Emails in from Southerners on my Civil War theory
The new emails are in, and I heard from our friends in the Deep South, some of whom took offense at my suggestion that the chant of “SEC! SEC! SEC!” is a symbol that they’re still fighting the Civil War.
Michael, an LSU fan: “Interesting take on the envy article. More interesting is that when I pulled up your article on the web, a video was shown regarding how Oklahoma State didn’t even sell out the UGA game and how they expected a large contingency for the game from the Bulldog crowd. While there is always mention of the Civil War in relation so the southern schools’ athletic superiority, I believe that the reason for the chant is because of claims by writers that the SEC is overrated. There may be occasional down years, but anyone who follows football knows that the Southeastern Conference is the best. It’s more like an in-your-face to those who dare say the SEC is overrated.”
Always mention of the Civil War? Man, I thought I was breaking ground, at least in the football realm. So if the Civil War is always mentioned, why am I the bad guy. Ripping on OSU’s crowd shows a lack of college football knowledge. In fact, OSU’s crowd in many proves the superiority of Oklahoma football over Louisiana. OU and LSU fan bases are relatively the same. Meanwhile, OSU sells 42,000 season tickets, and Tulane sells 164,
Will: “For the record, the SEC chant comes out of respect for each other and the mere fact that it is the best, and it is as good as advertised. It would be awesome to be in a conference like the Big 12, Pac 10 or Big 10 where there are 1-2 elite teams and a couple of up and comers every year. Those leagues are predictable because the football is watered down. Don’t get me wrong, these elite teams can compete with anyone but could not weather undefeated seasons in the SEC. The chant started years ago, and was usually done in bowl games. Over the years it has become commonplace to do it every time a BCS school from another conference goes down. It has nothing to do with the Civil War.”
You know, the great myth about SEC football is not how good the top teams are. It’s how good the middle teams are. The South Carolinas and Arkansaws and Mississippis. The idea that they are somehow better than the Arizona States and Missouris and Iowas. It’s marketing at its finest.
Richard, a Georgia fan: “I have lived in the Deep South 75 years, took many history courses at my undergraduate school, Emory University, and have read many books on the South . Professor Savage’s assertions that Southerners suffer from “Southern exceptionalism” and have a deep-seated inferiority which drives their support of their football teams is pure drivel. Inferiority? Why is regional pride a symptom of inferiority or exceptionalism (whatever that means to the professor)? All over the world rabid followers of what Americans call soccer yell and scream , riot and even kill for their national teams. Would the professor say this reveals the same maladies that he says infects Southerners about their college football teams. No, he wouldn’t. For them he would say it is national pride which sometimes goes too far.”
Yes, he would. No one thinks English soccer crazies are just suffering from a little national pride. They think the English soccer crazies are nuts. And Savage – and a thousand other sociologists/historians – have long talked about Oklahoma’s own inferiority complex over the Dust Bowl, which led to the evolution of great Sooner football. And which I wrote about, and which escaped the mention of most Deep South fans. Imagine that.
Not every fan called me a kook. Robert: “Your article was an interesting take on the rationale for the SEC chant. It was a nice lunchtime read and I am always eager to see someone else’s perspective on the SEC. However, I was a bit disappointed that you didn’t go much beneath the surface of why. You picked an easy mark and took the low road. Your generalization gives the perception that we are all still living in the Jim Crowe era and can’t let go of the ’cause.’ You hone in on one theory that only represents a minutiae of the population in the southeastern U.S. Honestly, the average southerner is actually disaffected by the events of 1861-1865. Amazingly, many of us have moved forward from 1966, let alone 1866. In fact, if you chose a million random southern homes, I doubt you would find any hooded white sheets, stars and bars, or any other vestiges of us not being able to let it go. However, what you will find is community. You will find people who come together to watch a game and pass a good time. You see, college football galvanizes communities and regions down here. It is not about status, luxury suites or any of the other trappings you find in life or the professional game. It is about coming together to watch a group of young men play with pride for their university and community. Individualism and me-first attitudes are lost. This pride is based upon the notion that we consider ourselves the hot-bed of college football. Each one of us thinks that our experience is the best that college football has to offer. No tailgate is better, no co-ed prettier, no campus nicer, no stadium more intimidating. We all realize that we are the pinnacle of the college football experience (at least we are told that year in and year out by all the people who cover college football on a national level.) Yes, it might be a bit irrational, but we embrace it. It is fun and a welcome escape from the troubles of the day.”
You know, maybe people misunderstand. When I said Southerners are still fighting the Civil War, I didn’t mean they still supported slavery. I meant they never really have gotten over losing. The loss of the war, not the loss of the culture, is the defining result. Heck, they hung on to the culture for decades and a century, but it’s mostly died out. Except for that Southern Exceptionalism, which exists because they lost the war.
Greg: “‘It’s not as great as it thinks it is, but it’s the best’?
When your conference wins three national championships in a row and four of the last six, it isn’t just what we think. The ACC is the best in hoops and the SEC is the best in football (no questions asked). We just like for everyone to know it, hence the SEC chant.”
Everyone does know it. They just don’t know it to the extent that Southerners want them to know it. Which goes back to my point. SEC fans aren’t talking about football when they chant. They are talking about the South, and the reason they talk about the South is a certain war that ended 144 years ago.
Ron: “As a Georgia grad married to a SC graduate (I think he means South Carolina), I recognized those peculiarities that you wrote about concerning the SEC. You explained well our allegiance to other teams within our conference.”
Careful, my man. You’re about to be escorted to the Mason-Dixon Line and invited not to cross it again.
Al: “I live in Houston, grew up in Jackson and graduated from Ole Miss. Having lived in the SEC and now living away from the SEC, it gives me a much different perspective on everything. However, having been to numerous SEC games against each other and against out of conference teams, I have yet to hear this chant you write about. And I am not just talking about games Ole Miss was involved in either. Have seen many other SEC games, mostly bowl games, and still did not hear this. Would like to know if this is something you heard yourself or something someone else told you.”
Uh, let me get this straight. Al is some big SEC fan yet never has heard this chant. Reminds me of the “huge” fan of some team who ends up not even knowing who is his quarterback.
Ray: “I forwarded your SEC column to some Georgia and Tennessee grads here at the office. One of them told me it’s actually been proven through sociological research that Southerners are more pugnacious because more of them have Scotch-Irish ancestors who for centuries were herdsmen, and herdsmen are notoriously violent of necessity – they’re always on the lookout for someone trying to steal their herd. So they fight a lot. In fact, they go looking for fights, if only to ward off potential threats. As do their descendants, though more often now in bars than on hillsides.”
So the chant actually does stem from warfare, just not the warfare I suggested.
Chris: “The reason we chant SEC is because football is everything in the South. Not because we’re being defensive or we’re still fighting the Civil War. Stop being an idiot and just let the guys play.”
OK. I submit. The chant is because football is everything in the South, and football is everything in the South because of the war.
Clay: “Fans of Southeastern Conference schools don’t chant SEC when they defeat non-SEC foes because they’re not over the Civil War. They chant it because they want to make sure the opposing fans know that the teams of the SEC are superior to them and their conference. Trust me, you’ll be hearing a lot more of the band playing ‘Glory, Glory’ than you’ll be hearing our fans chant SEC Saturday night.”
We’re going in circles here. I know that the chant is a football statement. But the need for a football statement is Civil War-related. For crying out loud, I don’t know why I have to keep explaining this.
Jon: “You don’t get it. In the South SEC football is 365 days a year. The SEC has more tradition than the Big Ten, Pac-10, Big 12, etc. For whatever reason, ESPN and the likes tend to focus more on the Northern schools, as do the Heisman voters. Anybody with any kind of intelligence knows the SEC is the best, not even close, football conference top to bottom in the country and we’ll let you know about it too. Tailgating is far surperior, fans are better, the football is much better, the traditions run much deeper … you get the point. We are the best, will continue to be the best and the rest of the country can continue to be jealous.”
You know, one product of the Civil War is paranoia, the idea that everyone is out to get you. The idea that ESPN tends to focus on the Northern schools is perhaps the dumbest thing ever written in these dispatches. Which is saying something.
Edwin: “I assume you not only write but read too. If you are interested in adding some depth to your thesis that the SEC is still fighting the Civil War, I recommend Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz and An American Insurrection: James Meredith and The Battle of Oxford, MS, 1962 by William Doyle. The former asks the question of why people in the North (who history shows won) have forgotten the Civil War, while the South (who is alleged to have lost) relive and celebrate it. The author of the latter holds that the Battle of Oxford in September 1962 was actually the last battle of the Civil War. From reading these books you may be surprised to learn that there may well be some substance to your simplistic explanation. Another reasonably plausible alternative is that Southerners (perhaps for historical or perceived familial reasons) are like brothers, i.e., they fight each other like cats and dogs, but if an outsider picks on one, he has the whole bunch to contend with. Southern states have also grasped the principle of synergy and recognize (e.g, economically as the Sunbelt) that the whole is greater than the sum or the parts, and that a rising tide lifts all boats. Many of us realize that no matter how bitterly we fight among ourselves, we each prosper when one of our rivals succeeds. Oh, and that TV revenue we share seems to spend really well. We just talk slow.”
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