This week is the first week of college football. Except for either the Miami Hurricanes or the Florida Gators, who played Saturday, every football team in the NCAA’s Division One is undefeated. The possibilities this week are limitless; every team’s fans dream of a trip to a bowl game, a conference championship and a national championship.
In the South, the SEC and ACC are the biggest Division One conferences. Otherwise mild-mannered, rational people are preparing for five months of shouting encouragement and advice to their team of choice while watching the game on television, convinced that via the magic of the airways they will help their team win. The same people are also pulling out lucky shirts from their closet or preparing other rituals that they believe will tip the balance of a close game in favor of their team. Weddings, birthday parties and other such occasions are scheduled around teams’ schedules.
Beyond private (in the living room) or public (at the football stadium) shenanigans, the enthusiasm affects personal relationships. My sister attends a national conference in Chicago every fall. On the Saturday night of that conference, a group of fellow Southern women gather with her in the hotel bar for supper where they can watch whichever games are on. Their cheers and groans, depending on the status of their team, rock the bar.
My husband and I are proud Auburn Tigers fans, as is most of our family. Sadly, a few misguided family members root for the other team. If you’re wondering who “the other team” is, your education about SEC college football is about to begin. At Auburn, “the other team” is the football team at the University of Alabama. Ours is a rivalry for the ages. The Iron Bowl where the two teams meet for the last game of the season, shuts down much of the state and leads to (mostly) friendly jests between the two sides.
The Auburn-Alabama rivalry is not the only great rivalry in college football. There are other intrastate rivalries, such as Florida-Florida State or Georgia-Georgia Tech, and interstate rivalries, such as Ohio State -Michigan or Texas - Oklahoma. The single greatest football rivalry plays out every year with the Army-Navy game. I lived in Annapolis during pre-school while my father was stationed at the Naval Academy. I was in fifth or sixth grade before I understood that the Army and Navy exist to fight enemies of the United States rather than each other.
No matter which team is yours, enjoy the dreams of championships dancing in your head before cruel reality snatches them away. I know I’m looking forward to mine, at least until Saturday when Auburn plays Oregon. And should your football dreams fail you during 2019, remember the college football cry throughout the ages, “There’s always next year!”