Fandom is often defined by one's willingness to not necessarily feign sanity when the situation dictates otherwise, but instead to embrace a near budding mental illness, a complete social deconstruct, and fully personify certain characteristics that would otherwise leave you a pariah in respectable corners of society. College football takes this dark side of the human condition and pursues an entirely new type of existence, like a Large Hadron Collider for the soul. Sure, a black hole may form, enveloping the earth in mere seconds before anyone, even the experts, have time to make sense of what may have just occurred. But if it doesn't, this never before seen thing, could make all the blood, alcohol, and urine stained clothes, unwise second mortgages, and social, familial, and professional exile all finally make something resembling sense.
Specific fan bases' approach to each fall's mad season eventually go deeper than mere appearances, eventually permeating down to the very DNA of what makes up that program and its supporters. When Arkansas endured what transpired during the course of the last three weeks, the response shouldn't have been so much reaction to the specifics of the events that unfolded but rather "of course they did." No program in college football's preeminent conference is exempt from their particular defining characteristics. Over a long enough dinner party, everyone sees everyone else exactly for what they are. Everyone's a varying degree of not well; what that specifically entails, merits a closer look.
Alabama: Harvey Updyke. Oh, Pawwwlll, he ain’t representative of the fanbase. No, he’s just one of you, just one person who like others named his children after Crimson Tide icons. No, he’s nothing like the perfectly nice old lady who turned into a snake-faced harpy when she pointed at my Florida shirt at a Bama/Florida game and said, "Wal-Mart shirt!" I may have called her a "Wal-Mart Person" in response, but that’s not the point here because I am horrible and admit it. I may have also called her husband a necrophiliac. Like I said, no one said this was about me being nice. It is about you being insane.
This is about you, Alabama, the state whose single tentpole of publicly admissible pride is football. There is nothing else. Go to that well: there is Sela Ward, having to rewrite your constitution because it was based on apartheid-era South Africa, and the temporary support of a USFL franchise.
So your insanity is justified, because a dog with one bone is going to be really fucking obsessive about that bone. That is an explanation, but it is not an excuse for clogging every pore of the body politic with Alabama football. The football lawsuit? You invented it, and then perfected it. Whose coaches fuck their secretaries, and somehow get the AD fired? You. Whose natives go on to commandeer the New York Times, only to weird everyone out by quoting Bear Bryant? Howell Raines, Alabama fan. That’s who does that. Even the sane ones cannot be trusted. In fact, you should never trust anyone from Alabama about anything, because somewhere in the back of their mind, they are weighing their interaction with you against its impact on the larger football universe.
Case in point, and we are not making this up. Driving back from the 2010 Florida/Alabama game, we were pulled over by a policeman at 2 in the morning on I-20. We told him about what we were doing, and coming back from, and he nodded, ripped up the ticket for speeding, and sighed.
"You’ve been through enough. I hate them. I hate them so much I hate them for you."
YOU BROKE LAW ENFORCEMENT, ALABAMA FOOTBALL. I have no other more damning story. You affected the very social order and warped the law in favor of a third party driving 85 miles an hour hopped up on Red Bull and Mastodon.
Sleeper cells, all of you. Into the lifeboat labeled 388th national championship, and no, we do not want to hear about the time you got a Mercedes plant. That’s great. Into the boat. You can’t be trusted below decks.
Auburn.: A nuanced, subtle insanity. As Alabamians, they share the curse of Crimson Tide fans to be forever spinning in their own personal Bermuda Triangle, unaware that even the minor decisions of their day are perverted by some insane mathematics equaling [NET IMPACT ON FOOTBALL PROGRAM’S FATE.]
Auburn fans’ mania is more diverse and harder to pin down. As fans, they are held hostage by the SEC’s most cartoonish mafia of swamp real estate barons and banking rapscallions, so mix in some Stockholm Syndrome to start. Add in a heaping inferiority complex regarding Alabama, and then season with a bizarre insistence the school is not in fact a shell corporation and tax shelter operating underneath the cover of a non-profit university, and the Auburn truly is the fascinating Grimy Little Pimp of the SEC. (Pete Campbell does have a dark blue jacket with orange tie, doesn’t he?)
You have to believe in Auburn because you’re never really sure it’s actually there. So it is with Auburn football, and this got deep quick. The Auburn fan is the most postmodernishly insane SEC fan. They’re basically Walt from Breaking Bad, except the cancer is the constant threat of an SEC investigation. (The meth is potpourri.)
Arkansas: Oh, step up. You’re right there, something that probably helped you get into the league in the first place. Roy Kramer and the advisory board in 1990, wondering out loud if Arkansas was a good fit, heard something in the crawlspace between the ceiling tiles and the next floor. When the 260 pound man in a Razorbacks t-shirt holding a microphone and tape recorder crashed onto the meeting table with a thud and a cloud of dust, it was then that they knew: these were our people, and this would work so very well, indeed.
Please consider the operant, demonstrated insanity of Arkansas football. Houston Nutt survived for almost a decade there—nay, thrived, and did so while running a high school offense on little more than enthusiasm, GIGGITYs, and maniacal stares. He did this after the program ditched Danny Ford. We repeat: THEY HIRED POST-CLEMSON DANNY FORD. Then the fanbase got restless, filed Freedom of Information requests to acquire Houston Nutt’s cellphone records, and ultimately drove him to Ole Miss. Then, they hired Bobby Petrino.
This merits a high ranking on the list for so many reasons, the foremost being this: Alabama, as insane as they may be, has shown signs of sanity from the head down. We remain unconvinced that anyone, at any level of management or affection anywhere in Arkansas, is sane regarding their football team. That’s full body dementia, the tastiest crazy-bacon of all.
Texas A&M: Data is sketchy at this point, but let’s go ahead and show you some tantalizing early reports from researchers. Farmers with army fetish, uniforms, and a dog-worshipping cult. Have actual horses at their tailgates. Joining league after contentious divorce from lifelong rival and puppet league. Openly fantasizes about sawing the horns off cattle, which in your middle school counseling sessions would have gotten you sent to the school with the metal detector, padded corners on tables, and orderlies with tasers. The potential is great, but crazy in Texas may be considered humdrum in Louisiana, so let’s wait until we see this in context before going too far here. (Still: the potential is there, and it is amazing.)
Florida: Not crazy. No, not in the least. What’s insane about demanding excellence? What people call insanity, Florida considers perfection. For instance, honey, we don’t think you need that Splenda in your fat-free, carefully measured protein shake this morning. We mean, you’re looking great, but are you happy with four percent body fat? Don’t you think three would be a lot better? We sure would, but only because we love you. Stop slouching. There’s a stain on your shirt. No, you look great, it’s just…[points] right there, honey. [points to imperceptible spot on shirt.]
And that clinic in Belize? It’s really a resort, albeit one where you get your chin sanded down in between drinks on the beach and swims with the whale sharks. We’ll pay for another visit, honey, because you’re this close to perfect, but just not quite there. We can get your boobs fixed, too. They’re great, but if you were happy with great you wouldn’t grind your teeth on the "one" when mentioning that 13-1 2008 national championship season.
Can you think about all this while you’re on the exercise bike, by the way? You’re perfect, but stay that way, honey—wait, where are you going---you haven’t even bleached your ass yet---
South Carolina: Certifiably batshit for so many reasons, but mostly for selling out a stadium year in and year out despite largely dismal results for most of their history. Many of them live in South Carolina voluntarily, which is its own damning indictment of their sanity.
LSU: Saner than Alabama fans since they value food, music, sodomy, beards, hunting, and other important Louisiana tradition. Largely a festive derangement, but still a derangement nonetheless, as they are black ops experts nonpareil, stealing cellphone numbers of opposing players, drinking opposing stadiums dry, appearing in full Mardi Gras gear in 90 degrees, threatening murder with a smile on their face, and crashing trucks into ditches in Baton Rouge in order to make the game on time.
They’re insane, but it’s a manageable, happy insanity, like that of a large breed dog who insists on knocking you around a little bit before sitting on your lap for the entirety of a dinner party.
Mississippi State: Probably underrated, since Mississippi State are the country relations whose otherwise steady, unremarkable lives are punctuated with moments of extreme terror and entertainment. The life story, and rise and fall and rise and fall and rise of Cousin Bully, back up that pattern amply.
For example: Cousin Bully had a steady job with the power company, but then went to work for this crazy pyramid scheme, and then got filthy rich before the feds repo’d it and sent him to prison. (Jackie Sherrill.) Cousin Bully’s doing alright, we suppose, but did you know he can still do 300 pushups with you standing on his back, but only on random Saturdays? (Croom) Cousin Bully’s doin’ just fine now, son, but you have no idea when he might rise up and bite someone for no reason. We mean bite like "human-bite at a party," not "understandable dog-bite." (Mullen.)
That’s weird, but it is not insane. Cousin Bully may have an undiagnosed streak of manic-depression, interspersing long troughs of inactivity with frenetic periods of overachievement, but that’s different than crazy.
Mississippi: "I never lose a party," he says, leering at his friend’s wife standing by the keg. A plate of lukewarm Vienna sausages is already starting to turn in his stomach, and for some strange reasons of the heart he’s already come up with a name for them and the illness that will follow. Jeremiah Masoli Tiny Sausage Apocalypse, he says. Welcome back old friend.
His well-ironed pants bear the stain of a spilled cocktail on one leg. He lists to one side, smashed to bits on bourbon to the neutral observer, but he knows his favorite drink: resignation on the rocks, just like him, his life, and his football team.
He throws an entire crystal tumbler at the wall. The party stops. He laughs, turns to the stares. "Jevan Snead!" The laughter is riotous; his despair, silent.
He is not insane. An Ole Miss fan is despondent, and has been known to greet his host’s eyes with furtive anxiety when she catches him looking longingly at the steak knives, or perhaps catches him rummaging through the medicine cabinet.
Georgia: Laziness is never to be confused with insanity. Georgia fans care, but their anger comes with an expiration date of their next round of golf, piece of grilled meat, or satisfying church league softball game. Even if they are insane, it would be hard to get them diagnosed since falling asleep mid-interview renders the examination invalid.
Mizzou: Not crazy in the least, but possibly addicted to pornography. Early innings yet, though: they may be the quiet kid thrown into juvenile hall who, goaded by bullies and abuse, turns on someone one day and maims them for life.
Vanderbilt: NOPE. James Franklin might rile up the Duchess something proper, though, and a mad aristocrat is entertaining indeed.
Kentucky: [NO FILE FOUND]
Tennessee: Catatonic. Examination thus revealed no results. Did catch a tennis ball when we threw it at them, though.