A heart divided

Some of the best things come at the end of September.

Two years ago, that was my favorite football team triumphing over my next-to-least favorite team. I was in Bryant-Denny Stadium on Oct. 1, 2005, when Alabama defeated Florida, 31-3. I joined in proudly as members of the student section began the tomahawk chop. A girl nearby asked, “Why are we doing this? We’re not Seminoles!” A friend of mine replied (with pride), “Some of us are.”

Florida is the foe of my other favorite team, Florida State. In four years of picking college football games, I always pick according to loyalty. I think it’s morally wrong to derive some benefit from your team’s loss. That’s why in four years of competing in my college football pick ’em, I have yet to pick against either Alabama or Florida State. Until this week, that philosophy has served me well.

Today, that all changes.

My two alma maters meet tonight for their first contest in 33 years–and they’re doing it in my hometown. When the game was announced two years ago, my first thought was that I HAD to find tickets. My second was that I had to choose sides.

It’s a lose/lose or win/win situation, depending on your outlook. I could easily cheer for my undergrad team. Some people think that’s the only way to go! That was the school where I grew up, where I met some of my very closest friends, where I once danced on the 50 yard line. On my first visit to Florida State, back in 1993, I was impressed by the campus bowling alley and the fact that I could buy a Seminole keychain with my name on it. When I enrolled six years later, the campus captured my heart.

But my heart wasn’t free for the taking. I had promised it to Alabama football before I even knew what a first down was. I grew up wearing crimson. After Florida-Alabama games, we would run to the front yard and yell “Roooooooooooooooll tide! Roll!” in our loudest voices, taunting our neighbors with their Gator flag. When my dad began explaining the concept of first and 10, I was hooked. I remember watching a game while my sisters were supposed to be upstairs cleaning. “Why doesn’t she have to help?” they whined. “Because she’s watching football with me.”

On one level, my heart breaks at having to choose one team over another. But in truth, I’ve had my No. 1 team all along. You can’t turn your back on your roots, on your family, on a way of life you’ve known longer than memory serves. Which is why tonight, I’ll stand proudly in my crimson and white, screaming loudly for the Tide.

“There are two major theories of fandom, as far as I can tell: the Childhood Theory and the Undergrad Theory. Some people would argue that you lock yourself into a team for life when you decide to go to school there, no matter who you liked before.

“But these people also wouldn’t understand why a child who was not quite 8 could learn the meaning of despondence by watching an undefeated football team lose to its rival, or why, even decades later, you would still get a chill up your spine every time you see Jay Barker lead a comeback against Georgia, or why watching George Teague strip the ball from a Miami wide receiver still ranks among the Top 5 best moments in life.

“The Undergrad Theorists surely are good people, and no doubt they mean well. But they don’t understand football, because they don’t understand Alabama football.“Roll Damn Tide.”

–My friend Chris, in an e-mail to me, after I sent him my picks for the week

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