My first experience with the southern U.S. was when I set foot on campus at USC for my college visit senior year of high school. Back then, I was a full-blown New Englander, born and bred.
You could often find me in a Boston Red Sox hat with my Patriots key chain hanging out of my pocket, casually slipping “wicked” into all my conversations. I knew tea as a hot drink you made with a bag, and college sports weren’t much more than an afterthought.
It’s been over three years since my first experience with Gamecock Nation, and though my allegiance still lies with the North (sorry), I’ve come to understand what makes both regions unique in their own ways.
The biggest difference I’ve noticed during my time here is the football. Not just how much football is watched, but the types of football as well.
In New England, college sports just don’t carry much weight, with the exceptions of college basketball and when the college lacrosse postseason is in full swing. Saturdays in the fall are spent getting chores done, so we can watch the NFL uninterrupted on Sundays.
Tailgating for games is still a must, but the typical New England tailgate usually doesn’t involve much more than some grilled hot dogs and a football to toss around.
I got the biggest culture shock of my life the first time I took in a football Saturday at Williams-Brice. Preparations for a lot of serious tailgaters start a day or two in advance, and bringing a generator so you can watch the games while you cook out is well within the norm.
Inside the game is even more surreal. I can only speak for Gillette Stadium in terms of NFL stadiums, and there are times that the crowd in Foxborough resembles gallery of golf viewers rather than rabid football fans.
Though Willy-B has seen its fair share of lackluster performances this year (that’s a whole other column in itself), the electric atmosphere blows Gillette out of the water on most occasions. Traditions like "2001" and "Sandstorm" are things that make college football feel special, and they’re traditions that professional football teams will struggle to acquire.
It’s been about three years since I’ve lived in the north full-time, and my time in the south has opened my eyes to the world of college football. While I’m still deeply entrenched in New England and professional football, the SEC has left a mark on me at the very least.
Who knows? Maybe someday y’all will convert me into a full-fledged SEC football fan (I wouldn’t wait too long on that day, though).