Originally published in The Elberton Star and The Northeast Georgian, January 13, 2016.
In a flurry of text messages, my book club girlfriends reminded me why we get along so well. Half of them didn’t realize the National Championship was happening Monday night either. In face, I was pretty pleased with myself for already knowing Clemson was playing Alabama for the coveted title—and I could even tell you who ‘Bama’s coach is because he’s brave enough to own a lake house in the heart of Bulldog country.
I had to respond with a “Go, Tigers!” because my parents are Clemson alumni, but it’s my mama who’s always been the die-hard fan. She threw a spoon at the television one Saturday night while cooking supper, and we kids learned to duck if Clemson’s defense wasn’t holding. (She’ll tell you I’m making this up for dramatic effect, but I promise it’s true.) This past Christmas she bought my cousin (whom she loves more than me during football season) a wooden ornament from the Corder’s General Store down the road. It had a tiger paw handpainted in bright orange, and Mama told Heather, “This is our year.”
Sometimes she’s a prophetess.
Because from what I hear, those Tiger-boys delivered an upset worthy of remembrance. Mama also says the last time they won a National Championship she was pregnant with my brother and now his wife’s pregnant with their son and she thinks that’s pretty profound.
I think it’s the perfect illustration of how we all love our connections to things that seem bigger and more important than our small, everyday lives. Since I knew I wanted to say a few words, I did a little reading and discovered Clemson’s beloved quarterback is a north Georgia boy, and I grinned wide over one sports reporter’s reflection. He watched that kid grow up in Gainesville to lead the rec league and the high school to accolades that probably felt as good in that moment as Monday night did with that biggest of college trophies.
People will say, after all, it’s just a game. But any coach or teacher or player will tell you the game can be so much more. It can be a place where weak boys learn to become strong men, where sore losers learn to become gracious winners, where the lost become the found. I don’t even have to follow a particular team or player to know all that is true. I just have to file back through my memories of teaching middle school or watching the Elbert County Blue Devils bring home their state title in 1995.
Now this game, that was played under bright lights and fought hard until the last moment, is over, and America is set to see the next one come to life. Soon we’ll swear in a new President, and there are those who swear they’ll never wear his colors. That’s okay. We don’t all have to cheer for the same team to recognize the end goal is about more than winning—it’s about how your character is played when your team loses.
Right now I’m watching the Inauguration coverage live… and have so much respect for Hillary Clinton’s attendance today and President Trump’s initiation of a standing ovation in her honor. It is my prayer that our nation would find common ground, once again, on the issues we all believe matter: kindness, goodness, selfless-ness.
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