What’s better than a college football weekend in the South? This weekend we were in Clemson, where the football is great and the tailgating is even better. It’s been said that in the South college football is almost a religion, and you certainly can’t deny the fans’ passion. And when you think about it, college football actually has a few things in common with the Catholic Church. After all, if it’s good enough for Touchdown Jesus, it’s good enough for us.
We Catholics know that different colors of clerical vestments represent different seasons and occasions in the Church and there is meaning to the alb and other parts of the liturgical “uniform”. Instead of marking a season, colleges use color combinations and symbols to evoke a pride of place. Clemson’s orange and purple represent a sunset over the Blue Ridge mountains in the upstate of South Carolina and everyone knows–at least those who went to UNC–that the sky is Carolina Blue. College uniforms often also convey deeper messages or signs of support for their community. The Air Force Academy wore uniforms that simply read “SERVICE” or “FREEDOM” on the back instead of individual names to emphasize their shared values. The Oregon Ducks wear gloves this season that show the mascot stomping on the word cancer, designed by a pediatric cancer patient at the university hospital. Navy has six stripes on the shoulder, representing its six fleets, and the University of Houston wore “Texas Strong” patches after Hurricane Harvey.
There is no doubt the Church and college football offer beautiful (but very different) pageantry, and I know we Catholics have some traditions that outsiders just don’t get (smells and bells, anyone?), but so do college football fans. Did you know Auburn students toilet-paper their own campus after a big win? University of Pennsylvania fans throw toast during the singing of the school song, while those at Texas Tech throw tortillas. From Texas’ own Bevo to Georgia’s Uga, live mascots add to the celebration–Colorado even runs a buffalo across the field (she’s been know to knock over her handlers on more than one occasion, perhaps that’s part of the attraction).
All of this brings me to the real reason I love college football. College football is catholic with a small “c” —it truly brings everyone together. Walking around Clemson Saturday afternoon, we saw multi-generational tailgates, everyone from toddlers to grandparents enjoying time together. College fandom doesn’t care about race or religion or politics. It doesn’t require a degree, just a love of place and an enthusiastic heart. After a week of devastating news and so many months of divisive politics, the simple joy of a college town on game day was a tonic to the soul. So while you’ll find me at Mass on Sunday, on a fall Saturday, I’ll be in the church according to college football.