In the south there is one thing that polarizes its citizenry like very little else. Its loyalty exists year round, however the focused obsession occurs a few months out of each year ~ it is… SEC Football.
Growing up in the great state of Alabama, there is one thing which is determined, (for the most part), at birth ~ you will either be for Auburn or you will be for Alabama. It is safe to say that very few newborns don’t have at least one piece of clothing identifying this loyalty even before leaving the hospital. Most kids just automatically inherit the team from their parents. But of course some kids come from broken homes ~ and when I say broken, I mean that one parent is for Auburn and one is for Alabama. It can be a confusing time for a little kid, what with trying to figure out who to be for, how to navigate “The BIG Game day” and especially…trying to figure out what to do when their parents quit speaking ~ because it’s a guarantee that one day a year, there will be under one roof, the champion and the defeated. It should also be noted, that your team could have won ALL season, but if at the Iron Bowl your team lost…then you ARE the defeated.
For myself, I came from one of those homes. Mine had the extra oddness that my father had attended both Arkansas and Auburn – but was a die hard Alabama fan. My mother and sister were straight up Auburn fans. But I was a daddy’s girl and from as long as I can remember, I was a solid Alabama fan. It was me and my dad all the way on Game Day! As a young kid I had the standard AL sweatshirts, t-shirts, sweat pants and shorts. I just couldn’t imagine rooting for any other team – EVER. You see one thing was a given – whatever team “you were” (because it absolutely was part of your personal identity) – you NEVER changed that. If you were born Alabama or Auburn…then you died Alabama or Auburn.
Iron Bowl day was the time I enjoyed the most with my dad, where football was concerned. If we won, we would both laugh at how irritated my mom would become. My sister on the other hand was quite skilled – at never letting any disappointment show, which threw a wrench in my attempts to rub it in. My best friend growing up had a similar family setting. She, her mom and her brother were die hard Auburn fans and her step dad, step brother and step sister – they were all for Alabama. It was ALWAYS interesting to see what happened after Game Day at their house ~ being that they were so dedicated and all…it was usually better than watching the TV!
My identity as an Alabama fan carried on through my adulthood. Iron Bowl after Iron Bowl – rooting on my team. Other than my family and my faith, I’d say the only other true consistency in my entire life had been my loyalty to the Alabama Crimson Tide. Predominately most of my friends were Alabama fans, other than those few that I loved even though they were for the other team.
It was June 2001 and I had just moved back into my own place, following a year living with my parents after a difficult divorce. I had taken the oath that people often do following such an experience – “I will NEVER get into another relationship again!” I had actually stuck to my guns for just over a year. But one day walking back from fishing at my apartments, I heard a voice calling me and when I looked up I saw a very cute guy on his balcony and panicked – I ran home, locked the door & renewed my oath “out loud” immediately! About a week later I was fishing and he actually pulled up in his boat in front of me and invited me to ride. Scanning the lake and realizing that from any angle I could swim to shore if necessary…I agreed. Long story short, after our second date we were inseparable. It was as if I’d known him my whole life. He was cute, funny, smart and just great to be around. There was just one problem… he was one of them ~ an Auburn fan. In fact, the most obsessed fan I’d ever met from EITHER team!
Our relationship grew over the coming months and as football season approached – that delicate unaddressed area of our lives simply HAD to be discussed. As much as I hated to admit it to myself, his obsessive fanaticism was FAR beyond the scope of my own – to the point he expressed feeling that he could not handle our being together with opposing loyalties. Let me tell you, what he was asking was like a punch in the gut. I had never even considered such a thing. It was crazy! But what could I do? I loved the guy – so I did the only thing I could do…I went and asked my dad how he would feel about that. My dad laughed of course, as I assured him that my loyalty to The Bear and Joe Namath were off limits in this deal!
Time went by and I slowly adjusted to being at Auburn games, surrounded by Auburn people and even the tailgate site with all of his crazy radical fan friends. However there was one ritualistic aspect of their pre-game jubilation that I politely refused to participate in ~ that of kicking and stomping on a stuffed Alabama Elephant for good luck. (To me it was utterly barbaric!) The mere thought of it caused me to have a slight sense of disorientation. Then the day came…the Iron Bowl. To make it more bizarre, (as if that were possible), the game was at Auburn, I was sitting in a sea of orange and blue and to top it all off…I was wearing Auburn clothes. I can’t begin to explain how horrible I felt as I looked across the field of play at that sea of crimson and white. As the game proceeded into the first quarter, suddenly it happened, (amidst the cheering of AU fans in my section – as the cheers were being lead by the new love of my life), my body began to sweat, my hands began to tremble, and I became dizzy, nauseas, cold and pale. I couldn’t take it anymore! I got up and ran for the bathroom – Out of courtesy, it is here my descriptions will cease. Yes…this unforeseen change in my life seemed at that moment to be an impossible obstacle that I would not be able to overcome. However, love is a funny and powerful thing – because no matter how bad I felt…what could I do? I loved the guy!
I remember when I was first introduced to the idea of living sober – I looked at those people talking to me with amazement in my mind. Why in the WORLD would I EVER want to do that?! I could simply not imagine a life without alcohol and what’s more, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would think that was EVER going to happen! The mere thought of it made me feel sick, nauseas and panic stricken. However, I really didn’t have anything against those folks that were sharing with me – so I hung around them a little bit at first, usually watching from a safe distance, ever so slowly getting closer and closer. The more I did, the more I saw how peaceful they were. I came to see that the life they were living was not so bad, as I had first thought. I began to see that they were actually happy and didn’t have near the problems that seemed to plague me. Eventually the thought of sobriety as a lifestyle didn’t seem so bad & in time what had seemed so unnatural, so unthinkable ~ became my norm.
Months passed and our friendship flourished. We married and after a couple of years my husband even ended up on the cover of Auburn Magazine as the “Fanatic Fan” with me in the background ~ how crazy is that? Even crazier – I became a HUGE Auburn fan as well! Of course my dad and I still share our laughs and my husband has always honored my boundaries with The Bear and Joe Namath.
Love is a funny thing isn’t it? Whether it is for someone else or for ourself…it can make us do things we never thought we would do, go where we never thought we would go and experience what we didn’t even know we were missing. God bless you, Happy New Year and WAR EAGLE!
© 2011, 2012, 2013 Rebecca Balko