Looking for those special kinds of fans

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Got an email the other day from Bryan Curtis at ESPN.com who wanted to talk SEC football.
Specifically, fans of SEC football.
Why me?
Well, a few years ago I was the editor of the “Sports and Recreation” volume of The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, which apparently put me on the “go-to” list of sports writers who needed someone to go to.
Curtis was looking for comments (which I all too readily give) and insights (which from me are generally in short supply) about how “fans in the stands at college football games,” the ones the TV cameras zoom in on, “come to possess the characteristics of their schools.”
As an example he included a link to a picture of a couple of Tennessee devotees – hillbillies down from the hills, decked out in orange and looking appropriately sullen, which is the  way Tennessee fans look these days. It went viral, much to the chagrin of UT and the delight of the rest of the SEC. After he hung up I realized that the next weekend I had an opportunity to observe fandom up close and personal, for I would be attending the Auburn-Mississippi State game.
The schools are a lot alike.  Both are agricultural universities and as such were early branded as “cow colleges” by the more “refined” institutions in the state.
Ole Miss fans call MSU “The School Beneath Us,” a moniker that implies more than geography.  MSU counters by calling Ole Miss “TSUN” (“The School Up North”) but the retort lacks the sting that comes with “Beneath.”
University of Alabama supporters play on the “cow college” theme and call Auburn “Barners.”  Auburn fans strike back with “Gumps” (as in “Forrest”) and “Bamas” (which is a term of derision up north, though I doubt if down here many supporters on either side know that).
Naturally, some are so caught up in the rivalry that they begin dressing and acting the part.  What is interesting is that many of most devout show their loyalty with attire that embodies the very stereotypes opponents created to insult them.
For Mississippi State’s contribution, check out “Stingray” on YouTube Complete with cowbells (MSU’s signature noise maker) and a (stuffed) cow, he is everything that makes more sophisticated State fans cringe.  (Ole Miss fans will tell you that there are no sophisticates at MSU, and therefore no cringing.)
Then listen to Auburn “superfan” Tammy’s “epic rant” on the Paul Finebaum Show (Tammy might have been the loud-mouth female fan who crashed my Daddy’s tailgating at an AU game. She wore an ORANGE sweat suit, with War Eagle emboldened across her broad butt.
Happily she wasn’t sitting close to  us..
So Saturday the family loaded up and off we went.
It was a disappointment – and not just the outcome.
Instead of hoards of outrageously dressed folks from the school beneath the school up north, the MSU crowd I saw milling around were neatly turned out in team colors and except for the occasional bulldog (their mascot) inspired headgear, they were tastefully suited up, Same for the Auburn faithful. There were some exceptions. Tiger hats are to be expected, but I still haven’t figured out why one guy wore a cap honoring Sponge-Bob-Square-Pants or Pokemon.  I could not get close enough to tell which.
After the game a few cowbells clanked, but since it was played in Auburn there was not the din that Ole Miss fans find so obnoxious.
Being in the stadium I cannot say if the TV cameras found fans-in-the-stands to “characterize” either of the cow colleges playing that day, but from what I saw I didn’t see them.
Inside Jordan-Hare the images the “Fan-Cam” projected on the BIG Screen were those of folks acting silly when they saw their faces up there in HD.
Then it was over and except for a few of those cowbells and a particularly less-than-charitable chant by the MSU band, there was nothing much to report.  No in-your-face-insults, no fights (as were reported after a recent game between other Alabama and Mississippi schools), nothing more than the usual moaning-groaning-gnashing-of-teeth by the loser and a lot of grinning (and occasional “whoop”) by the winner.
Later, back at the RVs, the bars and maybe the barns, it might have gotten a bit more rowdy, but I never saw “Stingray” or a reasonable facsimile thereof. If there was a “superfan” Tammy wandering about, the loss muted her – which for an Auburn fan might be the best thing that came from the game.
So I will leave it to Curtis from ESPN to root out fans that characterize their schools.  If this was supposed to be a clash between “cow colleges,” I’m sorry feller, but I didn’t find much, “fanwise,” to help you.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.

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