TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The band at Galette's mashed up Werewolves of London with Sweet Home Alabama because, what the hell? Everything goes with Sweet Home Alabama. The blonde student outside the bar admitted her anxiety level had skyrocketed as the week barreled toward its conclusion. Not because of any test or paper, mind you, but for a reason she thought should be obvious to anyone.
"This is the biggest game of the season," she said.
The Game of the Year. The Game of the Century. The Game of the Millennium. The Game of the Year of the Century of the Millennium.
If you live above the Mason-Dixon Line or west of the Mississippi, you've gagged on hyperbole by now. You get it. LSU and Alabama will play a football game Saturday. LSU and Alabama have excellent football teams, so good that they are ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, by just about anyone who puts college football teams in order. LSU's coach is a bit quirky. Alabama's coach is a bit stern. But at 11:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, most of you will click off the television and move on with your lives. Your world will keep spinning.
For the blonde outside the bar, the world will stop -- if only momentarily -- if Alabama loses. For the guy in purple who hoisted the LSU flag from his RV on Thursday, the drive home to Louisiana will feel months long if the Tigers lose.
These people have real problems. Most of them -- except possibly for a handful of the more frequent callers to Paul Finebaum's radio show -- do not lack perspective. (Anyone who needs more perspective can stand at the corner of McFarland Boulevard and 15th Street, look left and right, and see where the April tornado turned a half-mile wide swath of civilization into a giant field of nothing.) But for this weekend, they will voluntarily set aside their real-world concerns and disappear into a universe where only this game matters. The team that wins will have the inside track on the national title. The team that loses will be an utter failure -- unless it can somehow sneak back into the national title race.
For a significant portion of the populations of Alabama and Louisiana, this game will mean everything, even if only for a weekend. And that's OK.
Go ahead and laugh if you want at the Southerners making too much out of a football game again. That's fine.
We're used to getting laughed at. When I was seven, I moved from Columbia, S.C., to Key Largo, Fla. The other kids heard my twang and thought I'd arrived from another planet. In middle school, a classmate identified my dad, who taught at the school, as the teacher who "talked country." In college, a fellow staffer at the student newspaper informed me that "some hick lady" had called asking for me. I picked up the phone and heard the voice of my mother, who left this world holding twice as many college degrees as the guy who couldn't appreciate the native accent of Alabama's Dallas County.
You make fun of what we eat, but that's probably because you don't know the proper proportions of salt, pepper and butter that turn grits from flavorless mush into the breakfast of champions. You make fun of the fact that we lost the Civil War, even though none of us had a hand in fighting it. A popular refrain since the SEC took ownership of major college football's national title on Jan. 8, 2007 is that Southerners are attempting to retroactively vacate Union Army victories every time an SEC team whips someone in the BCS title game. That simply isn't true. When Southerners chant S-E-C, it has nothing to do with Robert E. Lee.
It has everything to do with the fact that Southerners care more about football than anyone else, and at the moment two teams from the South happen to be playing football better than anyone else. Don't believe people here care more? Ask yourself this: How many blondes will stand outside a Palo Alto bar next Thursday and fret about whether Stanford's linebackers can tackle Oregon tailback Kenjon Barner in space?
Sure, people here have more important things to worry about. But when an Alabaman gets angry at LSU tight end DeAngelo Peterson for calling Alabama's linebackers "kind of slow and big," it takes his mind off the heavier stuff for a few minutes. When people in Louisiana stop what they're doing to watch LSU coach Les Miles sit on a tiger print chair next to Erin Andrews and discuss how much caffeine he needs to properly plan to attack Alabama's defense, it gives them a break from the grind. The potential joy -- and even the potential pain -- of Saturday night somehow makes everything else easier to bear.
So it's all right if smart people with important jobs spent part of their week wondering whether Alabama tailback Trent Richardson can break through LSU's beastly defensive line and into the linebacker corps, which, had an Alabama player done some analogous trash-talking, would have been described as "kind of fast and small." It's OK if they wonder whether LSU receiver Reuben Randle can get open against an Alabama secondary that includes four potential first-round draft picks.
Maybe Alabama coach Nick Saban will design the perfect game plan, and the Crimson Tide, who have their own mental conditioning coach, will focus completely and execute that plan perfectly. Maybe LSU coach Les Miles will reach down, pinch a few blades of grass and stuff them in his mouth before the Tigers run a fourth-down trick play to win the game. Either way, the anticipation is half the thrill. The other half will come Saturday, when the voice of a dead man called Bear growls and Bryant-Denny Stadium roars and two teams storm the field to decide who rules college football.
By next week, it probably won't be The Game of the Year of the Century of the Millennium anymore. But at least until 11:30 Saturday night, it will be.
And that's all that matters.