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By Edward B. Driscoll, Jr.
All eyes in the sports world will be focused on the hardwood action of March Madness for the next few weeks, but Southerners’ thoughts are never far from the gridiron. Basketball is just a distraction from their first love until it’s time for the kickoff of another football season.
Chris Queen, a son of the South and diehard Georgia Bulldogs fan, captures that passion perfectly in his e-book “Football, Faith, and Flannery O’Connor: A Love Letter to the South.”
Although he had a full-ride scholarship, Queen picked the University of Georgia in part because of his lifelong loyalty to the football team, one of several storied programs in the Southeastern Conference. His book is structured as a journey from Georgia to Florida and goes through Athens, the home of his alma mater.
That’s when he starts rattling off a list of impressive statistics about the South, including 38 national championships for Georgia’s sports teams, 26 of them since 1999. Football is at the core of that athletic resume. Here are five facts about the sport that defines an entire region of America:
- Thirteen of the top 25 moneymaking college football programs (as of 2013) are from the South. Texas tops the list, followed by Alabama, Auburn and Georgia in the top five. The other Southern teams are: Florida, Louisiana State, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Clemson, which lost to Alabama in this year’s championship.
- Some of the biggest and oldest football rivalries are in the South. The one that matters most to Queen, and that dates back to the early 1900s, pits Georgia against Florida. Others include Alabama versus Auburn, Mississippi versus Mississippi State and Tennessee versus Vanderbilt. The rivalries, Queen said, underscore that “Southerners are crazy about sports!”
- Southerners’ love of football isn’t limited to college. Eight of the top 10 high school football towns ranked by Collegestats.com in 2012 were down South, as are 11 of the top 20 states that produce college football players. “The old cliché about entire towns shutting down on Friday nights for football games isn’t that far-fetched in some Southern hamlets even today,” Queen said.
- The best football traditions are in the region. Georgia’s beloved mascot, Uga, is part of a line of English bulldogs from a family in Savannah. The VOL Navy Boaters Association fills the Tennessee River with boats. The student body of Texas A&M serves the symbolic role of “Twelfth Man.” And Clemson players touch Howard’s Rock for good luck as they take the field.
- The Southern fascination with football continues at the professional level. The Dallas Cowboys, who have won five Super Bowls, are known as “America’s Team.” “Southern pride is a powerful motivator for sports fans below the Mason-Dixon Line,” Queen said.