The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Now that Labor Day is in the rear-view mirror, lots of Rehobothians will tell you the late summer/early fall season is hands down their favorite time here on the shore. The crowds are gone. You can find a parking spot. The restaurants and bars are still open. The ocean temperature is warm. And the weather is usually spectacular, give or take the occasional hurricane scare.
Yeah, yeah.… I’ll agree with all that. But, for me, the reason this time of the year is so wonderful is because the college football season is upon us.
I grew up in the South where college football was and still remains king. My grandfather played for the Florida Gators and my grandmother’s brother taught at the university. Both my parents were Gators. I sneaked my first Bloody Mary at a pre-game party in Gainesville, followed by absconding with someone’s bourbon and coke in an orange plastic University of Florida cup at a game versus the University of North Carolina. I was ten years old and mesmerized by the shirtless fraternity boys in the student section who hugged and danced in the dizzying heat whenever the Gators scored.
Ten years later, I was one of those fraternity boys in the student section holding a plastic orange cup full of bourbon and coke. Only we weren’t shirtless. No Siree! Blue blazers and either a tie or bowtie and a blue cap with an orange V were de rigueur for a Virginia gentleman in the early 1980s. And it didn’t matter how hot it got in Scott Stadium because tradition trumped comfort at Mr. Jefferson’s university.
That is until an inebriated sorority girl whipped out the pinking shears and turned trousers into shorts while somehow avoiding everyone’s bits and pieces. We did hug and dance, though, mostly whenever the Cavaliers made a first down. Touchdowns and wins were few and far between during my tenure in Charlottesville.
Later on, a major factor in my decision to attend the University of Georgia School of Law was the university’s football team, a perennial power in the Southeastern Conference. It was a nice relief to root for a winning team. And, I loved that the team mascot was a white English bulldog wearing a red sweater. I bet you didn’t know that each deceased bulldog is buried in a marble vault near the main gate of the football stadium. Fresh flowers adorn the graves before each home game.
My time in Georgia nearly sent my Florida grandmother to an early grave, so she said. It didn’t keep her from phoning me from her hospital bed every Saturday night to review the day’s football scores or to celebrate when her beloved Gators beat Alabama in the 2008 SEC Championship game. I still remember how we used to toss raw hot dogs to the alligators in the pond behind my father’s house. She named each alligator after a favorite Florida football coach.
That’s the thing about college football. At its heart it’s about family and traditions and friends and memories. And it’s not limited to the South. Have you noticed all the Penn State stickers around Rehoboth? Sure, all the hoopla surrounding a football game might come across to the uninitiated as juvenile or silly, a bunch of grownups living in the past. But it’s also about community—and fried chicken and bourbon and coke and waving pompoms in the stands. Yes, we can be of different races, faiths, careers, and political persuasions, but come Saturdays we’re all fans of college football.
On a windy and rainy Saturday night outside at Aqua recently, a group of us huddled beneath an umbrella. And don’t you know, the primary topic of conversation among the sons of the South in attendance was college football. One fella even sported orange eyewear because any Auburn fan worth his salt had to wear his “colors” on game day.
Heck, I even texted my Trump-loving baby brother to commiserate Florida’s loss to Kentucky for the first time in 31 years. It was hard, but never once did I make a “Stormy” reference or mention Bob Woodward’s book. That’s because Saturday game days are sacred. All bets are off, though, when it’s a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday. ▼
Rich Barnett is the author of The Discreet Charms of a Bourgeois Beach Town, and Fun with Dick and James.