Why the South Loves Football (An Excerpt from In the Arena)

Have you ever wondered why the Southeastern United States cares so much about college football? Here is a short excerpt from my book, In the Arena: The Promise of Sports for Christian Discipleship to help explain. It is timely since Alabama is playing Washington in this year’s College Football Playoff:

Wayne Flynt, Professor Emeritus in the Department of History at Auburn University, suggests that the South’s devotion to college football is rooted in regional pride associated with the attempt to recover from the post-Reconstruction era. He notes that when Alabama headed to the 1926 Rose Bowl as a laughable opponent against the heavily favored Washington Huskies, the president of rival Auburn sent a telegram telling them, “You are defending the honor of the South, and God’s not gonna let you lose this game.”1

Flynt also quotes the Vanderbilt coach saying after Alabama’s stunning upset, “Alabama was our representative fighting against the world. I fought, bled, died, and was resurrected with the Crimson Tide.”2 William J. Baker writes that after Alabama’s victory, “Southern partisans joined in a kind of regional hallelujah chorus.”3 The Alabama victory was immortalized in the school’s fight song as fans continue to sing, “Remember the Rose Bowl, we’ll win then. Go, roll to victory, Hit your stride, You’re Dixie’s football pride, Crimson Tide, Roll Tide, Roll Tide!”

In the southeastern United States, football has taken on a mythic quality. Auburn University’s institutional school creed written in 1943 contains a focal reference to the priority of sports at the school: “I believe in a sound mind, in a sound body and a spirit that is not afraid, and in clean sports that develop these qualities.”

Football Saturdays in the South are not just games; they are cultural events similar to a massive family reunion. The pageantry and rootedness of cheering for the local school with which you identify is a contemporary reflection of southern agrarian rootedness. Flynt writes, “Football offered southern men a chance to assert their masculinity and the South’s physical supremacy short of actually taking up arms.”4 The regional rootedness of football in the South is still on display as Southeastern football fans often chant, “S-E-C, S-E-C, S-E-C” when a Southeastern Conference school triumphs over a school from another region and it also helps explain the South’s preference for college sports over professional sports.


1. As quoted in Rick Bragg’s “Down Here,” (August 8, 2012) http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/8240383/rick-bragg-explains-history-traditions-south-obsession-football-espn-magazine accessed August 26, 2015.

2. Wayne Flynt, Alabama in the Twentieth Century, (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2006), 419.

3. William J. Baker, Playing with God: Religion and Modern Sport (Cambridge: Harvard Press, 2007), 106.

4. Wayne Flynt, Keeping the Faith: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2011), 215.

By |December 29th, 2016|Categories: Blog|Tags: , |

About the Author:

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, the BGEA and Preaching Today