To the Pac-10, it’s a social function. To the Big Ten (or Eleven), it’s the season before basketball. To the ACC, it’s a way to pass the fall Saturdays. To the Big 12, it’s a way of life.
But to the SEC, it is a dedicated religion.
Down here things move a little slower. People are nicer. Fried chicken is tastier, and sweet tea is a little sweeter.
But when July rolls around, a fever takes over its inhabitants. It starts very slowly barely a faint whisper: “Yeah, it’s going to be quite a season. What does the schedule look like? When do the preseason polls come out?” The questions begin.
Soon the whisper becomes a casual conversation at the water cooler. “So UGA's the preseason No. 1 eh, too bad they won’t end there. Their schedule is just too tough.” “Saban is going to take the state back this year. Yep, this is the year we take the state and then take the nation.”
Then SEC Media Days takes over. The inside scoop is all the rage, and tones begin to rise. “They picked Florida and Auburn to win the divisions, but they're ranked behind UGA and LSU in the national polls?!?! What kind of sense does that make?”
Then with one word from a radio sports talk show, the battle of words breaks loose, and the fever has turned into a virus. It has infected millions of people across the Southeast.
Offices and friends divide. People that once said hello to each other walking down the hall now turn away, because they are faced with an enemy. Conversing with them would be high treason to your team. You just give them a simple downward nod and go about your business.
Walking down a street, you’ll see friendly allies or vicious foes and have you pronounce your school’s battle cry. Screams of War Eagle, Roll Tide, Go Dawgs, and Go Gators echo in public places.
The battle lines are drawn. The fields have been picked. The Battle for the SEC Crown has been begun.
You wake up early and dress in the armor of your school colors. You race to the TV to turn on ESPN College GameDay to hear the words of wisdom that Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler say, plus the occasional lucky statement by Lee Corso. It then goes back to the studio for the strategy enlightenment of Mark May.
But then it cuts to Lou “Sylvester the Cat” Holtz, and you run to the kitchen to fix yourself a bowl of cereal, because he’s old and senile and doesn’t know what he’s talking about or even where he is.
After the GameDay predictions are over, you get in your car and drive 90 mph to get to the game four hours before it starts to wish the players the best as they walk to the hallowed cathedral of a stadium. You then return to your tailgate to a buffet of chicken wings, potato salad, hoagies, gumbo, tenders, and carefully selected beverages.
Two hours before kickoff, you find your seats in the stadium to watch warm-ups. You study the rosters in the program and scout the other team for a weakness that hopefully will be exploited while watching the scoreboard clock make its way to zero.
The stadium starts to fill. The knot in your stomach grows tighter in anticipation for kickoff. The band takes the field and plays the fight song. Everybody is singing in unison. The pump-up video fills the jumbotron. The stadium shakes under your feet with screams and cheers.
Smoke starts to fill the tunnel that your team will soon explode from. Deafening roars of cheers erupt as the team takes the field, shortly followed with a blast of boos for the opposing team.
You are suddenly friends with everyone around you, slapping hands and sharing player wisdom. The players take the field ready for kickoff.
The time has come. The wait is over. The kicker approaches the ball. The fans are chanting as one. The ball is blasted down the field. The game—the season—has begun.
The game concludes, and you head back to your car or tailgate in one of only two scenarios.
You listen to the post game radio program for keys of success or failure. You travel home, embracing every word that is uttered through the radio. You prepare yourself for a weeklong debate about the next game. You have the rest of the day to celebrate or mourn the game.
Come Sunday...it starts all over again.