Hold up, why you talking about college football on a poetry site? Well, here’s the thing … it’s not just a poetry site. It’s my site. So, I talk about what I want to (when I actually take time to post). No, but really, this site was never meant to be exclusively high-brow poetry stuff because myself and the co-founder, the venerable Dr. Andrew Shotts, always saw poetry in all life, and especially in college football, more specifically, Auburn football. We met at orientation in Auburn, donchaknow. Hence the title – Always Poetry On Everyone’s Mind … it’s more than just a clever acronym … it’s how we live, seeing poetry in all things. So … let’s talk about college football.
Are you a fan? Do you watch more college than NFL? I have a lot of friends who are into NFL but not really into college. I’m exactly the opposite. I watch the NFL once the college season is over to help with detoxing and withdrawal symptoms, but I don’t really get into it. Well, I used to live in Tampa, FL and it was different then b/c my city actually had a team and it was all anyone talked about, not to mention I used to drive by the stadium on my way to work and see players out and about in the world doing community service, signing autographs at the mall and stuff like that. But even then, I didn’t like it as much as college – pros are just mercenaries after all. Anyway …
I love college football. One of my earliest memories of it … I’m from Georgia, btw … is watching UGA lose to Penn St. in the sugar bowl for the national championship game while surrounded by a ton of grown ups in the living room going crazy and cheering for UGA. I tried to be a UGA fan growing up, Herschel Walker was awesome after all, but for some reason, it just didn’t feel right, didn’t fit. Maybe it was because there was no family connection there – no one in my family ever went to school at Georgia. But in 1989 my older brother graduated high school and went to Auburn. That was all it took – been an Auburn fan ever since, and it was a peculiar experience being in Georgia and growing up around bulldog fans. But you know what? Screw those guys — most of them didn’t have any connection to the university either.
I love Auburn, always have. I can say that b/c during the times before he went to school there I was only a passive football fan, like, I watched it socially … I didn’t follow the season for any team and really wasn’t familiar with Auburn at all. If that tells you anything. So, when my brother enrolled there, IDK … my whole family went nuts and converted to Auburn fans and me, being only a casual fan anyways, became a die-hard fan. What a time to become a fan, eh? I got to witness the first ever Iron Bowl in Auburn – my brother was there, and we were there in spirit. Wait …
Know what? I’m getting off track and telling you my Auburn story instead of just talking about college football. Derp. Anyway … if you know anything about Auburn’s history since 1989, then you might already understand my love of Auburn and its poetic identity. If not, well … dude, Auburn is the most poetic team in all of college football. That’s the thing about college football; it’s great theater and it has many of the same components of great literature. There are all the timeless plot driving conflicts: man vs. man, man vs. self, man vs. machine (seems odd, but think about instant replay), man vs. nature, and man vs. society (think road games and underdogs).
Just now I heard Harry Potter in my head asking Hagrid if they could find all the stuff he needed for school in London, and Hagrid replying, “You can if you know where to look.” It’s the same with college football. It’s all there if you look for it. Sure, if you just want to be entertained and take the sport at surface value, then that’s about all you will get out of it, entertainment. But if you want to dig deeper, try to find some useful personal significance, maybe learn and/or teach a few life lessons here and there, then the sport will not disappoint. I really started to learn this when I started watching games with my kids. Sure, it’s great to win. We all love for our team to win, but you can’t win them all, and it’s usually in the losses where the teaching of life lessons starts to develop.
Life Lessons in College Football
Sure, we could go over all the stuff that coaches teach, various aphorisms and maxims about working hard and challenging yourself etc., but I’d rather go with something I’ve learned personally right now. I used to be that type of fan who would take the losses hard. I’d get grumpy during the game and stay grumpy through the week until the next game. I want to say it got better after Auburn’s undefeated season in 2004, but really it got worse, which is a shame b/c my oldest son was already watching all the games with me at that point. Oh sure, there were still plenty of life lessons being taught and learned, but there were some bigger picture lessons I was missing and didn’t fully grasp until our most horrible season ever in 2012. By that time though, I was more than just a fan; I was an alumnus.
Something about attending the school, being on campus for our championship season in 2010, seeing Cam Newton in the halls of Haley center (he high-fived my oldest one time in those halls – it was awesome), and then still being in town for the debacle of 2012 seemed to make it all click. What a ride it was. Along the way I figured out that we only have a limited number of games per year, and I decided I was going to enjoy them all, win or lose. You see, Auburn’s greatness doesn’t rise and fall with the performance of any of our athletic teams, and the pleasure of football shouldn’t either. Win or lose, I will enjoy spending time with my family, discussing aspects of the game with my children, trying to impart some wisdom when the opportunity arises, cooking some good game day food and maybe imbibing a few too many adult beverages. None of that changes with a loss. Sure, winning is more fun, but often, losing offers more opportunities for teaching the kids the important stuff about life.
There are a number of maxims to go along with this concept … “you win some, you lose some” or “you can’t win them all” or “that’s how the ball bounces/cookie crumbles”, but those are just words. What really matters is how you carry yourself. Speaking of maxims, there’s an old saying that is just as true for fans as it is for athletes, “sports don’t build character, they reveal it.” So you see, it’s all in there … all the goodies you will find in good literature can be found in college football.
I didn’t even touch on all the compelling story lines: the rags to riches type stories of kids from poor backgrounds navigating the rough seas of collegiate sports into lucrative careers as professional athletes, the David and Goliath type tales of underdogs prevailing in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, the feel good stories of rival schools coming together to rebuild communities after disasters like floods and tornadoes, or the Greek tragedy sorts of sagas that sometimes manifest in the shadow of some player’s, coaches, or school’s overgrown ego. Nor did I touch on the rhetorical value that is inherent in the ongoing sports conversation: who should win the Heisman, who should be in the playoff, was that a fair call, who is the best team of all time, what makes for a successful season, and so forth. When I taught writing, you have no idea how often I would hear students say they hated to write, yet many of these same students would routinely write their hearts out in debate on fan forums or in the comments of sports articles. They didn’t hate to write, they just hated writing what schools told them they should write. And who can blame them, really? I don’t really care much for academic writing either, yet here I am … writing this post.