Southern Baptists and college football

David Epps's picture

When I was in New York during the fall, a few of us from the South were talking Southeastern Conference football. One of the local guys said, “You guys from down South sure talk a lot about college football.”

“Well, yeah!” I replied.

“We don’t do that so much up here,” he responded.

“Well, no,” I shared. “Why would you? You folks think that Rutgers and Princeton have football teams. They even televise the Harvard vs. Yale game here!”

And, truthfully, I question whether Yale or Harvard could defeat the better teams from the large high schools below the Mason-Dixon Line.

There are, historically, two dominant faiths in the South — college football and the Southern Baptist Church. Anybody who doubts that there is religion in the South has never been to Knoxville, or Athens, or in any of the other 10 Southeastern Conference cities on a fall Saturday.

There is another powerful force making itself known in Southern football circles and that is the Atlantic Coast Conference. It’s just a good thing that college football isn’t played on Sunday.

I’m not sure why we Southerners are such rabid football fans. It isn’t limited to college football, either. In the South, football is king even in high school — perhaps, especially in high school.

Valdosta High School won 23 state championships between 1940 and 1998. Crosstown rival Lowdnes High School has won five state titles since 1980.

I came from a high school program that, to this day, has the winningest football record in the state of Tennessee (over 700 wins) and holds the most Tennessee state football championships at 13.

However, the other schools in the area were just as proud and just as passionate about their football programs — even if they were tiny schools with losing records.

Perhaps it’s because for years, there were limited sports and entertainment options for Southerners. Or, perhaps it’s because that for decades there were no professional teams in the South. Or maybe it’s just because Southerners are drawn to manly, challenging sports and football is not a game for the faint of heart.

Whatever the reasons, Southerners love their football as much as they like their grits — and they are good at it. There are 12 teams in the Southeastern Conference. This year, 10 of those teams received invitations to post-season bowl games. Of the 12, only two of the teams had a losing record.

Twenty-five times, the national championship has gone to an SEC team and 10 times the Heisman Trophy has been won by a player of a Southeastern Conference school. If you go outside the SEC, the Heisman has gone to a Southern player 19 times.

This year, the national championship went again to a Southern team, either to Alabama from the SEC or to Texas . And yes, Texas is part of the Old South whether they want to admit it or not. If not for all the Tennesseans who volunteered to serve at the Alamo (more Tennesseans than Texans, in fact), Texas today might just be known as “Northeastern Mexico.” But, this is about football and not old political alliances.

It is a given among sportscasters and professional pundits that the SEC is the toughest football conference in the nation and that, for the most part, SEC schools play schedules that are among the most consistently difficult. There have been great teams in modern times that have built reputations: Nebraska, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, and others. If one goes back really far in time, (1869-1873) Princeton (who won four “national titles” in a row by only playing five games total), and others of note built dynasties during the pioneer days. But overall, in the modern era, Southern football dominates — and especially SEC and ACC football.

The college football season is now over. For 165 years, the Southern Baptist Church has made its presence known. For 149 of those years, college football has been part of the American scene. Both will still be here when next season rolls around.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277, between Peachtree City and Newnan. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m.(www.ctkcec,org) He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Fellowship in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.]

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