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I quit going to church and started looking into Judaism, my father's background. I haven't really found a comfortable place for me, but all these years I've been a crazy Alabama fan and I don't know what that says. When Barr was around 13, a friend remarked how bad Alabama was for losing to Vanderbilt. I'm on the verge of being popular, and I'm thinking, 'Don't kill my chances of being popular.

Alabama became a bridge for Barr, now 60, to connect with his dad, who came from a generation of men who didn't let their children get close to them.

Southern Pride And The Southeastern Conference

Father and son watched Bryant's show together every Sunday afternoon. Before his dad died in , Barr took him to one Alabama game each year. Now Barr's daughters are devout Alabama fans, too. But when Alabama lost to LSU in the "Game of the Century" in , Barr took his daughters to brunch the next day and explained that the loss won't get them down.

Inevitably, several more students try to get into the course. When the semester is over, some students tell the professors they learned they need to get their priorities in order. Others conclude that they need to become more rabid fans. So is it good that SEC football has become such a civic religion? Nelson declined to answer and said that's not his place to say. He prefers to ask the questions and let each student decide.

Inside the creation of the 'Religion of SEC Football' class at Presbyterian College

Barr said the SEC can be too rabid when fans treat a loss like someone died. This season, Barr won't go to an Alabama game because his family has too many activities to prepare for his oldest daughter's wedding. But he still loves the elation of counting down the days until football starts. Maybe this is another thing that happens and another way to mark your time.

I just feel young again with football.

Two SEC football fans decided students need a better education about football faith

We are of long memory here. I gave a talk once in Mobile, Ala. Later, I said I was surprised that mentioning the turbulent s would anger anyone so, after so much time. A nice gentleman told me, no, that wasn't it. Wayne Flynt, professor emeritus of history at Auburn, says the South's devotion to college football probably reaches that far, to a time before there even was any football, to defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, "to a whole lot of times when we just got the hell beat out of us, as a culture.

Then, the Ku Klux Klan swept candidates into pretty much every elected office in the state of Alabama and burned crosses on the skyline across the South. The rest of the nation, not that it was without sin, looked down in disdain. Then, just after Christmas , the Alabama football team boarded a train for California, for the Rose Bowl, and fought back against that derision, even if the players did not know they were doing so at the time.

Those young men drew, Flynt explains, "on a long history of not being afraid," of the hottest days or endless rows of cotton or a million bales of hay.

Sweetness And Light

Not knowing any of this, the rest of the nation gave Alabama no chance against its Rose Bowl opponent, the vaunted University of Washington, but Southerners knew there was too much at stake to lose. Years later, as the apparatus of Southern politics threw itself violently into the shameful oppression of civil rights, white Southern players again won national championships and acclaim on the gridiron, as front-page headlines belittled and ridiculed the region for its backwardness.

Top 10 SEC Football Moments of the Decade

College football was not a cure, not a tonic for what was wrong in the South, merely a balm. Then, as black athletes finally made their way into predominantly white universities, they fought their own battles on those Southern fields, "for something else," says Flynt, for a place not only of acceptance in the greater society and therefore a heroic place in the national history, but also a place in that shining legacy of championships, until the color line in college football finally faded away.

Most of us cannot even imagine a team of any other character. And through it all, the winning continued 'til it became expectation.

Inside the creation of the 'Religion of SEC Football' class at Presbyterian College -

Other parts of the country would try to condemn us for the South's very success, which made about as much sense, Flynt says, as our condemning someone else for being good at math. Our climate, culture and history made us supreme at this thing. Elsewhere, fans still grumble that Southern colleges are dominant at football for reasons that are, amusingly, no different from what makes their own programs successful from time to time.

They say we have better athletes because we have lower academic standards, but that notion has become a glass house in which other colleges in other regions no longer wish to throw stones. Because history has shown that all programs have intelligent young men, some who possess the potential of Rhodes scholars, and other young men who think you spell that r-o-a-d-s. But region has little to do with which teams have more of the latter. A recruiting scandal has also proved to have no geographical bias, as much as other programs would like to pretend it only happens, down here.

USC, for instance, the place where Reggie Bush 's Heisman once sat, could not be farther from the South unless it was floating in the Pacific on a barge. Intolerance for losing has no geography either -- losing coaches are fired, even in places with ice fishing.

The people who say "they're football-crazy down there" probably play on something called Smurf Turf, or wear blocks of foam-rubber cheese on their heads. The people who say "football is religion down there" should be reminded that we did not invent Touchdown Jesus. And the greatest scandal of college football, the greatest darkness, did not descend on the South but in Happy Valley, a tragedy beyond comprehension for another storied program, one that would rewrite a legend.

The entire history of Southern football, in all its fanaticism, with all its lust for winning, has nothing to compare.

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But like SEC commissioner Mike Slive said, there is a warning in that lesson for everyone, including us. We do lose, of course. We feel the air grow thick when we do.

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Our limbs grow heavy. I have stood on the beautiful campuses of Southern universities and seen what, I swear, was a kind of graying of the landscape, as if losing had bleached out the beautiful red of the bricks and green of the lawns. It cannot be true, of course, but it feels true, and it lingers for days. Books are read, papers written, problems solved. But it feels a little like the day after Christmas.

Well, the Southeastern Conference season has begun. I have it on good authority that other college football teams around the country will also be playing games this fall. I don't know when exactly the SEC took over America. I know this is hard to believe, but the epicenter of college football used to be in the Midwest. I'm so old, I can remember when Notre Dame actually mattered, and the real tough players were supposed to come from Western Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Now, this is not to say that college football in the South hasn't always been important. Football is the war game, and Dixie has always produced a disproportionate number of our warriors. Major league professional sports were late in coming to the South, so college football down there has, even now, less competition.



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