COLUMN: ‘Tis the season for gridiron grudges

  • Posted: Monday, December 3, 2012 7:24 a.m.

My kids and I used to sit around our campfires up in the mountains of Southwest Virginia singing a song written by Sheldon Harnick and performed by the Kingston Trio back during the happy and peaceful ’60s:

“The whole world is festering with unhappy souls:

The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles;

Italians hate Yugoslavs,

South Africans hate the Dutch;

And we don’t like anybody very much.”

Well, the French and Germans are trying to hold Europe together, the Poles are part of NATO, and I believe the South Africans and the Dutch haven’t fired on each other since the Boer War, but there’s still enough loathing to spread around.

The late presidential election spawned a lot of hate talk as political partisans adamantly refused to see virtue in the other party or defects in their own. Obama was a foreign-born Allah-worshiping socialist with a visceral hatred for the American flag, and Romney was a rich guy totally alienated from the wishes and needs of the honest working man, the single mom, the Hispanic aliens yearning to breathe free, the black masses struggling for equality, gay folks yearning for acceptance by the straight majority, and dogs strapped to the roofs of cars.

Political passions ebb and flow. I remember sneaking into a meeting of the Republican National Committee in San Diego back in 1996 and listening to the GOP chairman, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, assure his colleagues that we journalists were a bunch of prostitutes to be avoided like skunks at a picnic.

I approached him afterward and identified myself as a journalist from a newspaper just across the line in Alabama, and he embraced me like a long-lost brother. I hadn’t realized Haley was so fond of prostitutes.

The 2012 election is now history, and political healing is, presumably, taking place.

So football hatreds have taken center stage.

I once ran into a man in a Denver airport who was wearing an Auburn cap. I greeted him with a friendly “War Eagle,” as I do all Auburn fans when their team isn’t playing my team – Georgia – and there are no Alabama fans around to start a riot.

He informed me that if he were stranded in a blizzard on the frozen tundra and a University of Alabama jacket was all he had to keep warm, he wouldn’t wear it.

I greet Alabama fans with a hearty “Roll Tide,” except when they’re playing Georgia, as in Saturday’s Southeastern Conference championship game, the results of which I am blissfully unaware at this writing.

When I was a freshman at the University of Georgia, I knew that when an upperclassman yelled “what’s the good word?” I was supposed to yell back, “To h--- with Tech,” or face dire consequences. Now that the Dawgs wreck Tech with gratifying regularity, the fun has gone out of the loathing. Dawg fans now hate Florida because its former coach, Steve Spurrier, made a career of whipping them after they waylaid the Florida team he quarterbacked to the brink of a national championship. They hate South Carolina because the Gamecocks hired Spurrier as their coach and the team created by the “Evil Genius” has now beaten the Dawgs three times in a row. And they still nurse a healthy hatred for the Tennessee Vols, who love to storm down from Rocky Top and embarrass the Dawgs between the hedges.

The Gamecocks, of course, hate Georgia and their traditional in-state rivals, Clemson.

As a native and current resident of South Carolina, I’m sometimes regarded as a renegade because I root for the Dawgs against the Gamecocks. As a kid growing up, I had assumed that I would attend the University of South Carolina until Chester Cromwell, the highly respected director of the Gregg Park Civic Center in my hometown of Graniteville, informed me that if you wanted to get a good job in journalism, a degree from Georgia was a must. I put career over heart, fell in love with my adopted alma mater, and met the Georgia lass I later married. When I went to work in journalism, I found myself working shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of Carolina grads, many of whom earned more than I did. Among them was Mort Persky, whose dad ran a haberdashery on Laurens Street in Aiken and who went on to success in big-time publications ranging from Playboy to the Detroit Free Press.

I take joy in watching the Dawgs defeat the Gamecocks, but try not to lean too far either way when the Gamecocks take on the Tigers. I live just 20 minutes from the Clemson campus, and I have friends on both sides.

It’s been fun sitting in a neutral corner and watching the exchange of barbs between Spurrier and Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney.

When South Carolina played LSU in Baton Rouge, Spurrier implied slyly that the Gamecocks were playing in the real Death Valley: both LSU and Clemson call their home field by that name. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney responded that “Carolina” is in Chapel Hill, USC is in California, and “We’ve won more bowl games than they’ve ever been to.”

To such insults, the most effective answer is victory on the gridiron.

Mort Persky, an octogenarian who now follows his beloved Gamecocks from his home in New York City, emailed me this take on the latest round of insults from the uppity Tigers:

“REVENGE is the treatment for it, I tell you, if there IS a treatment! And meanwhile, if you don’t mind, us fightin’ chickens will return the favor of sincerely hating your indispensable Tiger Tailbones as always, till death, or Death Valley, do us part.”

He got his revenge. Until next season, peace to all.

Readers may reach Gene Owens through email at WadesDixieco@AOL.com.

Gene Owens is a retired newspaper editor and columnist who graduated from Graniteville High School and now lives in Anderson.

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