Growing up in New Mexico doesn’t really help foster any kind of pride for one’s hometown, family traditions or blood-thick relationships among friends. Yet, when I woke up this morning at 4:15 a.m. to watch a football game with an Auburn fan, I found a place that does. To say that I wasn’t ready would be an understatement and a pretty hefty one.
I can’t say that I wasn’t warned, though. When I mentioned to my good friend, Grant Dempsey, that I would watch the Alabama game with him the day after Thanksgiving, he let me know himself that I didn’t quite know what I was getting into.
GD: “I’m intense, man. I mean, I know you like to joke around and all, but I’m tellin’ you now, (when the game’s on) do not mess with me.”
But even with the warning, I proceeded upstairs and pushed open the door to the game room. The music was on, the food, the beverages and the friends were all present, and it was game time!
I have never been one to follow football. Before walking into this room that was blessed with the orange and blue threads of the Auburn flag, I had seen only a handful of football games in my life. To me, being a fan meant that you simply watched the games all year. When the year was over, that was it. Oh, how wrong I was. In the time that led up to the game, Grant kept me close and made sure I knew what true fandom was. To an Auburn fan, football isn’t followed, it’s lived.
Trying to wrap my mind around the concept that football is the lifeblood of an entire state was not easy. It’s not just mind-blowing to consider entire towns packing up their RVs and driving hours to get to a stadium on Wednesday for a Saturday game. It’s the other stuff as well that messes with your head – the understanding that parts of the country treat certain college games as others would treat a snow-day, or entire towns shutting down, deserting their front doors, just to yell their hearts out for their team. Certain games of the year simply matter more than others; it’s all about pride, bragging rights, and if you’re team doesn’t win, you are not having a good day.
All of this still seemed a bit too far-fetched to me. That was before the game. It just took a kick-off to slap the skeptic out of me. At the top of his lungs and with blood racing through his body, Grant turned into something frightening. It was as though his soul spoke through him. “WAR EAGLE, BABY!” he chanted repeatedly. His eyes watched the screen as though he was channelling his power into his team. This is what he meant when he told me not to mess with him. He was in a zone. The game was the annual feud against arch-rival, Alabama. This was about more than I understood and no one wanted to get in Grant’s way. We cheered when he cheered, yelled when he yelled and cursed at the refs when it was time. The room was hot with excitement and by the time it was over, none of us had our voices.
The Auburn Tigers had come back from a 24-to-0 Alabama lead to win 28 – 27, unofficially the greatest comeback in Auburn football history. We all fell on the bed in a dog pile and Grant wanted to jump outside his skin. I swore I could see his eyes well up a bit, though I doubt he’ll admit it. He was on the phone with everyone he knew. I actually thought he was going to start calling people he didn’t know just to give them a hug over the phone. On January 11th, 2010, Auburn is expected to be in contention for the championship title and Grant swears he’s going to be in the stadium. I don’t doubt it.
I don’t remember the last time I watched a football game, but whenever it was, it wasn’t like what I had just watched – that game was one of the most exciting sporting events I’ve seen. It was certainly the most electrifying. When I left that room four hours later, my voice was gone and there was a pulse inside me that seemed ready to race at any time. Something was ready to jump or run or explode. I haven’t told Grant about it, but I’m sure that if I did, he’d tell me it was the War Eagle inside me trying to claw its way out.
Maybe it is, and if that’s the case, Go Tigers!