On Religion and Football

June 16, 2013


An old, fleshy-nosed man sits in a folding chair on the shoddily-made deck of a little house in Alabama. He is sun-weathered. He is loud and large. He is ignorant about everything but Alabama football and his beloved S.E.C. His only son, a hipster-looking kid of about 23, sits next to him with a bottle of Sam Adams. The old man looks over at the bottle and rolls his eyes, slightly. The son sighs, annoyed, wishing he wasn’t there.

“So,” the old man says.

“So,” his son replies.

A gentle breeze blows through, reminding them how loud silence can be. They turn and glance at each other, as if one wrong word will bring them to fisticuffs, and turn back towards the view of their neighbor’s shed and backyard. The grass is long and brown.

“That lawn should be mowed,” the father’s face says.

“Why don’t you leave people alone and lighten up?” his son’s eyes suggest.

The dad turns to his son and speaks like he used to when he’d bully all the annoying little nerds back in his glory days … back when he was awesome. And hard, like a rock – arrow straight and more than a touch influenced by Bob Seger and old Chevrolet ads. He looks over at his truck, a gold Silverado, and smiles. He looks back at his son and the smile fades. “Your mother tells me you’re studying Hindu.”

The son nods and takes a sip from his beer. The father nods and knocks back a nip of Scotch. He draws his lips back in a sneer, part Scotch, part animosity. “And what’s wrong with being Catholic?”

“Nothing,” the son says, turning the bottle up and finishing the last of it. He pulls another from the cooler between them and opens it with a green lighter, which he uses to light a cigarette. He takes a long drag, then exhales into the cool September air. “It’s not like I’m converting or anything. I’m just studying. I like to learn about things that happened before I existed.”

“What a waste of time,” his father scoffs. He thinks for a moment. “Isn’t Hindu the religion where all their gods look like elephants?”

His son sighs. “In Hindu culture the deity Ganesha is revered for removing obstacles and yes, he has the head of an elephant. Think of him as a lineman in football who blocks for the one carrying the ball.”

“How fucking stupid,” the father replies with a snort.

The son inhales, slowly, then exhales calmly. He notices the logo for the University of Alabama on his father’s crimson sweatshirt. He nods and smiles. “You’re an Alabama fan.”

No, I’m the biggest Alabama fan.

Ok, fine. What’s their mascot, Dad?

The Crimson Tide.

No, the mascot – that thing on your shirt.

Oh, that. That’s an elephant.

Right. Why it is acceptable for Alabama fans to like celebrate elephants, but not Hindus?

It’s not the same. I don’t pray to my elephant.

Oh no? How many times have I seen you pray for Alabama to win, or make a field goal, or block a punt, or land a prized recruit, as if that matters?

It does matter. The new kids carry on the tradition! You have to make sure they’re good kids. Besides, what you’re talking about is not the same. I pray for Alabama to win. I don’t worship the elephant.

No, you worship Alabama football, which can be, but is not always represented by a goddamn elephant.

I do not worship Alabama football. I worship The Lord. I worship your mother.

“You worship Saban, Dad.”

“Coach Saban,” his father corrects him, before giving him a look that says, “Watch it.”

The son rolls his eyes. “Whatever. You live and breathe Alabama football. It’s all you ever talk about. You go to every game you can, and the ones you can’t go to you watch on TV. If you can’t watch them live, you record them. Hell, you record them even when you can watch them live!”

“I do not worship Alabama football!” the dad says again, a bit too loudly, while glaring at his son from beneath a white hat with a crimson A on the front. He stands with an sigh, walks inside and slams around for a few moments. His son looks around and sees a father in a yard behind them teaching his son how to throw a football. The man seems infinitely patient.

On the deck, the son exhales, angrily, and drops the smoking butt of his Camel into a Folgers can. His father walks back out with a full glass of scotch and a can of Coors. He plops into his chair with a sigh and holds the Scotch in his lap. He drinks the beer. The son looks over, “Hey dad, who was ‘Bama’s starting free safety in 2003?

Without hesitation his father answers, “Roman Harper.”

The son nods. “Who was their kicker in 1992 when they beat Miami?”

The father pauses for about one second, then replies, “Michael Proctor. He was a freshman.”

What was the final score of that game?

“The Tide wiped out the Hurricanes 34-13 to win the national title.” The father smiles, “Did you know ‘Bama played a few games at Legion field in Birmingham that year?”

“I did not, Dad,” the son replies, bored. “But I do have one last question. Where is Glenn Coffee from?”

The old man thinks for a long moment, then slaps his knee. “Valparaiso, Florida. And his name is Glen, with one n.”

The son nods and smiles. “Thanks, pop.”

“For what?”

For proving my point. Glen Coffee doesn’t matter. He’s some dude who played football moderately well at a school you like. Big deal. 99% of the people in this world don’t know who the hell Glen Coffee is, but you know his hometown. Why is that?”

The father frowns. “Because I’m an Alabama fan. A die hard. It’s called loyalty.”

“It’s called your religion,” the son replies. “And let me tell you something Dad, no one gives you any shit for it, no matter how obnoxious you are about it. So before you judge the Hindu people who worship Gods that look like elephants, just remember you do the same thing every Saturday. The difference is you yell and scream and they sit, calmly.”

The father scoffs and takes a large drink of Scotch. He chases it with the Coors. He wants his son to go away, but his son isn’t finished. “There’s just one thing I don’t understand…”

The father turns and looks at his son.

“Why do you care so much?”

The father frowns. So does the son, as he begins…

“Why do you care so much that you genuinely dislike people who cheer for Florida or L.S.U., or the Auburn Tigers, heaven forbid?”

The father sneers and spits on the deck. The son laughs. “Seriously, Dad. Why do you have so much pride in a team that doesn’t care about you? You didn’t even go to Alabama. And why do you look down on teams whose fans don’t scream ‘Roll Tide’ and ‘Roll Tide Roll’ every five seconds? Why do you do it?

“Because Roll Tide!”

But…

“No, son. Roll Tide roll.”

The father takes a drink of his Scotch. The son lights another cigarette. The mother sticks her head out the door. “How’s everything going?”

“Fine,” the two men reply in unison.

“Roll Tide!” she chirps, before ducking back inside.

The father grins and takes another drink of his Scotch. He looks over as his son exhales smoke and nods, ruefully.

“Roll Tide roll.”

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