The Ford truck ad with the three SEC coaches is in frequent rotation these days. Each coach talks about toughness, about summoning inner strength when challenged. There’s Alabama’s Nick Saban, Auburn’s Gene Chizik and Georgia’s Mark Richt.
The first two coaches are 10-0 this year. Richt is 1-4. And it’s Richt whose words on that ad seem poignant right now. His team is in meltdown mode. We watch a broadcast of a game, with another crucial fumble crushing hopes of a Bulldog win, then we cut to commercials with that Ford ad and Richt asking whether you’re going to fight or “fold up like a tent.” It’s an odd juxtaposition, the two images. And you wonder what’s going on.
Of course, fans put coaches under a microscope, and Richt is there now, but it’s just as important when things go bad to look at your own fandom, what it actually is for you. Many of us are emotionally invested, like I am with Georgia. And that’s part of the joy, those allegiances that take you on a wild ride, for good and bad. Real fans are kind of married to a team for life. You don’t abandon them when they’re sick or when you get mad.
Still, this is ultimately entertainment, a hobby, a way to enjoy yourself on a nice fall Saturday. And when I hear people on call in shows who seem bitter beyond reason, I wonder if they have lost touch with perspective. This game needs to be a diversion from our troubles, not a source of personal trouble.
College football is like a male soap opera. It provides compelling narratives with great emotion. Unfortunately, Georgia’s season has now disintegrated into one narrative: will Mark Richt keep his job?
I consider Richt’s future and again think of that Ford ad. Of course, Saban is in it. He is everywhere now. And the Crimson Tide is enjoying that rare success that brings jump-on-the-bandwagon car tags on the backs of SUVs. Remember how Florida State tags were everywhere in the 1990s? Florida Gator tags proliferated during the Tebow years. Now, the Alabama “A” is showing up everywhere. Win and the masses follow. Lose and they leave you. As far as fandom goes, these people, who suddenly cheer for the winners, are like the swingers who show no commitment to family.
Actually, I enjoy watching Saban, the intense coach who shows little joy. He spoke of his routines on ESPN this summer, how he gets up in the morning and sits on the sofa with his wife and eats two Little Debbie oatmeal cakes. “You gotta’ enjoy something in life,” he said.
I went out after that and bought some oatmeal cakes. I enjoy them too. I bet Little Debbie wants to hug Saban just as much as the Tide fans.
Richt used to get a lot more TV time. For instance, the summer of 2008 was one of great expectations for the Georgia coach, with Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno on every magazine cover. The Bulldogs entered the season ranked number one. Then, the Bulldogs were blasted at home by Saban and Alabama. They were trounced later by Urban Meyer and Florida, that old Georgia nemesis. And things haven’t been the same since. Meanwhile, Alabama has surpassed Florida as the biggest, baddest guys on the SEC block.
Georgia has trended toward softness in the guts of the game — the line. UGA now seems like that guy who puts his head down on a baseball bat, then spins and spins, before trying to stand up and race. He’s woozy, unsteady on his feet, drawing chuckles from those who watch and enjoy the awkwardness and the inevitable fall.
But for all that, I’m not ready for Richt to go. And here’s why: Before I walked out of the Georgia Dome with my father in 2005, I lingered for a long time and watched Georgia celebrate its surprising SEC championship win over LSU, its second under Richt. I remember my thoughts that good day, how I felt he’d earned my loyalty as a fan for providing me such an enjoyable time — and not just that day, but many others.
I think he’s lost the team. Yes, he certainly has. It’s terribly painful to watch. But I think he’s earned the right to win it back. I hope to see that in 2011. Don’t fold the tent on him.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.