In the year 2000, I was privileged to be welcomed into the sweet town of Columbus, GA. It was a move that impacted my accent forever, afforded me some lifelong friendships, became the eventual birthplace of my son, and changed my Saturdays for life with a newfound love of ESPN College GameDay.
It all started with me being temporarily homeless and housesitting for a Tennessee fan who had been transplanted into the Columbus area.
Completely oblivious to the other religion in my region, was it my fault I wasn’t even aware that I was in the melting pot of Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Clemson, Georgia Tech fanatics…and MORE!!?
The biggest question someone might ask on a first date was not whether you were Baptist or Methodist, but what your Saturday colors are. The allegiances run deep through the generations, too, so get that one thing wrong and grandma may oust you for good before love takes root, resulting in a house divided.
So it was there in my friend’s home where I ventured into what I will call the orange closet.
You heard me. The orange closet. Every University of Tennessee garment that had ever been manufactured was on display in the orange closet, including orange linen blazers and VOLS diamond-studded cuff links.
And as a Louisiana girl do you know what living in the house with the orange closet made me to the orange people?
An LSU fan.
Though I had no real interest in football, and scarcely understood the purpose of a first down, I began to watch football on Saturdays to play a little defense of my own for Sunday’s inevitable onslaught from well-meaning Sunday school teachers. “Shame about those tigers last night…tee-hee-hee!”
I decided to endure my Saturday prime time education by adding a square of cornbread or two with a bowl of chili. Before long, Saturdays became my laundry day and I studied football starting with ESPN College GameDay until the last down was played that evening.
I can guaran-double-tee you that everyone at church in Columbus, GA knew their friends’ secondary religion. So when there was an LSU win, Sunday school attendance was quite low. I might pull out a purple and gold hankie and wipe my brow after singing. “Is it hot in here?”
These are relationships that I have kept up with through the years since I’ve moved into new seasons of my life. With the help of social media, I still message my friend Holly when Clemson wins a national championship, though I purposefully don’t tag Leah in the post if they beat Alabama.
I don’t even know what Roll Tide means since the mascot is an elephant. Or why Auburn identifies with eagles AND tigers. Or why anyone would celebrate a pig’s mating call. I’d just as boomer sooner fan a team with one name of one animal that is more exotic than one that Old McDonald might have had on his farm. But, if I did, I’d be smart enough to call a rooster a gamecock, too, because it just sounds fierce.
I didn’t need anyone to tell me whether this love of the game was another tie that binds when I got the early morning text a few weeks ago. Leah’s twenty-year-old daughter—rushed to Emory with a brain bleed. For 14 days she hung on by a thread while her Dad gave daily internet updates from what he called “The Chair”. Prayer warriors joined forces far and wide following #PrayHard4SEJ.
When I ran out of words, I sent a little text in the night that simply said, “Roll Tide!” letting Leah know that I was fighting so hard in the spirit that I had even “gotten saved” and become an Alabama fan.
Before long, we were ALL Alabama fans. That wasn’t the biggest miracle of all.
Leah’s daughter, having stood on the edge of death for those 14 days, walked out of that hospital on day 15 like a Hail Mary to the end zone with no time left on the clock. Score! She had the victor’s crown!
I thought of the orange closet where I first landed in Columbus and how I, too, become a crazy football fan like my friends. I realized, it really wasn’t even about football. It was about relationships for life. I’d be lying if I didn’t mention food, but you get the point. ESPN College GameDay might just be Saturday background noise to some, but to me, it is a real chance to come together no matter how we see the world.
Read Brandi’s column each month in The Cross Timbers Gazette.