On God & Football: Faith and Fanaticism in the SEC

On God & Football: Faith and Fanaticism in the SEC

I‘ll seriously try not to make this your typical book review. I promise. One of the gifts I look forward to each Christmas is a gift card to either Books-A-Million or Barnes and Noble. Everyone talks about being a visual learner, hand learner, or non-learner. I would have to fall under the category of textual learner. (Yes, that automatically makes me a weird person, I know, but I do know some pretty random trivia as a result. Just call me Ken-Jennings-Junior-Not.)

You can ask my friends, I remember odd things as well, like once at Battle of the Sexes where I remembered the name of all three of the Power Puff Girls. For the record, their names are Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup and also for the record I carried the men that night to a smashing victory on that and the name of the faith that Madonna practices/practiced. Yet I still suffer jokes for it. I’m quite certain that was the only victory I ever witnessed for the male sex. In fact, in the (non)Biblical book of I Common Sensicus, it states “women are better than men at most games, to include Scrabble but NOT to include Chess and Battleship.”

How exactly that relates to a book review and the Southeastern Football Conference, I don’t know. God and Football: Faith and Fanaticism in the SEC happened to be on the shelf at this particular Columbia Books-A-Million ripe for the gift card pickings. Needless to say, I am a fan of South Carolina Gamecock football, and my USC =University of South Carolina. We are not USCe or just South Carolina (as ESPN calls us), and the other USC out west is simply infringing on the rights of the real USC. (In fact, USC was born in 1801, which was long before USCw was a twinkle in the eye of the guy who created it.) As a true and loyal Gamecock fan, I’ll be first to admit our history is pretty mediocre. We’ve played football since 1892 and have somehow always managed to win and lose the same amount of games. It’s been a very difficult task to win games you should not and then turn around and lose games you should win, but we’ve done that with flying colors.

I witnessed such Gamecock lore as “The Fade“and saw many records broken and great players made – Manning, Tebow, Ingram, Rice, Lattimore, etc. I sat through an embarrassing 63-17 loss to Clemson (which I believe was one of the first games my then future-wife-now-wife went to). I went and saw most or all of the infamous 0-11 season still believing we could be Clemson at the end of the year and almost salvage our season. My blood is garnet, which¬† in the scheme of things is pretty true, I’ve never known anyone with orange, blue, or gold blood.

South Carolina fans, I will tell you, are some of the most loyal in the country! Williams-Brice is the 20th largest stadium in the nation, but it’s often voted one of the loudest places to play in the conference and even country. In fact, I’d say the place is downright magical with the 2001 Intro or when something big happens. I’ve experienced the seats swaying and all.

Back to the book. The Gamecocks had just finished a record-tying 10-win season. We had, for the first time ever, beaten every team in the SEC East. Last year, we had won the SEC East for the first time since we came into the league in 1992. However, in true Gamecock fashion, we were blown out by Cam Newton in a rematch in the SEC Championship last year (right after we played them close and almost beat them at their house earlier in the season). Of course, they’d go on to win the National Title. Just like Florida when they beat us by a blocked FG the year they won a National Title. You can see what I mean about mediocrity. We are always right there but not THERE. This year, Auburn once again was the bane of our existence as we had dropped a game to them. Georgia would be the ones to play the juggernaut LSU Tigers even though we had beaten the Dawgs (SEC man rule, Dawgs are not Dogs). In their defense, they did handle Auburn like we should have.

Really, back to the book, now! The author, Chad Gibbs, is a long-time Auburn fan – after converting from being an Alabama fan, which is total football sacrilege (I think the penalties for conversion only are stiffer in Radical Islam). The book was sub-labeled/titled/addressed as the “National Championship Edition” because his team, with the legally-questionable (no bitterness here) help of (ok it wasn’t help, it was riding the back of an amazing player) QB Cam Newton, Auburn had won a much-coveted National Title. Everyone knows its much-coveted because National Championships have taken up residence only the SEC. So you pretty much only have a real shot if you play in the SEC because our conference is better than everyone else, period. USC would go on to win the Capital One Bowl, hit 11 wins for the first time ever, and beat a historically-storied Nebraska program. So, for me, it was pretty close to the equivalent of a National Title. This is uncharted Gamecock territory.

Now, it’s time for SEC-Anonymous. Last season, I first admitted I had a problem. When the Gamecocks won a big game like the top-10 wins against Ole Miss in 2009 (chronicled in the book) or against Kentucky (my wife and I’s favorite Thursday-night game experience ever), I was high as a kite. In fact, no game will ever take the place of the 2010 beatdown of SEC prodigal son Alabama. It was absolute euphoria, and through divine intervention, God had put me in really good seats as a reward for my enduring patience of Gamecock football. Clearly, I was blessed at the time.

Chad’s book made a point (and did a better job), that I had already arrived at. Football was my religion. Things like family, friends, and church were influenced by what the Gamecocks did the night or week before. If we won, I was a good person to be around. If we lost, best to leave me alone. I don’t want to steal Chad’s thunder in this review, so I’ll simply say to those of you who attend football games anywhere, think about the time and effort devoted to getting ready for a game versus going to worship Jesus. Which do you spend more time with, and which would an alien say you care more about if he viewed your actions for each? (IE: Screaming FIRST DOWN! or mouthing Amazing Grace, My Chains Are Gone.)

Chad makes the really sweet goal of visiting each SEC team in a home game. Additionally, Chad visits and worships with a local church each week after he hangs out/tailgates with campus groups and involved Christians prior to the game. He sees the Southern religion experience of football each weekend. One of the strongest points he makes is the whole “we” thing when we (oops) talk about our teams. We (dangit) act like we (…) play for them and what we do has an effect on the game. College kids determine our fate in many ways. (Every woman who is not just as much of a fan as some guys just said “I told ya so!”) To me, the book coalesces around this point, and Chad closes with finding much greater happiness that paralleled my own experience this year.

If you’re looking for a “light” read that will still push some buttons and make you think as a sports fanatic, this book is it. It’s going to be appreciated most by SEC fans because you guys (and gals) get the culture, but I don’t think the references would go unnoticed for even a *gasp* PAC-12 /Big 12 fan (where you guys don’t know what a defense is) and the ACC (where you’re still on training wheels).

I realize this has become a rather long review, but I’ll end on this important note. This week saw the South Carolina Gamecocks win the Capital One Bowl rather convincingly to cap a great season. Similarly, in-state rival Clemson Tigers won an ACC championship after they dominated a traditionally-powerful Virginia Tech team not once, but twice. Both schools had an amazing season by all standards, but Clemson did not do so well in the bowl. I say this with happiness for some folks I know and with sadness for others, but the Tigers were trumped 70-33 in the Orange Bowl by a Big East West Virginia team. The Mountaineers play some great football, but after losing to LSU 47-21, it’s clear they’re not an elite team this year. They were one of 500 teams in the Big East that had a shot at a conference championship.

On Monday (New Years Day) and following, many comments were made by loyal Tiger fans as to how USC was a bunch of “thugs” and other comments about not winning a conference championship, etc. Many of us USC fans replied, including yours truly, indirectly once our thoughts about Clemson were confirmed by the beatdown. I admit, some of the comments made me pretty angry. I was proud of myself in that I didn’t insult anyone directly and I further recalled the lessons of the book. However, it was a real-world example of another point in the book. It’s not that we only delight in the winning of our team, but we delight so much in the destruction of the other team that we frankly get out of line demeaning other players, fans, and coaches. I’ll let you draw conclusions, but we end up with a war of words over a comment never made by our coach but it pulls out a rant just like this by the coach. And it’s not just Clemson fans, I’ve been guilty of it in the past, too.

However, why do we push the buttons? Why do we talk trash when we know they are right (whomever they may be) but then get angry when they, in turn, rub our faces in it a bit? God & Football answers this question, I think, by pointing out just how much some guys in pads and uniforms become our gods whose random (mis)fortune rules our lives. I still remain a tremendous fan of USC football and USC in general, but I feel much the wiser about what kind of fan I am. I must ask myself if my fanship (is that a word?) of USC trumps Jesus at any time. If the answer is yes, I better fix that.

I will promise, this book will make you chuckle, but it will illustrate it’s point, oh-so-well by the author’s experiences. I’ll give it five BCS Championship Trophies out of five.

Book Information

God & Football Faith and Fanaticism in the SEC
by Chad Gibbs

Zondervan, 2010
255 pages, softcover, $14.99

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