Friday, December 6, 2013

A Season of Miracles: Faith and Football

For Southern girls, there are three things we're raised not to talk about at the dinner table: politics, religion,
and money.

Football, though? That's all in.

So it may shock my usual readership to find me writing about faith and football, or rather, finding faith through football, because that's just not a part of my usual repartee. And although I don't see that changing in the near future, things have gotten just too damn weird to keep my mouth shut.

For Auburn Tiger fans, this has been a season of miracles.

And some of those miracles have felt awful damn personal.

I've been through a lot of hell these past few months. Some of you know this. Many of you don't, because, like religion, I can't stand to whine and doom and gloom people to death, even though I could. Oh, could I ever. So I'll keep it short. In the past eight months, I have dealt with or been affected by: alcoholism, addiction, foreclosure, job loss, mental illness, homelessness, alienation from family and friends, and a complicated (even dangerous) pregnancy.

Yes. I have been through The Shit. And this led to being kind of (massively) pissed off at God. It wasn't a crisis of faith so much as an in-the-bone conviction that God was a bastard who, for whatever reason, currently enjoyed ruining my life. So we pretty much weren't on speaking terms, God and I, for a while there.

And then, life changed, as it tends to do, and I found myself getting back on my feet again in a beautiful part of the world where I get to write books and look after my baby girl and see the water every single day. Water is like church to me. The ocean is best, but the big private spring-fed lake that's so still and perfect it looks just like glass (really, it's like a mirror) right off the back porch is a fantastic second.

But I'm still kind of pissed at God and we're not really talking much. Until the Auburn v. Georgia game three weeks ago.

Georgia was supposed to beat us. They are a damned fine team. But we fought them hard- tooth and nail- and in the fourth quarter, we were trying to pull off a desperate pass to win the game. It looked like we weren't going to make it, because the ball went to a hulking Georgian instead of our guy.

Here's where things get weird.

I'm thinking about God, and how pissed I've been, and wondering if now would be an okay time to bring up football with him. See, I really want Auburn to win, because I lived there for over a decade. It's where I wrote my first book, raised my children, buried pets, bought a home, taught at the university, and generally behaved like a grown up for the first time ever. And I miss it. I still get achingly, gut-stabbingly homesick, especially on game days. The whole city wore orange and blue and the smell of grilling meat blanketed the air while total strangers high-fived and "War Damn Eagle"d each other, and if we won? If we won. We'd park blocks from downtown because you couldn't possibly jam your car any closer and storm Toomer's Corner, defacing totally innocent oak trees with toilet paper while screaming our heads off, knowing we were all, in that moment, masters of our little nugget of the universe, and no one would ever be able to take it away.

Now the ball's in the air. It's headed towards Georgia. Which means we will loose. And that's when I start talking to God.

I say something like: God, I've been really pissed at you. I'm still not sure I should be talking to you, especially about football, and I really shouldn't be asking you to help out our team, because what if you don't? What if I ask, and we lose anyway? I'll feel like you hate me even more. And I'll want to talk to you even less. And football is a terrible thing to pray for anyway, isn't it? Shouldn't I save my prayers for world peace and all that bullshit? But I really, really want this win. Because a win would feel like home right now, and I am really, really homesick, and things have really, really sucked. So, ummm.... what do you think? Help a girl out?

The ball's in the air. It slips through the hands of not one, but TWO, Georgia players like it's hot buttered sin straight on its way to Vegas. Ricardo Louis catches it, and finishes his all-out run for the end zone.

Touchdown Auburn.

The announcer is screaming "Miracle at Jordan Hare! Miracle at Jordan Hare!" Grown men faint like little girls. I'm on the edge of the couch, jaw gaping, because really, what are the odds? The sports world has certified it as a genuine, bona-fide miracle. Northcutt Realty runs the "miracle" play over and over again on their sign downtown. Aubie the Tiger dresses up like a freakin' angel. An angel, dammit.

And so I admit it, in just a tiny corner of my heart: God, you may be a bastard, but you have one damn fine (and timely) sense of humor. Oh, and yeah... thanks for helping out our boys.

Fast forward two weeks. It's the Iron Bowl, Alabama v. Auburn, and boy do I hate those bastards. See, I attended U of A too, as an undergrad, and it was one of the most miserable experiences of my life. So I feel like I have the authority to decree it a cesspool of shoddy academics and a den of vice, and I want to beat the #1 football team in the country more than I have wanted anything in a long, long time. The Miracle lurks in the back of my mind, making me go "hmmm," making me wonder, making me walk just a little bit lighter on the earth.

We're playing great, with speed and precision, and we're wearing them down, the bastards. We're rattling their quarter back and their kicking game is for shit. I mean, I've seen little girls in Sunday school kick better. But they're ahead, and what do you expect, they're #1 after all. But I. Want. This.

At the start of the fourth quarter, I actually get down on my knees. I tell God (who's apparently been upgraded to frenemy) that I'm not getting up until the end of the game. I throw in that I'll go to mass, too, and then get mad at myself for bargaining with a deity. About football. I'm not supposed to do that, right? I heard that somewhere churchy, I think. But I do it anyway, and it feels almost like a dare. Go on, God. Give me a reason to start hating you again.

We tie the game. Overtime! I throw another three masses into the pot. And I groan a little because damn, my knees hurt, but I'm not getting up. No way. Because maybe, just maybe...

Alabama wrangles out a second on the clock. They kick. They sucketh mightily. A guy in an Auburn jersey shoots out from the end zone, looking like an orange and blue gazelle. His teammates block for him, taking out huge hulking guys who are gunning for his blood. He makes it. All the way down the football field.

Touchdown Auburn. No overtime. Another damn miracle. I may now get off my knees.

Everyone is freaking out. A player leaps into the stands. Nick Saban looks like he's just been very publicly pantsed. Woo hoo! Auburn fans storm the field, a sea of orange and blue. We are going to the SEC championship game. We have just won SEC West. We beat the #1 team, our arch-nemesis, in the perfect storm of skill and sweat and luck and faith, and if that's not a miracle I don't know what is.

Oh, and I now owe God hardcore.

Maybe I'll start with an apology.

What about tomorrow, when we face Mizzou in Atlanta? Will this grudge-faith of mine, so newly won, hold the line? Is there such a thing as miracle fatigue? I don't know. I don't have answers. But I do have faith in my team, the glory of a season of miracles, and the knowledge that Auburn will always, in some form, be there for me, even if only in memories and football.

For now, it is enough.