Football is a lifestyle in the South

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 3, 2005

Can't you just feel the electricity in the air?

It's building like a symphony as it readies for its grand finale.

Only this symphony is about to kick off and the end, thankfully, is about five months away.

It's college football.

Growing up in the South, you learn that college football and life go hand in hand.

I remember that when my family moved from Florida to Alabama the decree had to be made. And the typical question that is often asked of me to this day is, "Are you Auburn or Alabama?"

Having been a sports editor in this state for more than five years, I take the middle road and would playfully reply Roll Eagle.

College football in the South is what hockey is to Canada. If you are a true southerner you live for two things: sweet tea and college football.

The kick off to the greatest sport is just a few hours away. The ole ballcoach is back in the Southeastern Conference with a new address. Steve Spurrier will sport his typical visor, but not in his alma mater's colors of orange and blue. This time he's sporting a garnet and black visor as South Carolina's new coach.

And who better to garner the TV spotlight than Steve, himself, Thursday night when his Gamecocks open the season against the University of Central Florida.

It may not be the sexiest game on TV this week, but at this point it shouldn't matter to us die-hard college football fans. At this point of the year, some of us would watch Vanderbilt and Duke battle it out with as much excitement as if it were Auburn and Alabama squaring off.

College football in the South is more than just the game, too.

The pageantry extends beyond the hallowed stadiums like Neyland, Sanford, Bryant-Denny and Jordan-Hare.

The pageantry begins hours if not days before the game kicks off with traditions like the walk of honor around the Denny Chimes, having a picnic at the Grove on the campus of Ole Miss, taking in a cool glass of lemonade from the famed Toomers Drug store in Auburn.

And that's just a tip of the iceberg that is college football in the South.

Having covered football in Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama, it's hard to pinpoint where football is most revered in the South.

It was hard to go anywhere in Georgia and not talk about how the Dawgs were going to do this year. Then, there were a few who would quietly inquire about Georgia Tech.

The talk in Florida was if this was the year for Florida State coach Bobby Bowden. Would he ever capture that elusive national title. Then in 1993, the Seminoles were on top of the world.

Three years later the University of Florida won the title. And three years after that, Bowden captured his second national crown.

After a jaunt in Florida, it was on to South Carolina. It was almost like being at Auburn again.

A familiar face was at Clemson and still is. Tommy Bowden's been on the so-called hot seat more times than I could even count. But when the boys in purple and orange come racing down the hill to rub the rock in Death Valley in front of a crowd of 80,000-plus, it's magical.

Then there is football in Alabama. Having spent most of my life in the state, I understand the rivalry that is Auburn vs. Alabama or Alabama vs. Auburn. I don't know of a game that is talked about more over the course of a year than these two.

I don't know of a rivalry that is more intense.

Having covered intrastate rivalries like Georgia Tech-Georgia, Miami-FSU, Florida-Florida State and Clemson-South Carolina, they all have their own mystique.

But I can't think of a rivalry in the South that stops an entire state in its tracks for at least four hours and then is talked about for the next 364 days.

People not from the South would say that's crazy. We in the South just shrug our shoulders and call it normal.

That's what college football in the South is all about.

Kevin Taylor is sports editor of The Greenville Advocate. Call him at (334) 383-9302 ext. 122 or e-mail kevin.taylor@greenvilleadvocate.com.