There’s no “I” in “Team”

(But there is one in “cocktail”).

by Cherri Ellis

September is a magical time in the South.  There is always that first morning when you step outside and there is a slight crispness to the air.  It’s possible to wear knits without passing out on the way to the car, and linen pieces give way to corduroy pants.    It’s always fun to get the next season’s clothes out and discover what fits.  September brings order; there are new schedules to adhere to and different vegetables in season.   School buses make their twice-daily appearances, and all God’s little creatures get ready for college football.

I was not born in the South, so the charms and nuances of Southern culture taste sweeter to me.   I grew up in Centerville, Ohio, a neighborhood of Dayton.  We never heard of sweet tea and didn’t grill out nearly as much.   When it snowed you still went to school, and none of the grocery stores ran out or milk or bread.   Because I was the youngest of three girls, and my father wasn’t a sports fan, ballgames were not a strong element in my life.  I was in gymnastics and dance and theater, and in high school I was a Coed.  (State champion dance-based drill team.  Our mascot was the Elk.   We were the Centerville Elks.   No, really.)  My parents never once attended a high-school football game until I performed at halftime, and then they never missed one.

So…it is actually not my fault.  I come from sports-blind people.  Once my mother was in town during one of my husband’s medical crises.    One of our friends got Gene Stallings to call our house to give him a little pep talk, and my Mom took the phone message.  She gave us a piece of paper that said a “Jean Stollins” called.   I would imagine that Gene was a little surprised when she asked him what his call was in regard to in that special tone of voice reserved for telemarketers.

My daughter, however, is Southern born and bred.  A pre-law junior at the University of Alabama, she knows football the way musicians read music.  Whereas it usually looks like a video game to me, she tosses comments about plays back and forth that dazzle with their accuracy.   It is clearly too late for me to learn.  Make no mistake. I am fabulous to watch a ball game with because I handle all the drinks and appetizers out of boredom.  I can do things with crescent dough that will make you want to marry me.   Everybody wins.  My friends do not ask me the score.  It would be like asking your dog where your keys were.  Any help you got would be completely accidental.

Truth be told, I really love to be around people watching a ball game.  I have had the pleasure of attending all manner of such occasions, from sky boxes with catered food and drink to a friend’s basement, packed around a single sofa.  I once took a private bus to one of the bowl games.  It broke down on the way back for so long that I lay down on the floor and used a roll of paper towels for a pillow.  I was trying to drown out the voice of the man who, on an alcohol-fueled marathon of enthusiasm, chanted the Ramma Jamma Yellow Hammer cheer for hours.

Being a sports fan feeds our most basic need, to feel you’re part of something bigger than you.  Wear your team colors, and suddenly you’ve got a little skin in the game.  Just like that, the outcome matters.   Their victory is your victory.  They couldn’t have done it without you.  OK, you, Trent Richardson and the entire defensive team.  Every year it is mandatory to have some star player choose poorly and screw up his chances of finishing the season, much less go pro. I will miss Honeybadger, as will his teammates.

Teamwork:  the pooling of talents to accomplish what could not be accomplished alone.  Writ large (Bryant-Denny Stadium holds over 100,000 people;   that‘s bigger than most of the arenas that were built for the Olympics), it’s an opportunity to harness your energy and passion with that of 60,000 other souls.  On a smaller scale, teamwork creates mini-miracles of good when least expected, like when two biker guys held up a stranger in his wheelchair for an entire concert so he could see the stage.

College football fans for the most part exhibit the best part of belonging.  Wear an Alabama or Auburn hat to a public place on game day and you are going to elicit a comment from someone.  Wear it the day of the Iron Bowl and you will elicit a comment from everyone.   It is this sense of coming together to get something done that has fueled some really beautiful moments in the world.  Take, for instance, when the students of Texas A & M formed a peaceful human shield around the funeral of a fallen soldier when the misguided wackjobs from Westboro Baptist Church tried to protest.  They stood shoulder to shoulder several deep and as a unit simply said, “No.  No, you will not disrupt this family’s grieving, because we will not allow it. ”   One student or a handful of students couldn’t have done it, but together they made the most painful moments of a family’s lives also the most beautiful.  To look up from the casket of your child and see the backs of the ring of kids protecting you — it makes me cry when I think of the gratitude they must have felt.

You are going to be on a lot of different teams in your life, and you won’t always be on the winning side.   That is OK.  You will choose your teams because you will have a little skin in the game.  So throw on a jersey, mix up a batch of something good and turn on the TV or radio.  There is honestly nothing like fall here in the loving arms of the South, and football is a time-honored part of that. You need to root like holy hell for all of the teams of your life and treat the opponent with as much respect as you can muster.

Roll Tide.

War Eagle.

Pass the sausage spinnies

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2 Responses to “There’s no “I” in “Team””

  1. allison l burns says:

    Completely hilarious,tender .

    I laughed and cried and will never miss another of your articles,Cherri !

  2. Joe Dollar says:

    Don’t Worry, Cherri – I’m 70 years old, grew up in Alabama, and trust me – no one I ever knew referred to the now popular religious expression, “sweet tea.” It was simply “tea,” or “iced tea” which are synonymous – but never “sweet tea” And there was a bowl of sugar on the table so you could sweeten it or not. So this recent mantra of “you ain’t southern unless you grew up with ‘sweet tea'” is fairly new, and most likely a product of the spoiled baby boomer set who didn’t want to sweeten their own tea. Ha Ha.

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