I am watching the Iron Bowl. It’s drizzling outside. I’m sitting in my living room, eating cheese dip, the game is on low volume.
All my fellow Bama fans in this house are fast asleep from eating way too much saturated fat and refined white flour. My dogs are snoring. My wife is drooling on my shoulder.
This is the calmest football game of my entire life. Nobody is shouting “ROLL TIDE!” There are no high fives, no pom poms, no body-painted torsos. No nothing.
Welcome to 2020.
This is very different for me. I’m used to watching the Iron Bowl in lively joints that smell like stale yeast and armpits. Places where, whenever it’s a third-down situation, 12 guys leap to their feet and spill five-dollar pitchers all over your lap while screaming, “WAR [BLEEPING] EAGLE!”
I’m accustomed to fights breaking out in the parking lot between Auburn and Alabama fans. In fact—this is true—the worst fight I ever saw happened in 2013, after the “Kick Bama Kick” Iron Bowl game, when Auburn’s Chris Davis sprinted 109 yards and won the game with only one second remaining on the clock. The beer joint came unhinged.
A fistfight between an Auburn guy and a Bama guy exploded into a multi-man brawl, which soon included everybody within nine counties. The fracas had to be broken up by the police. I’ve never seen an altercation on such a grand scale. My cousin and I both sustained injuries when trying to exit the establishment. It was awesome.
I’m not saying I miss those rowdy days, but I do miss being with other people in public places.
Before 2020, I used to get jolts of excitement simply by being in minor crowds. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I want to be in any biblical-style multitudes, but on special occasions it’s nice to pile up together.
For almost a year we’ve been avoiding fun get-togethers and large groups, and even though this is normal now, I think it’s changed me.
This morning I read a scientific article written by a psychologist who had half the alphabet listed after his name. He said that 2020 has changed America’s collective psychology. The article stated that many post-pandemic Americans won’t feel comfortable in crowds anymore, and they might not be at ease for a long time, either. I don’t know if this is true, but if it is, I hope it’s not.
I pray we don’t lose movie theaters, barbecues, Little League, barn dances, bowling tournaments, county fairs, potlucks, crab boils, community 5-Ks, bingo nights, and ice cream socials. Because as of right now we HAVE lost those things.
Currently, all my memories of socializing seem like they occurred 200 years ago. Back before complimentary hand sanitizer at McDonald’s; long before door greeters took your temperature at Winn-Dixie. Back before 2020, when Iron Bowl parties were a region-wide thing enjoyed by everyone—including little grannies, hermits, and Jesuit priests.
The best football party I ever went to happened when I was much younger. My band was playing in a little crud-covered tavern in Pensacola. Auburn was playing Georgia.
Before the gig, I spent the entire game seated at the bar between two elderly women who were clad in Auburn garb, watching the TV. I told them I was a Bama fan and we became fast friends.
All night long they teased the University of Georgia fans around them. They were so much fun. They constantly harassed anyone who wore Bulldog Red—which was nearly half the people in the tiny place. And they were a riot.
Throughout the game we exchanged stories, talked about family, patted each other’s shoulders, laughed, shouted, booed, hissed, and cheered until we were dizzy. Have you ever noticed how the whole world feels brighter when you have a new friend?
When Georgia won, the two ladies were such good losers that they bought drinks for the whole saloon. It must have cost them several hundred dollars. But that’s the kind of class act they were.
Later that evening, after our band played and everyone had done lots of dancing, the ladies were about to call a cab to take them home. They had consumed many game-day beverages and weren’t exactly in any condition to teach Sunday school, if you catch my drift.
So our bass player, John, and I drove the elderly women across town and dropped them at their doorstep. They tried to pay us for our trouble, but we refused. We helped them to their porch, then wished them good evening, whereupon they both hugged us sincerely, and one of them might have even tried to get to first base with John.
But when the ladies were inside, and the night was finished, John and I stood on that empty patio and completely lost it. We laughed so hard we nearly broke our own ribs.
And THAT was the kind of fun stuff that used to happen during football games, before global pandemics. These events were wonderful but rare occasions that made you realize you were part of a community so big that it’s a U.S. region.
For some of us, these games weren’t purely about touchdowns. In fact, they weren’t even entirely about winning—at least not for me. Because no matter which side you rooted for, you belonged here, to the Southeast, and that made us kin.
Even when we disagreed, even when we hated each other’s guts, even when we got whipped by the enemy, we did it all on the same patch of grass. And somehow, on a deeper level, although we took different sides, this meant that we were friends.
I really miss that warm feeling. And I hope against hope that we can get it back someday.
If we can just make it through 2020.