IT IS THAT time of year again, when practically all of South Carolinians’ passions collide: faith, family, food, football — and politics.
For the next few months, these five will intersect as the Gamecocks, Tigers, Bulldogs, Paladins, Chanticleers and other beloved college programs — from the Upstate to the Midlands to the Lowcountry — take the field for yet another football season.
While South Carolinians love their faith and family, both face vigorous competition during the college football season. Simply put: South Carolinians live and breathe the pigskin. It’s deeply engrained in our culture. When one season ends, we keep one eye on recruiting and the other on the calendar, anxiously anticipating the start of the next.
And here we are, at the beginning of yet another exciting year of bone-crushing gridiron magic.
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Though we’re a tiny state, we have two college heavyweights in our midst in the No. 9 South Carolina Gamecocks and No. 16 Clemson Tigers, both of which have been performing at a high level the past few years. Obviously, there is much anticipation and enthusiasm for the 2014 season. Expectations are high. And not just for the Gamecocks and Tigers. Aspirations are lofty at Coastal, Furman, S.C. State and Wofford, smaller colleges with perenially high-performing programs.
But truth be told, South Carolinians cheer for their team regardless of the prospects. For a goodly number of fans, few things trump game day. Many a marriage proposal have come amid football games, and more than a few weddings have been rescheduled if they coincided with the Big One.
And as much as we love our politics, even candidates for office respect the game day. As the fall elections crank up, you’d better believe that candidates have noted who’s playing when and where in order to avoid a collision with a key game. As a matter of fact, you can expect some politicians — the gubernatorial candidates are a sure bet — to make stops at some of the contests to glad-hand and court voters among the crowd.
Considering South Carolinians’ hospitable nature, they might even invite a candidate or two to a tailgate party, where they’ll be treated to good food and — more than likely — get a taste of yet another one of our passions: barbecue sauce. A diversity of flavors across regions provides a distinctiveness and a pleasant divide that we South Carolinians would rather never see healed: Vinegar and pepper-based reins along the coast, mustard-based in the Midlands, light tomato-based in the Pee Dee and heavy tomato in the Upstate. And South Carolinians are as loyal to their BBQ sauce as they are to their football teams — or their favored political party.
Deep divides can develop. For the next few months (much longer for the truly fanatical, of course), those who bleed USC garnet won’t much like those who bleed Clemson orange.
That’s part of the fun and competition football breeds. We should cheer with vigor and be loyal to our favorite team. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of good-natured ribbing between rivals.
But let us keep it in perspective. In the end, these hard-fought, gut-wrenching games, while entertaining and gratifying, are indeed just that — games, not life-altering events that are going to move us forward as a state.
Ultimately, when the games end — when the Tigers and Gamecocks and Bulldogs and Paladins make peace — we all should push aside our differences and assume our roles as fellow South Carolinians. That is when we must come together to address the pressing needs of our communities and state as one team.
That is the spirit in which we must go to the polls and elect the team captains who serve on Capitol Hill and in the governor’s mansion and in our General Assembly and county offices. And whether our preferred candidate wins or not, we must collectively cheer those chosen to lead on, urge them to take one for the team, to push our state across the finish line to victory — not out of selfish ambition or vain glory but to create a rising tide that will lift all boats.
That’s the spirit in which we must demand that our elected leaders pass laws and adopt policies that improve our way of life — from offering more than a minimally adequate education system to improving our roads to ensuring we protect our children from abuse and neglect.
And we mustn’t let up until we reach our goals, among which are creating a thriving economy, a comprehensive, sensible, modern tax system and a high-quality education system that gives students a chance to succeed regardless of where they live or what type of barbecue they eat or what college team they support or where they worship.
When we do those things, we indeed will have a perfect atmosphere in which to embrace our true loves: faith, family, food, football and politics. Now let’s play ball.