Roll Tide Roll! Why Does It Matter?

It is now just days away from the BCS Championship Game for the 2009 NCAA College football season. The Crimson Tide of Alabama will be entering the game on a quest for their 13th national championship. I hope BAMA wins. Hope is too mild of a word. Honestly, I think about it constantly. To me, it matters. But why? Why does it matter if my team wins the game…the championship game?  Why is football so important to me? I am almost fifty years of age; shouldn’t my focus display more maturity?

This post is all about the struggle I face with warped priorities. This is my attempt to think out loud and perhaps discover why I long for something so trivial as my football team winning.

My disproportionate love for Alabama football affects my life well beyond what I want to admit. It disturbs me that this warped value system permeates so much of my own life.  My emotions run high during a game. My family suffers from my immaturity if Alabama happens to lose. My demeanor can be shaken for days—all because of the stupid game of football.

Football has not been good for my marriage.  From the start—and I mean from the very start—football got in the way. Immediately after our wedding our families went to the home of Julie’s family to open and share in the wedding gifts before we left Nebraska and headed to Tennessee. Most of us were sitting in a large circle in the living room.  Through a doorway, however, I could see the television. Alabama was playing Penn State—this would have been THE regular season game of the year. As long as we were going to be there in that house with family, I wasn’t interested in unwrapping salt & pepper shakers; I wanted to see the game. There are photos of my “looking away” as Julie eagerly opened the treasures.  Alabama lost that day and so did she.

Think about the time it takes to be a devoted fan. Alabama plays 14 games this year. One game can easily take three hours.  Do the math; if I watch every game then I have spent over 40 hours watching football.  Sadly, how many of us who enjoy football only watch one game a week! …Houston, we have a problem.

This is not a new revelation. I’ve known for years that I have a problem with an inordinate passion for Alabama football. Yet time and time again I have pulled an Urban Meyer—deciding to rearrange my priorities only to revert back to the same old ways. Like the Apostle Paul, I do the very thing I don’t want to do.

If my goal was to have properly set priorities, then this has been a difficult football season for me. Difficult, because each week the stakes grew larger and the hopes increased. Unlike the Georgia Bulldog fans who surround me, I had reason to stay interested all season. Alabama beat the teams they were supposed to beat and they even beat teams the pre-season experts said they would not beat.  Ole Miss, Tennessee, and LSU all drowned in the tide. Auburn gave it a valiant effort, but ultimately fell short—again.  The ultimate triumph so far this season, however, came in the Georgia Dome where Bama won the SEC Championship over Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators.

Even for a legitimate football dynasty, this could be a year like no other. A win in the BCS Championship game would give Alabama the triple crown of college football—completing a season already graced with a SEC Championship and the Heisman Trophy. No other team in Alabama history could match this.

These victories and triumphs have ushered in a heighten frenzy for Alabama fans. Yet, I must ask again, why does it matter?  Why does football matter? Why does a SEC Championship matter? Why does another National Championship matter? I keep telling myself that this is just football; it is just a game.  But, for me, it does matter. Why?

Part of the answer would lie in what Malcolm Gladwell might call a cultural legacy.  I didn’t set out in life to be an Alabama football fan, it just happened to me.  Alabama football games were the highlight of autumns in my childhood. Our family enjoyed football.  We liked Auburn, but loved Alabama. We planned our Saturdays around the game.  The radio was tuned to the pregame show and we listened through the play by play and then well into the post game show. I can still see my mother jumping up and down and screaming when Alabama would score. (Perhaps if Alabama had scored less then maybe she would not have her present day back problems.) If the game happened to be on TV, it was an event.

My favorite day of the year was not Christmas. Nor was it my birthday; nor was it the last day of school. No, my favorite day of the year was New Year’s Day. New Year’s Day was all about football and food—and in that order. All the good teams played in the New Year’s Day bowl games—Alabama was a regular contestant. It was the day when our hopes for another national championship for Paul Bear Bryant and the University of Alabama would be realized.

In our family album are photos of me and my brother wearing our Alabama #22 jerseys. Mark Ingram, this year’s Alabama Heisman Trophy winner, wears #22. Sorry Mark, for me #22 will always belong to Johnny Musso—the Italian Stallion and my childhood hero. It’s been that way for 40 years; it’s not going to change now.

Not everything about football has been bad for me. It helped me with math. When children learn math they learn to count in multiples, usually in multiples of two, (for Auburn fans this is like: 2, 4, 6, 8, etc.). Not for me, I learned to count in multiples of sevens.  I also learned to count by 5…backwards. My favorite sentence in all of life went something like this: “He’s at the 35, 40, 45, 50, 45, 40, 35, 30, 25, 20, 15, 10, 5—Touchdown Alabama!”  I heard it often. No other phrase brings me more excitement.

My love for Alabama football may have something to do with timing. I grew up in the glory years of Alabama football. I was born in 1960 and so at a young age I grew accustomed to the success of the team wearing crimson. Alabama won National Championships in 1961, 1964, 1965, 1973, 1978, 1979, & 1992. The expectation was always for an undefeated season.

For the state of Alabama, football was a point of pride.  America’s view of Alabama was tainted with the ups & downs of George Wallace, segregation, church bombings, and marches. We were proud of our contribution to NASA, but what truly put a positive face on our state were Paul Bear Bryant and the University of Alabama football teams. We were champions and proud of it.  In the college football world, we were one of the best.

Alabama football was a badge of honor. As children, if we met someone for the first time, the first words out of our mouth consisted of a 3 word sentence, “Alabama or Auburn?” Like a business man itching to ask his new acquaintance “What do you do?” we were anxious to size up our new friend. The answer to the question would determine how you would relate to that person. Are you an Auburn football fan or an Alabama football fan?

Growing up, the most revered man in Alabama was Paul Bear Bryant, Alabama’s legendary coach. I remember the moment when I heard that Bear Bryant had died. I was sitting in a Ground Round in New York, where my wife-to-be worked, when the news of his death flashed across the TV screen. I was stunned. To this day, my favorite brand of potato chip is Golden Flake. Why? The answer is simple, that is what Bear Bryant munched on during his weekly recap of the game. Today, when it’s time for the biggest Alabama games I head to Kroger to get a bag of Golden Flake and some Coke.  That’s what Alabama fans do. Tennessee fans eat generic chips sold by Winn Dixie.

Sadly, for these and other reasons, the game of football was more than a game; it was life. Even here in the Bible belt, our love for football can mean more to us than our love for God. It was not uncommon to hear a shout in very reserved churches when reference was made to a big win or the Crimson Tide.

I remember sitting in church one Sunday morning early one fall. One of the leaders in our church, (I will call him Mr. Jacobs), was sitting next to me in one of the back rows.  On this particular morning our worship included what is probably the most intimate of all worship moments for a Christian.  In our church we called it “communion”—remembering the crucifixion of Christ by taking the bread and wine, (grape juice in our church).   Those distributing the pieces of bread and juice were slowly making their way back to our row.  As I patiently waited for our opportunity to partake, Mr. Jacobs reached inside his coat pocket and pulled out an Alabama Football Media Guide and showed it to me.  Here we were remembering the supreme act of God’s love for all people and Mr. Jacobs wants to show me the pocket pamphlet full of intriguing facts about this year’s Alabama football team! This story, more than any other illustrates the heart of my struggle. I, like Mr. Jacobs, allow football to supplant what truly belongs in my heart.

My cry is for God to recreate my heart so that it beats for those things that are truly worthy of devotion. As a wanna-be follower of Jesus Christ, my values should evidence a devotion to God and whatever it is that honors Him.

Tiger Woods, when his private failings began to come out into the open, issued a statement in which he said he had not lived up to his values. Bull! He lived up to his values, we all do. It’s just that we know our values should be something other than what they are. Tiger wishes his lifestyle didn’t reflect his values. I, too, wish my love for Alabama football was not a reflection of my values—but it is. The truth is that I value football too much. Alabama football means too much to me. I wish it were not so. I don’t want it to be. Each year I determine it won’t be, but all it takes is a small win streak and I am back at it again.

Thankfully, my children have not developed the passion for sports like their dad. It’s not that I didn’t try. I took a photo of me and our first child when she was only 5 days old. I wanted to remember the first football game we watched together on TV. Alabama lost to Florida 24 -13. Don’t get me wrong; my children do like sports. In our house are plenty of reminders of our teams…the Braves, Alabama and a lone Volunteer holdout. Yet, again thankfully, they don’t exhibit the warped priority I place on it. I think their momma may have something to do with that….thank you, sweetheart. I hope, and pray, that their appreciation for sports never develops into devotion.

I am not alone in my struggle. Many Bama fans share my idiotic-ness. I’ve seen it everywhere I have lived. Cornhuskers are not ashamed to be called Cornhuskers. In Minnesota it was the Vikings. In Pittsburg it was the Pirates and Steelers. In New York it was the Mets and Giants. In Tennessee the blood ran orange. Even in Georgia, Bulldog fans start each year with a fever.  I am not alone; there are many of us with our priorities in shambles.

In the grand scheme of life it doesn’t matter who wins the BCS Championship Game. Yet, like much of life, my focus is often drawn away from the significant to the trivial. The outcome of this game shouldn’t matter, but it will.

So with this blog, I guess I am taking the first step, again, toward healing. –Hello, my name is Jack and I have a problem.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Kathy Scapin on December 31, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    Entertaining and thought provoking. “He lived up to his values, we all do. It’s just that we know our values should be something other than what they are.” Well said!


  2. I know exactly how you feel. That’s how I feel when my Braves win or lose. If they win, I am happy. If they lose, I’m in the worst mood. This can last a while too, or until the next game. lol Thanks for posting this. I’m glad I am not alone.


  3. Posted by Barbara Peters on January 8, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    “Wanna be follower of Jesus Christ”? Maybe that admission addresses your final proclamation? Appreciate your honesty, Jack. I am finding that every sin that besets me loses its power, its grip when I stare into the face of God.When I lose that focus, the sin once again besets me. Intimacy with Jesus is my only hope to continue to root out the sin in my life and have victory so that I don’t blow the ambassadorship with which I have been entrusted.


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