Life in the big rock candy mountain takes some getting used to. In particular, while I’m still in the south, I’m clearly no longer in “football country”. That’s not the worst thing in the world–Athens, GA could be pretty annoying on game days (and the day before when you had to get all your groceries, and the day before that when the students quit paying attention because they’re planning their tailgating events, etc.).
It really hit me that college football is “no big whoop” here when my new institution had its season opener and I decided to go.
So let me tell you about the PREVIOUS college football experience of mine. It was a night game, a blackout to be specific. UGA vs. Alabama–two schools which VERY MUCH care about their football. It was in Sanford Stadium, which seats over 95000 people. The tailgating had begun at 8AM (again, even though this was a night game). You couldn’t go more than 30 feet without hearing Jimmy Buffett or Lynyrd Skynyrd. Beer, and beer cans, were everywhere. Despite this “classy” atmosphere, dress-code wise it truly was like football was a religious experience. Many of the men wore slacks and collared shirts; quite a few wore ties. The girls would wear dresses and nice jewelry; frequently they even wore heels. The student section actually has pretty decent seats–I managed to be on the 30 yard-line. But in the bleachers, you do not sit. You stand. For the entire game. If you sit down, you will be heckled by your fellow students. You’re not a true fan if you’re sitting down. And the later the kickoff time, the more people have been pre-gaming and the more drunk the student section collectively will be. While of course you can’t bring alcohol into the stadium, many do. If you sit or cheer for the wrong team or accidentally clap at the wrong time or take off your team-colored jacket you could get hit with an airplane-bottle of Captain Morgan or Jose Cuervo.
Now for this latest experience. It was a night game. As I walked to the stadium, I saw the proof of the tail-gating. But it was ABANDONED. People would pre-party (didn’t look like they partied hard, either), and just leave their stuff in the yards while they watched the game!
There were only bleachers, and only on one side of the field. Probably seated 5000 max. The students had to be coaxed to go (not joking. They get “spirit points” by using their IDs to get into the sporting event; apparently there’s also incentive to earn spirit points.). Quite a few got that it would probably be nice to wear the school colors to this event; however, probably a third didn’t. Just wore whatever they wanted. And they weren’t paying attention. They were sitting, texting, taking selfies. At least three kids had backpacks and WERE DOING HOMEWORK (honestly, what surprised me more with this was that security allowed backpacks in the first place). It was the most quiet football game I’ve ever attended in my life.
But here’s the thing. It was still FUN. That the students weren’t rowdy, that it wasn’t clearly all about the game gave it a sense of community and comradery you do not find at bigger and “better” football schools. The faculty ran into their students and neither group appeared to feel awkward. People brought their small kids and knew being in the stands wasn’t going to ruin their eardrums or their innocence. It’s a culture shock, and honestly I’m still going to want to watch some “real games” at my place, but it was a pleasant surprise.