There are, in life, certain timeless questions. "Did President Obama borrow his ‘Yes, we can!’ mantra from Bob the Builder?" "Will it be possible for ‘Saturday Night Live’ to get Mike Myers back to play Andrew W.K. in a sketch spoofing ‘Destroy Build Destroy’?" "Is Erin Andrews all right?" "Do SEC fans love football more than Big Ten fans?"
The latter question, at least, has been addressed by The Rivalry, Esq.’s grahamfiller10, who interviewed me (among other SB Nation bloggers from SEC country) before I left on vacation. His insightful and intriguing post upon the subject sparked several intelligent comments, so I wanted to follow up on grahamfiller10’s treatment of the subject by reproducing lengthier excerpts from my answers to his questions. While I was quoted accurately and in context (rather than paraphrased), I wanted to go into greater depth than the space allotted to grahamfiller10’s article allowed.
When he asked me, "Does it matter which fanbase is more rabid?" I replied:
It only matters which fan base is more rabid on game day, and, even then, only inside the stadium. If your team has more guys waving signs behind the "College GameDay" set than mine, you haven't really won much. If your team has more fans tailgating in the parking lot than mine, what have you really accomplished? If your team puts more loud, intense fans in the stands than mine, my team may have a problem.
Oregon's Autzen Stadium has a seating capacity of 54,000, comparable to the number of fans Georgia Tech's Grant Field can host, yet I am much more nervous about the Bulldogs' upcoming date with the Ducks in Eugene in a couple of years than I am about the prospect of visiting Bobby Dodd Stadium in November. The Yellow Jackets simply don't have an intimidating home presence, which is why the Bulldogs have lost there just five times since 1964. The Oregon fans bring intensity to their venue, which is the only place that fan passion matters in a way that rises above the level of playground arguments over whether my dad can beat up your dad.
In addition, grahamfiller10 asked, "Is the crazy stuff (Houston Nutt’s FOIA requests and the occasional family shooting during an Alabama game) a product of a very different culture that exists in SEC states?" Part of my response was quoted in his article, but the remainder of my reply was as follows:
I believe it's fair to say that occasional outbursts of truly unruly behavior among SEC fan bases are the product of a different culture, on two levels.
On the level specific to sports, we have a deeper commitment to college football, in part, because there were no competing professional sports for many years. To use a pair of admittedly extreme examples, Northwestern long has had to compete with the Bears, the Cubs, and the White Sox for local fan attention and Boston College long has languished in the shadow of the Red Sox.
My grandfather, by contrast, was a St. Louis Cardinals fan because the Cards were the closest thing we had to a Southern major league baseball team in an era in which the powers that be in the national pastime deemed the Deep South too hot for baseball. The Braves and the Falcons arrived in Atlanta in 1966, the year Vince Dooley led the Bulldogs to their fifth SEC championship and Bobby Dodd guided the Yellow Jackets to the Orange Bowl. The NFL and major league baseball arrived comparatively late on the scene; the NBA and the NHL exist in the South chiefly so that sports fans in our region can ask, "Are the playoffs still going on?!?!"
On the larger cultural level, there are a couple of factors that come into play. The first is the sense of rootedness that William Faulkner and Eudora Welty wrote about and embodied. The Onion headline about how you will suffer humiliation when the team from my area defeats the team from your area has greater resonance in the South, where the notion of being bound to the land---to "my area"---has more traction over a longer period.
Coupled with that is a sense of chivalry. There are duties to be upheld, rituals to be observed, and, most of all, honor to be defended. We are true to our schools just like we are to our girls, sometimes literally. I am in no way a violent person, but the only times I have ever come even close to getting into fistfights since elementary school have been in confrontations with rival sports fans. The situation in which a Clemson fan and a South Carolina fan made a bet on the game and the winner of the bet shot the loser when the loser refused to pay up was tragic, stupid, and horrible . . . but it isn't hard to understand how a culture that once saw duels as a suitable method for settling manly disputes would give rise to such incidents on occasion.
College football is ingrained in our cultural heritage. When Alabama beat heavily favored Washington in the 1926 Rose Bowl, it became a real point of pride for the citizens of an impoverished state that had struggled since Reconstruction. When Georgia beat Michigan in the Big House in 1965, the Bulldogs were greeted at the airport by what Erk Russell swore was the largest crowd ever seen in Athens. SEC fans have carried "Remember Gettysburg" signs into the Superdome for Sugar Bowl dates with Penn State.
What do y’all think? Do we care about our college football more than they do?