I grew up in Tennessee, land of gaudy white and orange conversion vans, trucks, boats, flags, Christmas lights, and on and on. This is Vols country. That’s for “Volunteers,” the state nickname and the University of Tennessee sports teams. Tennesseans earned that particular moniker by volunteering to go found Texas (something I *love* to tell Texans with particularly big egos). Orange and white are the schools colors.
When I ran for a law firm, the male attorneys were always very particular about the ties they wore when they were appearing in court. They had some classy ties and would spend a good amount of time picking out the “right” one to wear to court.
Except of game day, when they wore the most awful, screamingly hideous orange ties you have ever (hopefully not) laid eyes on.
This was SEC country, where football is near ‘bout the most serious business there is.
But unless the Vols ever play the Bears, today brings the most serious sports-related dilemma I will face as a Southerner in Chicagoland. Notre Dame is playing Alabama tonight. The Fighting Irish vs. the Crimson Tide (the team names have always made me wonder which institution actually has the more religious roots – I think I’d hazard a bet that more Alabama than Notre Dame alumni actually attend church each week).
Don’t misunderstand, I don’t really follow football. I can count the number of complete football games I’ve watched without using all my fingers. I go to Super Bowl parties for the food and the commercials.
|Knute and the Gipper|
But I can still remember watching Knute Rockne, All American on my grandmother’s little black and white bedroom television - "Win one for the Gipper!" And I got the message – Notre Dame football was something special. There was something quintessentially American about it. Even as a kid, I loved the historical and sentimental resonance. And when I heard the Dallas Cowboys referred to as “America’s Team,” I knew that was just hype. America’s team was always really going to be Notre Dame.
That conviction followed from a somewhat-uniquely Southern bias – professional sports don’t really count. It’s college sports that really count (and to an only sometimes lesser extent, high school). Whether it was basketball in North Carolina or football in Tennessee, there was never any question what really mattered.
Growing up in Tennessee, the SEC is our royalty. I don’t watch football, and even I got excited when I recognized that stream of coaches in Blindside. Nobody had to tell me it was really them. Chattanooga sits right on the Tennessee-Georgia-Alabama state lines, so even though we were in Vols-country, I knew those rivalries. Particular the one with Bama.
And one thing living up North has taught me is that rivals have kinship, particularly when you’re surrounded by people who don’t really get what the big deal is.
So here’s my dilemma, do I side with my Tennessee friends and root for Notre Dame? Or do I side with the South and root for the Tide (that’ll be a first)?
As an aside, I only wish “Go, Vols!” had the kind of cultural weight and linguistic flexibility that “Roll Tide!” has. “Roll Tide” is an appropriate response in near any situation.
Greeting your neighbor as you get in your car to head to work in the morning:
Translation: “Morning! Have a good day!”
On hearing a friend has just lost his job:
“Oh, man! Roll Tide.”
Translation: “That’s bad, but you’re gonna beat it.”
On the successful completion of a marathon:
Translation: “Alright!!!! You did it!!!!”
On hearing the news that grandpa just died:
Translation: “He lived a good life and we’ll sure miss him.”
And so on…