Aunt Lorene, my great-grandfather’s sister, used to assure folks that if she told you something three times, it’s gotta be true.
But I don’t reckon I’ll have to tell anyone even twice that yet another glorious football season has kicked off, bringing with it all the wonderful things that unite and divide us.
Rich traditions. Intense rivalries. Color-coded allegiances. Beloved and despised coaches, players and sports commentators. Bonfires, tailgating and other gameday gatherings. Spirit-bolstering cheers.
And smack talk. Lots and lots of venomous, teeth-gnashing, egomaniacal smack talk.
For many, this compulsive jabbering serves as the hub, the essence or driving force, of the season. Virtually no one is safe from the skunk-eyed sneers and brutal vocabularies that spew out of the loud mouths of strangers, so-called “friends” and family alike.
Blood may, indeed, be thicker than water. But wearing a shirt with a dye deemed the wrong color can cause an admirable family man or woman to get dog-cussed and condemned by an otherwise doting grandparent.
“That fool oughta know better’n be seen wearin’ that god-awful trash! Some folks just have no class and good for nothin’. Plumb embarrasin’!”
Laying the smack down
Yessiree, football fanatics are an ultra-sensitive breed, and this sensitivity cuts even deeper among folks like my Roll Tide father and our War Eagle cousin, Barry.
Bloodthirsty, the two lock horns after every Iron Bowl in fierce, ritualistic fashion, typically through a heated phone call initiated by the one aiming to gloat as soon as the game’s over.
“How ’bout them Tigers?”
“Man, you ain’t called me all year and now you got the gall to come at me ’bout some lame ‘Tigers’…”
The smack-talk battlefield gets awful bloody from there, with the two men practically lunging at each other’s throat as they pass ego-scarring blows with every seething remark.
At some point, depending on how bad the losing team got their fannies handed to them, a ceasefire is called. But these truces are always very short-lived.
The war rages on.
Still, I reckon Barry’s lucky he’s family. Otherwise, he may get the kind of no-holds-barred verbal brawl my father once had during a high school football game with someone’s equally quick-tempered granny, who certainly held her own during the clash.
At the time, my father wasn’t too impressed with a young quarterback, and his loudly voicing his blunt opinion instantly jolted the granny into fist-shaking defense mode. Nobody was gonna talk bad about her grandbaby. Nobody.
Their smack-talk showdown was epic, and certainly far more thrilling than anything that was happening on the field at the time. But, when the fuse is lit, smack talkers are gonna do what they do best.
Just ask my pal, Doug, another Tide fan who’s always at odds with his younger brother, the orange-and-blue Roddy, who’s prone to wearing jerseys of the teams opposing Bama on gamedays. The two compete in everything – card games, board games… and especially croquet.
In fact, it was during a heated croquet match that a fuming Doug gave voice to a phenomenally profound statement, one that belongs on a banner or monument. If anything, it’ll be engraved on Doug’s tombstone:
“If you’ll cheat in croquet, you’ll cheat in life.”
Words to live by, folks. But when they’re not dueling with mallets, these brothers are feuding over SEC football. And this, naturally, bleeds into other things, like birthday gifts for their Bama-crazed mama.
“Hey, Mom, how ’bout I get you a flag with all of Bama’s national championships on it?” Doug once suggested.
Oh yeah, she’d like that.
“And I could get you something with Auburn’s championships, too, Mom,” a grinning Roddy chimed in.
Doug couldn’t help it. He saw an opening and went in for the smackdown: “Yeah, you could get it put on a little napkin. That should be big enough.”
Nope, it simply wouldn’t be football season without some good ol’ smack talk.
You can’t be too careful when it comes to doing your part to help assure your team’s triumph. So you can’t blame a guy or gal for routinely wearing their lucky, raggedy gameday shirt that’s been passed down for generations and could barely cut it as a suitable washrag these days.
You’d also be wise to hold your tongue when another fan clings to a lucky rabbit’s foot. Or when they cradle a sacred snow globe containing a miniature figure of their team’s mascot, or clutch a crucifix or commemorative Paul “Bear” Bryant Coca-Cola bottle while pleading to God to please, please let the game go right.
It’s this exact kind of thinking that got my wife and me permanently banned from a friend’s home on a certain day of the year – the Iron Bowl.
This decision was made shortly after the last time we watched a game at our friend’s home. That day was Nov. 30, 2013, when the mind-blowing “Kick Six” made history at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Before that final play, there’d been plenty of smack talk hurled at the TV. But our friend suddenly became speechless, eerily quiet, after witnessing Auburn’s Chris Davis catch the Tide’s 57-yard field goal attempt, then dash 100 yards to win the game, 34-28.
As a future precaution, my wife and I were told we wouldn’t be welcomed back to watch another Iron Bowl, simply because our being there that day must have somehow, in some way, interfered with the Tide’s destiny.
We understood. It was too risky. No need to tell us thrice.
Keith Huffman can be reached at email@example.com.