Kane Webb: 25 Reasons Why the SEC Matters Most


Our territorial college football obsession is okay. Really.

1. The origin story seems quaint in retrospect. The first I heard of Arkansas’ potential move from the scandal-ridden Southwest Conference to the Southeastern Conference was a blurb buried in the newspaper in the summer of 1990. Can’t recall if it was in the Arkansas Gazette or the Arkansas Democrat. But I do remember covering the press conference announcing the move later that year as a member of the Democrat sports staff. There were plenty of empty seats. It was a big deal, yes, but it seemed more like a convenient address change than anything. At the time, the SWC, once nearly as football dominant as the SEC is today, was notorious for cheating, cheating some more and getting caught cheating. The Hogs had become smeared by association. So Frank Broyles, in perhaps his most visionary move, found a better neighborhood. If memory serves, many of us at that press conference expected Texas to be along shortly. Whatever happened to the Longhorns, anyway? 

2. Excellence. Even if the team you love is Arkansas, you can say it plays in the best football conference in the country. And never mind that you, me and the nine folks in line at Starbucks could do just as well as the Hogs did a year ago in the SEC. (1) Eons ago, after covering an Arkansas blowout of Texas Tech in an SWC snoozer at Lubbock, I bemoaned to the late great Orville Henry just how much the game bored. Henry looked shocked. He pointed out that Arkansas, then in Ken Hatfield’s flexbone offense, had played flawlessly most of the night. “I appreciate watching excellence,” Henry said. I think about that when I’m watching, say, Alabama and LSU in a typical heavyweight SEC fight. O.H. had it right.

3. SEC football acts as a kind of regional bonding agent. Glue. Common ground. Been to the Redneck Riviera lately? The parking lots (bumper stickers, license plate frames, flags), grocery stores and tourist traps look more like Atlanta on SEC championship weekend than Orange Beach. There’s a wonderfully gaudy t-shirt shop in Gulf Shores — the entrance is a giant shark’s mouth — that features SEC mugs and doo-dads mixed in with the jars of shark fetuses in formaldehyde and hermit crabs with painted shells. (2) You know where I find the biggest crowd of shoppers? The SEC section. It’s as if we’re all visiting relatives of the same extended family.

4. For Arkansans of a certain age, we may not have Texas to kick (us) around any more, but there’s Alabama, LSU, Florida, Auburn, Georgia . . . Which beats that 1970s run of Baylor, SMU, TCU, Rice, Texas Tech . . . wake me when we get to the bowl game . . . all to hell.

5. The South’s inferiority complex. Plenty of books have been written about the mind of the South, including The Mind of the South by W.J. Cash. (3) We can be touchy, defensive, quick to feel slighted, too independent-minded and cussed for our own good — and don’t even start down that Civil War, conquered-territory rabbit hole. The thing is, Southerners’ emotional investment in college football is surely rooted in some rich and complicated psychological soil. I majored in journalism, not psychology. Suffice to say that it feels a whole lot better when our team beats your team for reasons that should embarrass us a little, but don’t.

6. SEC football = the prettiest girl at the prom. And she’s our date.

7. Big-screen televisions are ubiquitous and (relatively) inexpensive. The other day at Best Buy, I noted that a 50-inch screen now costs about what I paid for a “big” 32-inch television years ago. My wife considered the 32-inch “monstrosity” audacious and dominating in our den. “Yes and yes,” I countered. “What’s your point?” These days, we can all play Roone Arledge in our media rooms or man caves, directing the sports coverage to meet our every whim and trip to the fridge for a cold one. With HDTV on a screen the size of your wall, you don’t have to be there to be there.

8. It gives us something to look forward to on Mondays. I belong to a group of email buddies who shall go nameless except by their college football affiliation. They are Hog fan, Hog fan, LSU fan, Penn State fan, Cornhusker fan and Missouri grad. (For NFL purposes, the breakdown is Cowboys fan, Cowboys fan, Eagles fan, Chiefs fan, Saints fan and Vikings fan.) One member of the group always starts Monday mornings with a weekend recap. (The SEC provides plenty of fodder.) And we’re off and typing, group-replying from morning till kickoff of Monday Night Football. Without that to look forward to on a Monday morning, none of us would get a thing done. Hell, we may not make it out of bed.

9. Because read this: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/eticket/story?page=southernfootball.

10. The games give you another reason to call your dad. Or think about him.

11. Schadenfreude > thrill of the game itself. “In his essay ‘On the Pleasure of Hating,’ William Hazlitt writes: ‘Nature seems (the more we look into it) made up of antipathies: without something to hate, we should lose the very spring of thought and action. . . . The white streak in our own fortunes is brightened (or just rendered visible) by making all around it as dark as possible; so the rainbow paints its form upon the cloud.’ In other words, when the heavily recruited quarterback of the heavily favored University of Florida Gators throws an interception on the first play from scrimmage — as happened in the 2013 Sugar Bowl — and a cornerback for the unfancied Louisville Cardinals runs it in for a touchdown, the rainbow — given that my own FSU Seminoles lost to the Gators just a few weeks before — glitters like a neon fiesta, all happy shades of schadenfreude.” — Diane Roberts, “Game of Tribes,” The Oxford American. There are lots of teams to hate in the SEC. Thank goodness. (4) 

12. The SEC Network. (Also see No. 7.) Did you know it debuts Aug. 14? Did you know the sun rises in the East? Can you believe it hasn’t happened before now?

13. Verne Lundquist. “How do you do?” “Myyyy goodness.” Yeah, I know. Some folks have had it up to their too-tight shirt collar with Verne’s style. Not me. Life-and-death games on a Saturday afternoon in SEC country demand melodrama. Ol’ Verne delivers.

14. Nick Saban. He seems to matter in ways I can’t quite figure out. He’s not especially charismatic. His teams don’t play the most entertaining football on the block. He seems to hate the media even more than we hate ourselves. And yet his appearance at SEC Media Days, or anywhere else below the Mason-Dixon, is akin to an audience with the pope. Oh yeah, he wins. All. The. Time.

15. Peyton Manning dances to Rocky Top — and we all know why. (5) 

16. Because even though the game didn’t involve the Hogs, you cheered/gasped/sat in wide-eyed shock at the ending of the Alabama-Auburn game last year. And, tell the truth, it’s one of those where-were-you-when? sports moments you’ve shared with buddies. Me? At home delaying dinner while waiting for overtime, the kid insisting that we watch the last second in regulation because you never know. Sure enough, you-never-know happened.

17.  In the SEC, a Johnny Football only comes around … oh, pretty much every year. There’ll never be another Herschel! Hello, Bo! What’ll the Hogs do when Matt Jones leaves? Meet D-Mac and Felix. The league won’t be the same without Tim Tebow? Look, there’s Cam Newton! The SEC abhors a celebrity-talent vacuum. The new Johnny Manziel is lifting weights right now. He just hasn’t been properly identified yet. But check back at the end of the year.

18. Your bucket list. It includes a trip to Oxford, Miss., to tailgate at the Grove. It includes attending an Iron Bowl. It includes an SEC championship game in Atlanta the next time the Hogs get there. (And because you’re a fan, you know there’ll be a next time.) It includes a road trip to Tuscaloosa as much for a visit to the original Dreamland Bar-B-Que as a game at Bryant-Denny. It includes attending a night game at Tiger Stadium. It includes surviving a night game at Tiger Stadium. 

19. SEC Media Days. Four days? FOUR DAYS?! You know how long the old SWC media days lasted? About four hours. We’d fly to Dallas and back on the same afternoon and be done with it. (6)

20. Bob Holt of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, one of the hardest-working and best guys in the business, has become a sportswriting cult hero among SEC media. (7)

21. Six straight national football championships drives fans of any other leagues abso-freakin’-lutely crazy. It’s the ultimate hole card in any who’s-better? argument.

22. Les Miles. Despite your better Hog self, you kinda dig him, don’t you? 

23. The ol’ ball coach. Did you catch Steve Spurrier on ESPN during his “car wash” day? He was wearing a sportcoat straight out of your father’s back closet, and he sounded like your dad, too. Brilliant. (8) 

24. Because My Conference Can Beat Your Conference should be the title of a book. And now it is. The book is by Paul Finebaum, the radio rabble-rouser and ESPN contributor (but who isn’t?). Is it even necessary to disclose which conference he’s talking about? Didn’t think so.

25. Texas couldn’t handle the SEC.

* * * 


1 That’d be 0-8. I’m reminded of a quip from Lou Holtz, who never knew a joke he couldn’t run into the ground: What do they call the person who finished last in his class at medical school? Doctor. What do they call the team that finished winless in the SEC? A member of the best conference in college football. 

 SEC Country

3 Also recommended: Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America by James Webb

4 http://www.oxfordamerican.org/articles/2013/sep/10/game-tribes/

5 http://sportsglory.com/office-talk/watch-peyton-manning-dances-rocky-top-broncos-camp/24435

6 The format for SWC Media Days — excuse me, Day — was simple. The head coach and two players from each school sat at a roundtable surrounded by half a dozen chairs or so. They took questions from reporters who would wander over and sit down. About 75 percent of the media hit the tables of Texas, Arkansas, A&M, maybe Baylor if Grant Teaff had ’em rolling or SMU if the NCAA was investigating again. One year, I sat down at what I thought was an empty table to take a break and scour my notes. When I looked up, I noticed that I had joined the Rice Owls’ media table. The Owls’ coach had left. I guess he got bored. The two remaining Owl players, dressed in suit and tie, sat quietly, shoulders hunched over books. “You guys studying?” I asked, half-joking. One of them looked up at me and said, simply, “Yes.” Then he returned to his book. It’s hard not to pull for Rice.


8 The “car wash” is ESPN slang for a player or coach spending a day at the sports behemoth’s Bristol, Conn., headquarters, appearing on one radio and television show after the next. It’s a wonder these guys don’t quit the profession after that. http://screengrabber.deadspin.com/never-change-obc-1609083398/+bubbaprog


Tags: , ,