Monday, August 31, 2009

Your humble correspondents

Here's a list of the folks who are bringing you the SEC Expats blog (check out our first post if you missed it). We'll move a shorter version of this to the "About Us" sidebar for easy reference later -- we want to be sure you are spelling names right when you send us one of those notes made up of tiny individual letters cut out of magazines.

You'll note that we have only some of the SEC schools covered -- clearly, an oversight of our company during the hiring process -- so feel free to audition in the comments. Thoughtful and funny will get you a long way. "BAMA SUX WOO-HOO!!!!!", not so much.

We do this alphabetically by writer. No slight intended or unintended to your school of choice. Although if you need to believe otherwise, as a motivational tool, we fully understand.

Mike Gordon: It was slow in coming, this obsession I have with Alabama football.

Maybe it was hearing John Forney voice rising above the din when Johnny Musso broke through the line on the first play of the 1970 Auburn/Alabama game in 1970. Or maybe it came nine months later, when I tripped and belly-flopped into the fountain in front of the president's mansion on the Alabama campus, early into the next morning after Bear Bryant unleashed the wishbone on the USC Trojans and an unsuspecting world.

However it happened, one day, I was simply lost. One day, as hard as fought it, I just hated Auburn, hated the rest of the SEC, too, when we play them. The older I get the more I reasons I find to keep this hatred alive.

That's what appeals to me about our new SEC football online venture. I consider it a support group in which some unfortunate but entirely honest things may come out of my mouth, and most of you won't hold it against me.

Now you know and I know that I don't believe a word of that last sentence. SEC football is the ultimate zero-sum game. You survive. You gloat while you can. You take joy in the pain of your rivals. You do all of this, mercilessly, because absolute and nationally televised ruin awaits every Saturday.

Being a student of history, I accept that risk. Because history teaches Alabama fans this:

1. Argue all you want about how many national championships we have, just know -- and you do know -- it's more than the rest of you SEC SOBs added up together.

2. When the calendar turns to fall, the odds turn in our favor. Roll Tide.

Cliff Mehrtens: It's simple - you grow up near the bayous, you cheer for LSU.

There are other college teams in Louisiana, but unless you have a relative playing there, or live two blocks from those quaint places, you're a Tiger fan before Mama and Daddy check you out of the hospital.

Such was my fate, and I'm a lucky man. Two national titles in the past six seasons. Tradition thicker than a Cajun accent.

Laissez Le Bon Temps Roulet.

R. Trentham Roberts did not grow up wanting to be a glutton for punishment, but being a Mississippi State grad and lifelong Saints fan will do that to a person. Nowadays he takes comfort in any success by any Mississippi school, up to and including the Fighting Okra of Delta State.

Courtney St. Onge: I was brought up in a home of quiet, genteel parents who were not rabid sports fans. Both alumni of the Loveliest Village on the Plains, they taught me that we are not merely Auburn fans, we are Auburn people. And in Alabama, it's an important distinction.

It is, in part, a defense mechanism against the unpleasantries of the Bear years. It is, in part, a pride in the notion we hold to a creed, not a garish houndstooth cap and those godawful Wimp blazers. And we've suffered, by God.

But we burn with righteous indignation and a renewed pride after 6 straight Iron Bowl wins, a couple of undefeated SEC runs, the last year's unpleasantries notwithstanding. It's a sometimes quiet loyalty, at least for my mother. A true Steel Magnolia, she snatched a crimson-and-white shaker from her then 3-year-old grandson's hand last summer. He'd chosen it from a pile of favors at a wedding reception (yes, we do that in SEC country), because he thought red was a good color.

"It's not when it's made like that," Grandmother said, with wisdom that endures for generations. "We are Auburn people."

Even if we're stuck in ACC land.

Peter St. Onge: I attended my first SEC football game in 1995 as a new sports columnist at an East Alabama newspaper. Until that day, the biggest college football game I'd seen in person was the Harvard-Yale game, which was a fine football spectacle until the opening kickoff.

I've since watched a dad reverently tuck a few blades of grass from Bryant-Denny Stadium into his infant son's front shirt pocket. I've watched a man outside Neyland Stadium selling, quite easily, a book he wrote on Tennessee quarterbacks who defeated Bama (Yes, it was a thin book.) I've watched more than one creaky, gray-haired grad joyfully chuck a roll of toilet paper up into the tree at Toomer's Corner.

It is all a bit overdone, in SEC land? You bet it is. That's what makes it great.

Ten years ago, I married an Auburn grad who came from a family of Auburn grads. I am not a dumb man. (Except, perhaps, for the time I thought it would be funny to teach our toddler to say "Roll Tide!") I'm an Auburn-in-law, happily so, and an SEC fan most of all.

Tommy Tomlinson: Among my possessions: A Larry Munson bobblehead. A recording of James Brown doing "Dooley's Junkyard Dawgs." A bag of turf I clawed up from the Gator Bowl field after Georgia beat then-#1 Florida 24-3 in 1985. A habit of taking Hines Ward on every one of my fantasy-football teams. A UGA football media guide, sitting in front of me right now, the season unblemished.

Years ago, when I was dating the woman who would become my wife, we were at a red light in Columbia. What happened next is probably explained by the fact that I had a Georgia sticker on the rear windshield of my car. A woman pulled up next to us and proceeded to sing the Georgia fight song at Pavarotti volume. She pulled away when the light turned green. Alix, a Wisconsin girl, looked at me. I just shrugged.

"SEC football," I said.

Wandering SEC fans unite

Let us start this venture by saying that this is just wrong:

This is the major college-football magazine being offered at one of Charlotte's finest megabookstores this week. It is exactly 300 pages. I am pretty sure that Phil Steele should receive the Nobel Prize in literature for managing to come up with 300 pages of information on ACC and Big East football. I can only guess that there is a full biography of Natrone Means somewhere in there.

The point is, this is the wrong football magazine, because it is not an SEC football magazine. Your average magazine rack in your average Gas 'N' Go in, say, east Tennessee will have at least 37 SEC-related preseason magazines to choose from, including titles such as Annual Guide to SEC Defensive Coordinators; Radio Announcer Power Rankings; and UT's Greatest Long Snappers.

If you are an SEC football fan, in SEC country, you buy all these magazines. You break down the coach's shows with the intensity of prosecutors going over the Watergate tapes. You buy a new team flag to hang off the front porch because that 6-by-9-footer was not making enough of a statement.

You do this because there is nothing on Earth, save love and good whiskey, better than SEC football.

You'll meet all the members of this blog in the next post. For now, just know that we're all Observer people, past or present, who bonded over SEC football but live here in ACC country. We all love Charlotte. But this time of year just kills us. We cluster in sports bars where somebody always wants to turn the TV to the Nationwide race. We miss half the first quarter of the 3:30 CBS game because Duke is down six touchdowns and still throwing the ball. We resort to phoning and texting our friends because there is no one, after a huge win, to embrace in a heartfelt but totally platonic man-hug.

If you know this feeling -- if you are a diehard SEC fan who has wandered away from home -- this place is for you.

We will talk history here. We will linger over loving YouTube productions of our favorite plays. We will hold long, Lincoln-Douglas-style debates over which SEC school has the best uniforms, or tailgate, or mascot. We will expose, and celebrate, our biases. We will try to decide if the Lord really did come back as Tim Tebow, and if so, whether it's theologically correct to hope our stud defensive end gives him a concussion.

Mainly, we will enjoy this football season together.

Join us. Send in your suggestions, your stories, your links, your 29 reasons why South Carolina will win at least 10 games this year. Who knows? They might! In some ways, this is the best time of the season. We are all equally undefeated. We can all concoct a scenario in which our team becomes national champions.* We can all believe.

*Does not apply to Vanderbilt.

We will also be posting on Twitter (@secexpats) during the week and also during games. You will not always hear our true feelings about game play, because our newspaper has certain rules about profanity, but we hope you get the gist.

This will be fun. Hope you come along. We will disagree on things during the season, sometimes violently, so let us leave today with one thing we can all hold dear and true:

The Big Ten bites.

Amen, and amen.

-- Tommy Tomlinson