In high school, they used to have mandatory pep rallies, which was a surefire way to get me to sit like a surly bitch in the bleachers for an hour, openly hating everyone. I would have much rather been sitting in Calculus than at a pep rally. When was it my turn to have the rest of the school be forced to clap for me? Answer: never. They never force people to get peppy about the school newspaper or getting a 5 on an AP exam or the musicals or girls who are friendly but not popular. Man, even thinking about it now makes me angry — such utter bullshit. The injustice.
That really turned me against sports in general and football in particular. When I was applying to colleges, I wanted to go as far away from the SEC-obsessed land of my childhood as was reasonably possible. The fact that GW (where I ended up) didn’t have a football team was a draw for me.
I did have some understanding of NCAA basketball. My dad went to the University of Louisville, and it would have been impossible to grow up in my house without a healthy respect for the Cards basketball team. Here we are before a UofL basketball game. The red eye is on purpose because we are that committed to the team.
But basketball doesn’t generally involve tailgating, mostly because of the whole winter situation. At GW, I lived across the street from the arena, and I would usually be in bed until it was time to line up outside and complain about the cold.
My sister went to Auburn University, though, and that opened my eyes to how fun the college football experience can be. My first tailgate was at an Auburn game. I was like 22. Chelsea was a senior in 2010, when the team won the national championship, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen her as stressed out and mean as she was during the 2010 Iron Bowl game. (And that’s saying something. She’s my sister.) My favorite Twitter-friend-turned-real-life-friend Anna Kathryn is also an Auburn alum — it’s how I knew she was a trustworthy individual. Both of them, smart and hilarious, know a LOT about Auburn Football.
In the south, college pride gives people something to rally around that isn’t, like, secession or Chick-Fil-A. For people who aren’t sociopaths, it fuels healthy rivalries. It is fun, when it’s about being proud of the whole school and tradition (or, for me, of the southern experience and of my sister), and not about celebrating mean kids who, yes, peaked in high school.
My favorite part about the Auburn community, which I am appropriating even though I did not go there, is saying “War Eagle” to people in Auburn gear. I’ve started saying it to people, just because it’s fun. (It’s Auburn’s battle cry, but you can say it on the street to a fellow fan with the tone of a friendly hello.) Living up north — or, as far north as I’m willing to go, 5.3 miles northeast of Robert E. Lee’s home — when you swap “War Eagle”s with a stranger wearing a Tigers shirt, it’s always a pleasant five-second exchange. Because what you’re really saying is, “Damn, it’s good to be a southerner, am I right?” And they always say it back.