Saturday is set to be a great day as college football kicks off its 152nd season and several hundred thousand people will meet in concrete cathedrals across the nation rooting on their favorite teams – even more will watch on television.
And that is such a good thing. While some may say they aren’t “sports people” we believe it’s in everyone’s interest to find a team to get behind. Definitely start with our hometown Dragons sports teams and definitely the UGA Bulldogs, maybe Georgia Tech if you must. Whether your favorite sports team is strictly your alma mater high school, an obscure European soccer team or some loveable but hapless pro franchise – being a fan is all about coming together in the name of good times as part of a group and community.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 – whose 20th anniversary we will commemorate next weekend – America came to a standstill. And that included football. In the documentary series Saturdays in the South: A History of SEC Football, Coach Bill Curry related a story that signifies the importance of football to community.
Curry, a former Georgia Tech player and coach for the Alabama Crimson Tide, was an ESPN analyst in 2001. He was driving through Attalla, Alabama on his way to cover a college football game when he got word that that Saturday’s games were cancelled. He was at a gas station and he told the attendant the bad news. “(The man) leaned forward and his eyes were bugged out and his jugular popped up. ‘Well let me tell you something coach. In Attalla, Alabama come Friday night we are going to play football because it means a lot to us.’”
Curry was distraught, he said. He asked God to help him understand this thing. Then it came to him. It’s all about community.
“Why would somebody think it was important to play a football game on Friday night in Attalla, Alabama? And why does it matter in Pueblo, Colorado? Or Oklahoma City, Oklahoma or upstate New York? And it came to me. It’s the huddle. Because you can’t step in the huddle anymore and be a racist. You can’t step in the huddle and say I’m not playing with that guy he’s a Muslim. You can’t do that. Because everybody’s welcome in that huddle. And what happens in the stands in Attalla, Alabama and College Park, Georgia and all across the nation on Friday night. When somebody’s child scores a touchdown everybody hugs. They don’t stop to see what color the pigmentation is. You hug because your team just did something. And that huddle is emblematic of what America could be. It brings the community together in ways that the rest of our culture has not arrived at.”
So nine days after the terror of September 11, 2001 the University of South Carolina football team travelled to Starkville, Mississippi for the first major football game since the attacks. That Thursday evening, Starkville became a place not just to play, but to heal. They unfolded a huge United States flag across that field and every player from both teams held a quarter of the flag.
Sports is a glue for our country and you could feel the patriotism and the emotion that night on the field.
A player on the field that night remembered, “We had a moment of silence and all of a sudden someone yelled, ‘Go to hell Bin Laden, go to hell.’ It broke the tension and we played a football game.”
As America left Afghanistan on Monday after 20 years, people may be divided. And in a complicated and divisive world, sometimes all it takes is sports to bring us together and remind us of our common bonds. Sports inspires us and provides us with a distraction and entertainment, even if just for a small amount of time.
Sports is a great unifier. Cheering for a touchdown, whether scored by a hometown kid (or yeah, we’ll say it) a multi-millionaire pro as long it’s for your team, is a form of patriotism.
So this Friday night and Saturday on hundreds of fields across our nation, let us be reminded of what it means to be a part of a community that is bound together.
And Go Dawgs!