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Dave Martin/ Associated Press: Alabama coach Nick Saban talks with reporters during the Southeastern conference football Media Days in Hoover, Ala., Thursday, July 18, 2013.
SEC football is almost here.
Praise the Lord!
It is hard for those of us who live outside of the Bible Belt to understand that SEC football is, in fact, a religion.
During game time on Saturdays, a strange alchemy takes place as football stadiums across the Southeast become churches, seats become pews, and the football coaches become gods.
If you need any indication as to why SEC football is very much a religious phenomenon, you need only look to the “SEC Media Days” event that took place during July 16th thru the 18th.
A throng of believers, comprised of more than 1,200 credentialed media and countless commoners, make their way to Hoover, Alabama to partake of what USA Today sports writer Duane Rankin describes as “a three-day, must-see event of SEC glorification.” What is so peculiar about SEC media days, however, is that, unlike the activities that take place at a football stadium on Saturdays during the season, there are no games played, no scrimmages, not even a practice by any of the conference’s teams. And yet, ESPN, the king of sports media, is providing live, minute by minute, coverage of the event. Not even the G-8 summit gets that kind of treatment.
Sure many attendees can’t wait to get a chance to talk to Texas A&M’s talented quarterback Johnny Manziel or South Carolina’s intimidating defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. But the players are not the main attraction.
This 72-hour extravaganza is convened so that both the media and the fans can get a glimpse of and, maybe, have a chance encounter with the demigod coaches of the SEC.
There are but a few coaches in the SEC—the chosen—whose names are truly hallowed. Names like Steve Spurrier and Les Miles, for example, are revered not only by the supporters of their respective kingdoms (or programs) but everywhere throughout college football.
South Carolina’s Spurrier, nicknamed the old ball coach, is the most media savvy of the group, especially with his knack for charming the socks off of the attendees, using his southern twang and good ol’ boy wit.
LSU’s Miles, nicknamed the Mad Hatter, is beloved by fans because he is, indeed, the mad scientist of the SEC, a coach who is willing to do away with conventional football rationale, or rationale all together, to win a game.
And then you have Alabama’s Nick Saban, who is without question the most worshipped coach in the conference. Saban has no nickname—he doesn’t need one. That kind of stuff is beneath him. He acts different than the other coaches, displaying a stoic deportment, seldom engaging in sideline antics. He looks different than the other coaches, with his coiffed hair and orderly attire. He even talks different than the other coaches, not a hint of southern dialect, no “Hi Y’alls” and How Y’all Doings?“
All of this has created an aura of divinity that encompasses Saban, so much so that ESPN analyst Brock Huard recently testified that when Saban arrives at the media days’ hall he doesn’t walk in the building— no, “he levitates.”
In the end, though, Saban is accorded such divine status because, above all, he is a winner. He has led the Alabama Crimson Tide to two straight national championships, the program’s third in the last four years, and college football experts believe that the team is on course for another one this year. Roll Tide!
No wonder, then, that Saban was the main attraction of this year’s SEC media days.
At the culminating session of last week’s events, the faithful tarried for the much-anticipated words of Saban, who did not fail to impress. He descended upon his followers like the Lord at Mt. Sinai, to tell of his divine plan for the upcoming football year. The Crimson Tide cannot be satisfied with the successes of the past, Saban warned. This year had to be different. And so, he made a new covenant with Alabama’s numerous devotees, stating that every year he has to “reinvent” or recreate the team (perhaps, ex nihilo), and that he has been diligently devising a stratagem that will ensure the team’s continued success.
We will soon learn of the efficacy of Saban’s providence.
On August 31, 2013 the doors of the church will open as Alabama goes against the Virginia Tech Hokies, a team from the run-of-the-mill ACC, in the first game of the season. By then, Saban would have inculcated into the minds of his players that, on the football field, he has the divine plan that will take them to the Promised Land of another national title.
Yes, Saban, the Father, will surely deliver them from evil, the shame of loss that is, if they will be obedient to his commandments, as outlined in the team’s holy writ, the playbook. These aren’t just mere X’s and O’s, offensive and defensive diagrams and the like—no, this is the Father’s plan, how he envisions his players enacting his will.
However, if they fail to do so, all manner of folly is certain to ensue. A trespass on the field can result in a turnover. A trespass on the field can result in an injury. A trespass on the field can result in the opposing team scoring an easy touchdown. A trespass on the field can lead to the Father losing a game. And for the Crimson Tide’s congregants, that would be a sin.
But such evil can be avoided.
In times of dismay, when the game is on the line, the thousands who sit in the pews of the stadium and the players who are on the field can simply look to the sideline and say an “Our Father.”
If His will is done, then surely to Him will be the power and the glory. For ever and ever.