Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Caught in the Crossfire: Why Auburn and Alabama Fans Shouldn't Drink

I like NFL football, period. I'm a Steelers fan. I am only interested in NFL games not involving the Steelers in regard to the impact those games and the teams playing them have on the Steelers. I root for two teams on the weekends: the Steelers and whatever team is lined up against the Patriots. Hate those Patriots! But then who doesn't?

I'm not a sports-aholic. I only watch ESPN's Sports Center during NFL season, and then only at the gym while clocking miles on the step master. I find basketball, soccer and baseball as compelling to watch as C-SPAN. (Insert snore here.) I am truly mystified by people who devote hours to watching golf and bass fishing tournaments. How do they stay awake? I'm getting sleepy just writing about this.

Armed with the above information, it should come as no surprise that I am completely baffled by people rabidly loyal to a college franchise. Living in Greenville, SC, that means I am a fish out of water. It seems that nearly everyone here has a favorite SEC team. Many of these fans either attended the schools they root for, or have kids who did or do. SEC sports take a backseat to nothing in this area of the country. A Greenville bar's Saturday night's business can hang in the balance on whether the nearby Clemson Tigers win or lose the day's contest. And if the Tigers have some sort of a night game against the South Carolina Gamecocks, any establishment, other than a sports bar, might as well close for the night.

I tell you all of this as a preamble to the reporting of my experience last night. Being Wednesday, it was the weekly gathering of the Wednesday-Night Irregulars at Peddler Steak House. As its name implies, this group varies in size from week to week. Its numbers range from 2 or 3 to as many as 15, depending on people's schedules and whether or not any of the Florida members are in town. We congregate in the small lower bar to wolf down some great steak and laugh for two or three hours.

Among the more regular Irregulars is a couple who each graduated from Auburn. One of their three kids already graduated from Auburn and another is a senior there this year. They are fans. To put it in some perspective, the entire family of five is going to Phoenix to root for Auburn at the national championship game in a couple of weeks. I'll let your imagination put a price tag on this boondoggle that involves flying five adults from Greenville to Phoenix, putting them up for two nights, feeding them, sufficiently lubricating them and getting them seats in the stadium for the game. Can you say, cha-ching! Yes, they are serious fans.

As usual, the laughing and good-natured ribbing was in full swing as the gathering clocked its second hour at Peddler. My Auburn friends brought their Auburn senior with them. Other Irregulars were there as well. As often happens we had included one or two unsuspecting bar guests in our silliness. Things began going wrong when another guest sitting at a table in the corner overheard talk from our group referring to Auburn. As an Alabama supporter, he couldn't resist yelling, "Roll Tide!" You see, in the SEC Alabama is evidently the "New England Patriots" of the conference, universally disliked by just about everyone not a diehard Alabama fan.

A little innocuous back and forth ensued and the encounter would have ended peacefully enough right there, but then things deteriorated a little more when the Bama fan decided to approach our group. He and his wife had been in the bar earlier and been quite friendly. They eventually got a table in the dining room for dinner and then returned to the bar. They are neighbors of the Peddler's owner. This wasn't some rogue jerk off the street, but by this point he seemed to be under a full head of steam.

Our Auburn friends didn't do much to avoid the escalation. When Bama said he thought about rooting for Auburn in the championship game because of state pride (Auburn is in Alabama.), Mrs. Auburn announced that she could never support the Tide, no matter who they played. I think one of the Auburn folks said he or she would root for Afghanistan against Alabama. Our Bama friend then sang the Auburn fight song and Mrs. Auburn joined in. Bama asked, what shall we sing next? Mrs. Auburn responded by singing some anti-Alabama song. I don't remember the exact lyrics, but the gist of them was, "Bama sucks; no it really sucks."

Then the discussion went to which team (Auburn or Alabama) has the greatest number of future felons on its roster. And so on and so forth. Before Bama wandered back to his wife, he was yelling, "Go Ducks" (referring to the Oregon Ducks opposing Auburn in the big game), Mr. Auburn was red faced and looking for a weapon, and the rest of us were sitting quiet and wide-eyed like witnesses to a horrific train wreck.

Nope, I just don't get it. Passion is a good thing most of the time. We should all have some passion, but some things are more worthy of our passion than others.

I'm so glad I went to Wittenberg, a small Division III college with no national profile. I never have to worry about being in a bar and getting into a verbal brawl with a rabid Baldwin-Wallace alum about the outcome of the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl. Yes, that's a real bowl game; look it up.

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