Wednesday, September 28, 2016
It's football again in America, and all is right with the world. Summer days, oppressive and cruel, like North Korean dictators, will soon meet their demise. Leaves will soon turn to glorious shades of burnt orange, and also occasionally other colors like yellow or hideous crimson. Days become shorter; nights are longer and tinged with firewood smoke.
It also means tailgating is back. Football season is fried alligator served in the bayous of Baton Rouge drowned with Abita Turbo Dog. Football season is smoked salmon upon the party boats of Lake Washington adjacent to Husky Stadium. Football season is for brisket cook-offs and show-offs in Austin.
Football season is for The Grove. Sweet mercy of The Gods, it was made for The Grove.
One other beautiful aspect of football season are the rivalries. Some have stayed with us (Alabama-Auburn, Michigan-Ohio State, Army-Navy). Others have faded with time and conference reshuffling (Texas-Texas A&M, Kansas-Missouri, Notre Dame-Michigan). Then there's another class of rivalries that haven't been born just yet, and it's unclear why that's the case. Here are three rivalries that the college football world needs to see.
1. Virginia-West Virginia
On the surface, this seems like a classic border skirmish we see so often in college football. Texas-Oklahoma and Michigan-Ohio State both come to mind in this respect. However, both the states' history and the culture clashes make this one so much more compelling.
West Virginia used to be a part of Virginia. However, it broke away from the rest of the state in 1861 when Virginia became a part of the Confederacy. Virginia had a vested interest in slavery, but West Virginia's farmers were less reliant on the trade. The differences were irreconcilable, and the state we know today as West Virginia joined the Union as our 35th state in 1863.
That seems to run contrary to what most people would think in 2016. The University of Virginia was founded by Thomas Jefferson, and the entire campus along with Jefferson's home, Monticello, are World Heritage Sites. UVA is widely regarded as one of the most prestigious public schools in the country, and has an oversized reputation for snobbery.
I visited Charlottesville when I did a hiking trip of Shenandoah National Park a few years ago. I have never seen so many BMWs with vanity plates in one spot in all my life. Even better were the 18-21 kids that I talked to that drove these cars thinking that their scholastic achievements bought them their BMW. I don't think it ever dawned on them that Mommy and Daddy bought them their car.
Those criticisms aside, it really is an amazing campus.
The first picture is the campus at sunset. The other picture is one that I took at the nearby Monticello vineyards. Jefferson was inspired by Palladian archtecture which emphasizes the symmetry of Greek and Roman design. Everyone you go on the UVA campus, you see Jefferson's influence. You understand quickly why this became a World Heritage Site. Whatever criticisms I have of the kids that go to UVA, I cannot criticize where they are going. It was the first public university in America, and still possibly the best.
Then there's West Virginia.
In case you haven't heard, West Virginia burns couches. A lot of them. Morgantown goes through couches at about the same rate that the Dudley Boyz went through tables. The Mountaineers are profanity-laced, couch burning, chaw-chewing SOBs. Cavalier, they aren't.
And that's what makes this potential rivalry so compelling. West Virginia and Virginia are border rivals that share virtually nothing in common except their own paradoxes. The University of Virginia is an elitist university founded by a slave-owning president who knocked up one of his servants. The state of West Virginia was founded in an attempt to break away from slavery, but now have perhaps the worst employment situation in the union. UVA prides itself on driving cars with fine leather upholstery. West Virginia looks at fine leather upholstery as kindling.
It would be a clash of the aristocracy bonded by slavery versus the deeply conservative hillbillies who fought to save the union. No matter who wins this potential grudge match, the booze will flow after the game. Chardonnays for Charlottesville, white lightning for Morgantown.
2. North Carolina-South Carolina
Here's another border skirmish that sounds like it should be a huge rivalry. We all know North Carolina hates Duke especially in basketball. We all know that South Carolina hates Clemson especially in everything. But how come North Carolina and South Carolina don't hate each other? This seems like this should be such a natural rivalry for a few different reasons.
First off, North Carolina is far more metropolitan than South Carolina. The Charlotte metro area is a shade over 2 million people, and the city itself is the seventeenth largest in the country. Charlotte is respected as one of the financial hubs of the south. Bank of America is based out of Charlotte, and Wells Fargo's east coast operations are located there as well. As a result, Charlotte is the second-largest banking center in the United States.
Contrast that to South Carolina's largest city, the state capital of Columbia, which has only 130,000 residents. Columbia's biggest industries all have government ties, including the University of South Carolina and its proximity to Fort Jackson, the Army's largest installation for Basic Combat Training. Meanwhile, Raleigh, North Carolina, the state capital, sits in the heart of the Research Triangle, one of the United States' premier regions for higher education and medical schools. That area includes North Carolina in Chapel Hill along with NC State in Raleigh and Duke in Durham. As a result, the Research Triangle has attracted top-flight employers from across the country including GE, DuPont and Sony.
So we know that North Carolina is bigger and more erudite than South Carolina, but the Tar Heels also boast one of America's great treasures. North Carolina is home to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the most visited national park in America, and from a certain angle, it looks like this:
The Great Smokies have been designated a World Heritage Site, and almost 20 million people visited the park last year. That's double the number of the visitors to the Grand Canyon. In contrast, South Carolina also has a national park but few even know of its existence.
Congaree National Park was designated as such in 2003, but in 2015, Congaree attracted a mere 87,513 visitors. It didn't help matters either when that same year, Congaree was ripped as one of America's worst national parks due to the proliferation of snakes, mosquitoes and poison ivy along with its swamp-like nature. (Full disclosure: I've been to Congaree, and I'll stick up for it. I enjoyed my hike there and others have as well.)
You'd think at this point, South Carolina would really want a piece of North Carolina what with their fancy cities and famous national parks. But we haven't even discussed barbecue yet. One thing I've learned over the years is that there's no better way to piss someone off than to state matter-of-factly, "Our barbecue is better than yours."
All throughout the south and midwest, them's fightin' words.
North Carolina is famous for their Piedmont style of barbecue which consists of smoked pork served in a "red" sauce blend of ketchup, vinegar and spices. South Carolina barbecue, meanwhile, is regarded as "Carolina gold" smoked pork topped with a a mustard-based sauce mixed with vinegar and brown sugar.
North Carolina and South Carolina seem like they should be natural rivals. City versus country. Pristine wonders versus serpentine trails. Ketchup versus mustard. We need North Carolina to play South Carolina every year as a neutral site game in Charlotte for sixty full minutes of fight.
And the rest of us will pass the sauce in delight.
I'm going to commit sports blasphemy here. The Texas-Oklahoma rivalry is way overrated. The first problem is the location. It's a neutral site game in Dallas, a city which manages to combine the worst things about Texas (Bible-thumping conservatism) with the worst things about Southern California (pretentious elitism). Dallas is home to pastor Robert Jeffress who claimed that he would vote for Donald Trump over Jesus Christ, the Farting Pastor Robert Tilton, and the proudly-owned motto Keep Dallas Pretentious.
Here's the other big problem with the Texas-OU rivalry. The game is played at the Cotton Bowl on the grounds of the Texas State Fair. If you win, your big reward for victory is sampling some of most heart attack-inducing foods on the planet. This year "award" semi-finalists include fried Jello and Deep Fried Pulled Pork “FUNYUN®” Dings.
So just to recap: If your team wins, you get to stay in Dallas and have a heart attack alongside pretentious, farting, Bible-thumping morons. If your team loses, you get to leave Dallas.
I gotta say...I'm not seeing a downside to losing here.
Furthermore, even if you moved the Texas-OU rivalry out of Dallas, and made it a home-and-home series, are there really Longhorns who would want to hang out in Norman, OK for a weekend, especially after stories like this?
I would make the case that Texas-LSU could be a way better rivalry for a few different reasons starting with the various locations you could play the game. A home-and-home series would work for everyone. Tiger fans can come to Austin, and enjoy barbecue, Shiner Bocks, margaritas, the Hill Country and live country music. Longhorn fans can go to Baton Rouge and enjoy gumbo, Abita Turbo Dogs, hurricanes, a side trip to New Orleans and live zydeco. In addition, you could play a neutral site game in Houston which serves as a melting pot for Cajun and Texan cultures, especially after so many Louisianans moved to Houston after Hurricane Katrina.
Secondly, Texas and Louisiana both share a common border so it would capture the same feel that Texas and Oklahoma already have. Plus, both Austin and Baton Rouge are state capitals so our respective governors could make insane bets that only come from people who love football and stupid crap way too much. Bets like if LSU wins, the Texas governor has to eat a live crawfish. But if Texas wins, Louisiana's governor has to saddle up on a bucking bronco during a rodeo. Stuff like that.
I'm not willing to throw away the Texas-OU rivalry, but let's face it. A weekend with the Cajuns busting your chops sounds way better than a weekend with the Sooners busting your balls.
Longhorns and Tigers, let's make this happen. You bring the crawfish, we'll bring the brisket.