ERICKSON: Unity around a pigskin

September 6, 2013 

It is that time again. Grown men get up early on Saturday, complete a predefined list of chores they have negotiated with their wives (read: been ordered to do), then move to a recliner or couch and turn on the television. Some have the satellite man out to install DirecTV to ensure they get every NFL game. Others have their iPads, iPhones and ESPN Game Day plans in sync with scores pushed out at regular intervals.

High school football games in Texas have already gone viral on the Internet with men in Georgia and Alaska trading links to amazing plays. For some, Sunday comes and worshiping Saints outranks Jesus. Some will hit the road. Others will hit Best Buy or Ken’s for massive televisions.

Restaurants will start advertising game day specials. In a nation that still fancies itself relatively Christian, Christ gives way to worship of a brown ball and the men who throw it, catch it and run with it.

Baseball, some claim, is the nation’s pastime. While there are stories tied to Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, monuments to the supposed pastime, with football, it is all about players and teams with occasional cheese heads, snow and Super Bowls.

Those who know me know there is a deep bit of humor and irony in me, of all people, writing about football. I grew up in Dubai, before it was Dubai. My first few years there our school’s field was a desert. Eventually, they added sprinklers, sod and chalk lines. But mine was a world of attending camel races, watching soccer and holding a cricket bat with my friends from Pakistan.

Football took some learning. Moving to Macon in 1993, I attended Mercer. The school had abandoned its football program at World War II with no sign of getting it back. Last Saturday, as the sun set over Macon, pigs flew again -- or at least pigskins did.

Mercer’s football program finally roared back. The field is gorgeous. The fieldhouse itself is something to behold. What many never thought possible became reality as Mercer students started up their football season and won. The most amazing thing is how united this community has suddenly become around a common, shared, football experience.

At church on Sunday, people who would have normally headed off to Clemson to see the Dawgs start their season stayed home and cheered for Mercer. The pre- and post-Sunday School conversation turned to the game, the field, the stadium, the people and the experience. It was, one person said, like a family reunion.

Friends who have spent many years going their separate ways that first football Saturday in August came together to tailgate at Mercer and watch the real home team. Auburn fans, Georgia fans, Tech fans, Alabama fans, LSU fans and even the few self-admitted Tennessee fans grilled together, sat together and cheered together for the black and orange.

On Monday, I stopped in to a local sandwich shop to grab lunch. The young lady behind the counter passed me a piece of paper with the Georgia, Mercer, and Falcons football schedules. She asked if I made it to the game. She was so excited we had a football team in town. She could not go because she could not get a ticket. But her brother and friends had gone.

In a city that has for so long been divided along race and class lines, Mercer seems to have united the whole city around a ball and, we might hope, a new, shared tradition. Next year, we need a parade to start the season.

Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.

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