Justin Tadlock

Hope

All a true fan can ask for is that their team lays it all on the line for sixty minutes. Four quarters. One night every week.

In the rural South, we don’t live exciting lives. Most people roll out of bed at the break of dawn, work all day, and do it all again the next day. It’d be a mundane existence to an outside observer.

Come late summer every year, nostrils soak up the fresh-cut grass all across the state of Alabama. It’s the season for peanut boils, syrup sops, and late summer harvests. Every breath of air is much sweeter. It’s time for a break from the smothering heat. Time to enjoy God’s gift to the working man. To immerse one’s self in the greatest sport of all time.

It’s football season.

We don’t have much down here, but we have football. Many of the people I’ve met don’t understand the significance this sport plays in the lives of individuals, our communities, and our state. We live and breathe football because we get to see young men put all their hopes and dreams on the line for four quarters once a week. These young men are our neighbors, friends, sons, nephews, and uncles.

It’s not only their hopes and dreams on the line, it’s ours. We live and die with every snap of the ball, with every breakaway scamper, every diving snag.

That our young men play every down as if it were their last moment on the field is paramount.

They represent that part of us that still believes in something more, something better in this life. If a player can go out and make a near-impossible catch, break three tackles to score, or nail a field goal into the wind, anything is possible. We see a shimmer of hope in our own lives.

I came out of the womb an Auburn Tiger fan. In the state of Alabama, children are born either an Auburn or an Alabama fan. Well, some folks are from one of them there mixed households, but we won’t talk about them, okay?

I even earned a diploma from Auburn University, which is just short of every little boy’s dream in this state: both attending and playing for their favored university. I figured a B.A. was close enough. I at least got to spend four hours every home game in the fall standing in the student section to cheer my team on. There are few things in life sweeter than that for a smalltown Alabama boy.

No matter what team each person roots for, there’s one thing that’s certain: he or she will be watching a football game on Saturday.

As I write this, I’m winding down from the teeth-gnashing battle between LSU and Auburn. My team lost the game, but that’s irrelevant in a match like this. Auburn was lucky to even be considered an underdog. It’s a “building year,” as they say. With a 1-2 record going into the game (our only win in an overtime match against a “cupcake” team), most fans would be happy if our team simply competed.

The Tigers done much more than compete. They played the game like it was meant to be played. They played as if they had the hopes and dreams of all their fans riding on each tick of the clock. They played Southern football.

Competing with the #2-ranked team in the country until the 0:00 mark is what it’s all about. I’ll count our 12-10 loss as a victory any day.

From tomorrow morning before taking their seats in the pews until next Saturday, people across this great state will be talking about this game. They’ll ask, “Did you see that catch by Emory Blake?” They’ll point out how undersized linebackers and defensive backs stepped up and made tackles. Some of the crimson-clad fans will even be a little worried about that game in late November.

For once, the scoreboard doesn’t matter.

I want to thank the players and coaches from Auburn University, my alma mater, for reminding us down here in the Deep South why we get out of bed every Saturday morning and giving us the most important thing of all — hope. War Damn Eagle!