"It's football time in Tennessee!" my dad announces in a booming sing-song voice as he clicks the remote to the channel broadcasting the Orange and White. I can hear the Pride of the Southland Band playing Rocky Top while thousands of fans sing along drunkenly and the sports commentators talk above it all. We've got a pot of chili cooked, cheese and crackers, chips, pretzels, hot-dogs, cookies, and several two liters of carbonated drinks. My father, who incidentally is a pastor, comes the closest to losing his religion every Saturday in the fall. He superstitiously wears a Tennessee tee-shirt or sweat-shirt on every game day, and yells instructions and insults at his beloved team.
"The dad-blame quarterback is too afraid of the sack!"
"Yep! There ya go, boys! Snatchin' defeat from the jaws of victory!"
"OH YEAH! Let's use the same play that hasn't worked for the past ten downs!"
"He couldn't hit a bull in the rear end with a bass-fiddle!"
The season has begun.
Autumn is my favorite seasonal time, and not just because all the world conspires together to coordinate with my hair color. The fall days are a transition from summer to winter and are, in my mind, the loveliest time of the year when the days begin to shorten, the temperatures begin to cool, the kids go tripping merrily back to school, the supper meals get heartier and more savory, the trees dress in their fiery-colored finery, the air is sweet with a tangy musk, the evening dusk is both orange and purple, and the season of football begins.
Here in the South, football is a religion. Stadiums are our temples of worship, fight songs are our hymns, and we work ourselves into a charismatic frenzy shouting for our team (and against the other guys'). I first caught the religious fervor of football while on the high school bleachers. The competitive spirit felt between the Juniors and Seniors at pep rallies suddenly transposed to a family unit feeling at the games. We were all Golden Eagles, and clapped, sang, and cheered as a whole. On cold nights, we'd sit huddled together on those hard ass aluminum bleachers all covered in blankets and coats. We scalded our tongues on steaming hot chocolate sipped from styrofoam cups. We danced when the marching band played "Say Hey!" We yelled for victory as prompted by the homecoming queen and her court (also known as the high school cheerleading squad). Friday night was an Event, with a capital "E," for us. I have many'a fond memory of those chilly fall nights with the friends of my youth. We felt young, immortal, connected and happy -- despite our scalded tongues.
In college, my love affair with football continued through Homecoming weeks full of Greeks competing to claim the top school spirit prize. There were chili cook-offs, step shows, fight song competitions, and the long awaited homecoming parade. To this day, I can never give someone a gift without remembering the floats I covered with zillions of tiny bits of tissue paper. College football games contained all the goodness of high school football along with the added benefits of liquor and no parents. The marching band was filled with music-major friends of mine who would sneak booze into their instrument cases, and we'd enjoy a bit of our own school "spirit." I know I had a blast at those games -- I just can't remember most of them. Currently, I'm trying to host a big reunion tail-gate party for our school's Homecoming this October. I'm hoping to remember this game -- even if I don't understand it.
You see, while I adore everything that is football season, I don't rightly understand the actual game. Don't bother trying to teach it to me in the comments -- I'm afraid I'm a lost cause. All I know is, "There's this yellow line, and the team's gotta cross it with the ball. If they do, you sing the fight song. If the big, ole sweaty players make it to the other team's end-zone, that's a touch down, and you sing the fight song again." That is the sum-total of my football knowledge. I can sing a kicking fight-song.
I think I actually avoid learning the rules of the game, for fear of it spoiling my enjoyment of the event itself. I'm already ignoring how football perpetuates gender stereotypes - -what with the bulky and aggressive male heros, and the scantily-clad and leggy cheerleaders. I knowingly turn a blind-eye toward this (and even signed my daughter up for cheerleading) because I am in love with football! Don't ask me any player's name or team name for that matter. Don't ask me about any stats or Heisman candidates. Don't ask me whether that was holding or a face-mask. Don't ask me about conferences and leagues. I can't tell you anything about the game I claim to love. Your best bet is to just ask me what the menu is for the tailgate, and the lyrics to the fight-song. Oh, and here's a spare pom-pom.
"Let's Go, Boys!"