You don’t have to spend much time in SEC country to know that Southerners are passionate about college football. If you wear anything with a logo from a team outside the conference, they will swiftly heckle you and remind you that the SEC is the best conference (which it clearly is). Their team could have four wins the entire season, but somehow, their team is better than yours, because “if they played in the Big 10, they would be undefeated.” I heard it all the time in my four years in Florida.
The most extreme time for any outsider fan is when your team is slotted to play the local favorite in a bowl game. You will hear for a solid month about how bad your team is and how badly they will perform. When Michigan was scheduled to play Florida in the 2008 Outback Bowl, things got started quickly. My boss quickly pointed out that Michigan had never even beaten an SEC team, which was inaccurate. He demanded an example, so I pointed to the last time they had played Florida in a bowl game. Michigan won. That didn’t stifle it, though. I was a youth pastor, and I was subjected to cracks about Michigan every Sunday morning and evening service leading up to the game. Many of those jokes came from behind the pulpit, whether during a sermon or announcements. I’m slightly surprised the music pastor didn’t get involved by making the choir sing THIS SONG. (<– warning: this song is offensive to people who don’t like “the D word” or love the state of Michigan).
The day finally came, and Michigan did beat Florida. I was one happy youth pastor. I wore a different Michigan shirt every day that week, and I moved my Michigan flag from my wall to hanging over my office door. This was a brilliant move, because everybody who visited our school would see it, and most people that came to church would see it. But then I showed up on the Sunday morning immediately following the game, and my flag was gone. It had been taken by my boss. I was replaced on the morning duty sheet by someone else giving announcements. I approached my boss and asked what the big deal was. His answer? ”You just can’t talk about football during church. It doesn’t lend to worship. And we know you’ll say something.” What? I had been to 8 straight church services where college football had been mentioned. It seemed okay when they were doing it, but it was no longer okay when it was my turn. They took my flag, and they took my voice.
And to say that I couldn’t behave myself and not mention the game while giving announcements? That’s crazy. Our pastor was sick, and I had to take over duties that same Sunday night, and I didn’t say one word about the game from the stage. I did, however, rope a teenager into playing a CD I had given him as I was walking up on stage. I just let “Hail to the Victors” play out while I stood on stage and smiled. But I didn’t say one word, because that wouldn’t have been conducive to worship.