Hunker down Hairy Dawgs and Geaux Tigers are acceptable substitutes for hello.
Pregame parties are almost as good as the games themselves.
It's not unusual for season tickets to be a major point of contention dividing property in divorce proceedings.
No one south of the Mason-Dixon seemingly gets tired of talking about college football. It doesn't matter what time of year it is, Southern college football fans sweat wins and losses, blue-chip recruits who commit and de-commit, who's going to be the second-team right offensive tackle in spring practice and whether an incoming recruit has academically qualified and is attending summer school.
It's why radio sports talk shows in the South consider themselves fortunate. They have a built-in, 365-day-a-year topic. "If I want the phone lines to light up and get more calls than I can handle, all I have to say is something like "Tim Tebow is going to give Chris Leak a run for his money as Florida's quarterback,' " said former college assistant Max Howell, whose daily three-hour show "Max-ed Out" is heard in 70 markets across the South. "You won't see that type of response in Kansas City or St. Louis."
Those places have long been pro markets. And perhaps that is part of the secret why college football is still king in the South, despite the influx in the past 40 years of pro sports teams in the NFL, NBA, NHL and major league baseball.
"Passion has always run deeper in the South for college football, and I think it's rooted in the fact there was always a lot more to do at other places around the country," said Marvin West, former longtime Knoxville News-Sentinel and Scripps Howard sports editor, who was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame on Thursday night. "For the longest time, there were no professional sports in the South, and college football was the game. It was in every Southern town."
West said he recalls going to a UCLA-Southern Cal game in Los Angeles, and being stunned by the lack of enthusiasm at a rival game. "There were 33,000 people in the stands and nobody cared," West said. "Tennessee could play North Texas and tickets would be scalped. It's that way all over the South. Look at the size of the stadiums. "It's more than the game. It's the pageantry. It's the bands."
Jackie Sherrill, who was a head coach at Washington State, Pittsburgh, Texas A&M and Mississippi State, said that college football in the South is deeply woven in the region's fabric of life. It's a social setting, since people plan all year for those 11 or 12 weeks," said Sherrill, who was born in Oklahoma and raised as a Sooners fan, but who played for Bryant at Alabama.
"It's like a religion. It's like being a Catholic, or Methodist or Baptist or Presbyterian or Jewish. If you're an Alabama fan or a Florida fan or an LSU fan, you are true to that team always. You have an unshakable belief, a faith. And college football in the South may have done more than anything else to advance race relations. I played on an Alabama team that was the first to play an integrated team when we played Nebraska in a bowl game."
In my college football South:
Five-star dining can be on a grill under a tent in The Grove, a spread of hors d'oeuvres on a white table cloth on a boat on Lake Loudon or next to a crawfish boiler in a Tiger Stadium parking lot.
A cowbell is a fashion accessory.
Football stadiums are considered cathedrals, and it sure costs a lot more these days to sit in those pews, doesn't it?
You always find a way to get one of your buddies, Jack Daniels, into games undetected.
Sunday is a day of worship and reflection, meaning you pray your head coach gets fired because you've been obsessing why he never changes his predictable offense.
Nobody is happier to start a college football season than head coaches.
For some, it's the anticipation of a new year, a fresh start. That feeling never wanes, no matter how many years a coach has been in the business.
"If you don't get jacked up at this time of year, you shouldn't be coaching," said Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, who has been involved in college football as a coach or a player for almost 40 years.
"There's a sense of anticipation. You can feel it around the office. You can see it in your players. "It's a new team and a new year. Last year is history. You've got new players excited about their first time in a college uniform. You've got veterans who can't wait to get back at it."
For many coaches, it's the relief of finally having daily contact again with their teams. Since NCAA rules prohibit coaches from having any sort of practices from the end of the spring semester to the start of the fall semester, coaches sweat through roughly two months hoping their players don't get into trouble off the field.
"In June and July, coaches are the best deep-sea divers in the world," said Pete Cordelli of Memphis, a former head coach at Kent State and former assistant at such locales at Notre Dame, Minnesota and Arkansas. "Because every time their phone rings late at night during those two months, they hold their breath."
Those coaches know a phone call could mean a player arrest. Or a car accident. Or worse. "The summer is a scary time of year," Alabama coach Mike Shula said, "just because there are so many things that can happen out there to kids ages 18-to-22 on college campuses."
That's why it's a relief to start practice, to know where your players are. They know this is what they work all year toward and so does the head coach. "For all the things that go into being a head coach -- the recruiting, the administrative work, the academics, the public relations -- the thing you live for is the season," Fulmer said. "You live for those Saturday afternoons in the fall."
In my college football South:
January means bowls, February is signing day, March and April is spring practice, May means preseason magazines hit the stands, June is hoping your star player doesn't get arrested, July is for buying a new cap for the season, August is preseason practice, September through November is bowl bliss or bust and December is firing and hiring of new coaches.
It doesn't even matter if you live don't in the South. Once you become a Southern college football fan, forever it follows you. This past week on a vacation to New York City, I walked in Ben Benson's, regarded as the best steak restaurant in the Big Apple.
"There's a guy you've got to meet," restaurant manager Jimmy O'Brien told me. "He talks about college football all year. He's my bartender, Mark Moody, he's from Tennessee and he's a huge Vols' fan." O'Brien introduced me to Moody, and the first thing he said was, "Do you think (David) Cutcliffe has helped (Erik) Ainge? And did you see where that kid (signee Ramone Johnson) is eligible?"
Yes, in my college football South, there are no boundaries.
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