College Homecoming

College Homecoming.

Lawn decorations on sorority row. Tailgate tents on the quad. Grills smoking. Families and friends gathering. A parade through campus. Band playing.

All these things contributed to a festive atmosphere when I went to the University of Alabama this past weekend for Homecoming. It had been a long time…10 or 11 years…since I had traveled there for Homecoming, but I was so happy I went this year!

When I was in college, we got dates to every football game, so it was always fun, but the Homecoming game every year was more exciting…more festivities, more excitement, more parties. It never occurred to me then that “Homecoming” was actually a time to welcome back alumni. I just thought of it as the football team was coming back for a home game after an away game. Thinking of “alumni” was just not on my radar. And with good reason…I was young and self-centered, just like most young people.

The fact that Homecoming is really for alumni hit me after I had a child. Taking her to the Homecoming football game in 2011 was the perfect opportunity to showcase my alma mater to her. And as anyone who has ever visited the University of Alabama knows, it is a beautiful place…worthy of showing off. My daughter was just seven years old at the time, but she loved football…not much choice in my family…you either love football, or you’ll be miserable during football season, because watching football is what we do. So when she was seven, my daughter and I went with my friend, Angela, and her daughter, who was nine years old at the time.

I remember we made our way around sorority row soon after arriving. The lawn decorations are impressive every year, and little girls love them, so we made sure ours got to see all of them that day. The lawn decorations are a lot different than when I was in college. Back when I was in school, the lawn decorations were as tall as the house! We had to climb on scaffolding to “pomp” tissue paper into giant chicken wire structures to show our spirit for Homecoming week…outside with music blasting till wee hours of the morning…boys helping us till wee hours of the morning. It was great fun in the 1980s, but now, it seems they do most of the “pomping” indoors, and the much smaller structures are placed on the lawn afterward. No more scaffolding…kind of a shame, because it sure was fun!

That Homecoming in 2011, we walked over to the quad and visited friends who were tailgating. We ate lunch in the alumni tent, and we ran into lots of people we knew from our college days. That is what Homecoming is about…visiting your alma mater to see people and visit with college friends you don’t see on a regular basis.

And this year, we did exactly that…spent time with friends we haven’t spent much time with over the last few years. I even managed to spend a little time with a friend I had not seen in 20+ years…one of the sweetest souls I have ever known. In fact, she is the very friend who told me after a bad breakup in my late 20s, “Just think! You get to fall in love again!” I reminded her of that when I saw her, and I told her how much hope it gave me after that breakup. Now, it’s what I have told my 19-yr-old daughter to say to her friends after they go through bad breakups. Because really…there’s nothing like that “falling in love” feeling.

We ended our Homecoming visit with a little tailgate time with a friend who had folding chairs that rock in her tailgate area. Not gonna lie…it was fun catching up with her, and it was hard to get up from those rocking chairs when it was time to leave! There’s something extra relaxing about a rocking chair…and I could have drifted off to sleep right there. But we needed to get moving, so I had to get up.

We didn’t stay for the game. We were spending the night at Angela’s house in Montgomery, and because we had a 90 minute drive ahead of us, we opted out of the game. We drove home on the winding road from Tuscaloosa to Montgomery, reliving the moments of the day…doing what we call “Post Game Wrapup” of our day. And while we talked about the fun of the day, we reminisced about college too. We had lots of good times at the University of Alabama back in the 1980s. That’s when Angela and I became friends, and we each remember different funny things that happened, so we laughed a lot on the drive.

We barely got to spend any time with our daughters, both of whom are students there. We saw her daughter for about an hour, and literally saw mine for a total of about five minutes! But I was happy…if she’s not clinging to me, she’s happy. I drove back up the next day to spend Sunday night in a hotel, so we had more time to visit. Then o came home Monday night.

It was a successful Homecoming. Yes, the team won the football game, and that’s definitely necessary for a successful Homecoming, but it was mostly successful because we got to see people we care about…people with whom we shared fun experiences in college.

And that’s what Homecoming is about.

Your Moms are Watching

Your moms are watching.

College football is my favorite sport. Sure, it can bring out the good, the bad, and the ugly in people, but it is my very favorite sport. I look forward to football season every year. It’s fun, and it brings back lots of great memories of my childhood, my high school years, and especially my college years.

During college football season, we watch a lot of games at our house. Every Saturday, we somehow manage to get showers, have meals, and get some exercise before, between, or after games. But no matter what, during college football season, we find a way to watch football all day and night on Saturdays.

We love a good football game. And we love crowd shots. And most of the time, we get a good laugh at the antics we see on the television screen. Students at ESPN College Game Day, holding signs behind the commentators…trying to get on national TV. I always think most of them just want their mamas to see them. I can only imagine my own daughter at College Game Day, holding up a silly sign…and if she got on screen, she would likely call me to see if I spotted her. If we’d had cell phones when I was in college, I feel sure I would have done that.

During games, we see students with painted bodies, spelling out the names of their teams. Or maybe they have just painted their hair. Or maybe they are wearing some outlandish outfit, trying to get the attention of the camera operators. It’s almost always good-natured, and we laugh. I always hope their mamas see them and get a good laugh out of it too. When I was in college at the University of Alabama, I had a friend who told us that, during televised Alabama games, her dad would call her mom into the room any time there was a crowd shot, so they could look for their baby girl. He’d yell, “Vonnie! Vonnie! Crowd shot! Crowd shot!” I don’t know if they ever spotted their daughter in the crowd, but they tried!

But occasionally, things turn ugly. It turned ugly during the Tennessee/Ole Miss game in Knoxville yesterday. Anyone who knows anything about college football knows UT fans hate Lane Kiffin, the current head coach at Ole Miss. He was the head coach at UT for a hot minute in 2009 before taking a head coaching job at the University of Southern California unexpectedly and leaving UT in the lurch. He coached at USC for about three years before being fired in the middle of a season; the firing took place at the airport, immediately after the team had flown back to Los Angeles after losing to Arizona State. Kiffin didn’t even get a bus ride back to campus.

Subsequently, Coach Nick Saban, of the University of Alabama, took Kiffin in. Saban is known for what we refer to as the “Saban Coaching Rehab,” because he takes in coaches that might have trouble getting jobs after a failure somewhere. Kiffin became the Offensive Coordinator at Alabama and was quite successful with the offense, but his off-field actions and his mouth often got him in trouble with Saban. He eventually took a head coaching job at Florida Atlantic University for a few years before taking the job at Ole Miss.

All this is my long way of giving you the history behind why Kiffin was not welcomed warmly in Knoxville Saturday. And I get it. However, it’s one thing for a fan base to hate a coach, but it’s another for them to get out of hand…and they did. Late in the game, after a questionable call went Ole Miss’s way, incensed Tennessee fans began throwing debris onto the field…cans, mustard bottles (why did someone take mustard to a game?), water bottles, and even a golf ball. Some of the debris hit Ole Miss cheerleaders, and the golf ball hit Kiffin. Don’t get me wrong. I know all the Tennessee fans were not participating. ***My daughter and I visited the University of Tennessee several times over the past few months, and we found their students and employees to be gracious, lovely people.*** I’m sure there are lots of Tennessee fans who were embarrassed by the other fans’ behavior, but it seemed mob mentality took over.

Here’s the thing: don’t you think there were probably some moms who saw their kids behaving badly when the cameras panned over the crowd? Did those fans not consider that? No one wants to disappoint their mama, right? I can only imagine how angry I would have been if I’d seen my daughter throwing things onto the field! She would have received a phone call from me immediately. And she would have regretted it right away.

The general rule at our house is to think before you act. It’s the rule, but just like everyone else in the world, we don’t always follow the rule. Many times I have said to my daughter, “Before you do something, consider whether you’d want me to see you do it.” Considering throwing debris onto the field? Think about what Mama would say. Considering doing shots of Fireball with your friends? Think about what Mama would say if she walked in and saw you. (I never, ever approve of doing shots, because of the danger involved.)

The world may never know exactly how things got so out of hand at Saturday’s game, but I’m guessing the participants weren’t remembering that their mamas might be watching. If they had even thought, for one second, that their mamas might see them, I have a feeling they wouldn’t have thrown stuff onto the field…no matter how they felt about the call or how they felt about Kiffin. My guess is that there are some angry Tennessee mamas right now.

As for Lane Kiffin, I understand why folks don’t like him. Personally, I find him amusing and colorful, but I know everyone doesn’t. He has a sarcastic way about him, and he says some crazy stuff. Before the Alabama/Ole Miss game this year, he said to Jamie Erdahl in the pregame interview, “Get your popcorn ready.” That was it…his words of wisdom before a “mic drop,” which was actually a headset drop. Ole Miss ended up losing the game, and Kiffin became a meme. In the week that followed, lots of folks had various kinds of popcorn delivered to the athletic office at Ole Miss. Alabama fans aren’t perfect, but that is the way to handle Kiffin. Don’t throw stuff onto the field. Just beat him at his own game…on the field and off.

And do it in the right way…remember, your mama might be watching.

***I’m definitely not knocking the University of Tennessee. My daughter and I both have friends who are students there or are alumni…and they are all lovely people…some of the best people we know, in fact. This kind of debacle could happen at any sporting event in any city.***