Confederate Defeat, the Lost Cause, and the Promise of a New Football Season

With the new college football season upon us it might be worthwhile to reflect on the cultural connections with the Civil War and defeat and the Lost Cause.  While the enthusiasm here in Charlottesville, Virginia probably doesn’t match the anticipation found elsewhere around the South [I lived in Alabama for two years.] the talk seems to be all about UVA’s prospects and even who will start at the quarterback position.  Apparently, this is a serious matter for many.  I’ve never been a big college football fan and I have even more trouble understanding how it is possible to get so excited about playing William and Mary as a season opener.  Perhaps UVA fans no all too well that the rest of the season is likely to be a real bummer.  For those of you who are college football fans and Civil War enthusiasts I offer you the following for your reading pleasure.  The first is a journal article, titled, “From Lost Cause to Third-and-Long: College Football and the Civil Religion of the South, which appeared in the Journal of Southern Religion.  Additional commentary can be found here and here.  And I almost forgot, GO TERPS!!!

From the Bain-Selbo essay:

A particularly moving moment occurs at the end of a game. In this video, we see such a moment after a hard-fought Mississippi loss to Alabama in the fall of 2005. While some fans leave the stadium, a large portion (particularly the student section near where the band sits) stays for a final playing of the medley. It begins slowly, mournfully (particularly appropriate after a tough loss)—the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Dixie” gently mixing together. One feels a sense of longing— longing for a past more ideal than real. Midway through, the tempo picks up, hands are clapping, and the parts that include the fans singing (particularly the chorus of “Dixie”) are louder and more boisterous. This all culminates with a yell, a hope, a declaration of defiance rising from all—”The South will rise again!”

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7 comments… add one
  • Andrew Duppstadt Sep 4, 2009 @ 9:11

    I can think of some schools in the north that have a football following every bit as enthusiastic as the southern schools. I’m thinking Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan off the top of my head, and certainly there are others. I do believe that football is ingrained in southern culture, but I think it has more of a national flavor if we step back and look at it. It has become more “America’s game” than baseball in some ways.

  • toby Sep 4, 2009 @ 0:05

    An analogy from another country – in soccer, one of the great rivalries is Real Madrid and Barcelona. Madrid represents the centralizing Castilian government, Barcelona particularist, provinical Catalonia. Francisco Franco sponsored Real Madrid, and for years the annual matches were a re-fighting of the Spanish Civil War for Catalans. The Barcelona strip even resembles the Catalan flag, which was banned for many years.

    So a sublimation of political rivlary and old wars into sport is not particularly American. The continuance of old sores as sporting competition is probably a healthy sign.

  • Harvey O. Stowe Sep 2, 2009 @ 15:26

    Being raised and playing football in South Alabama this certainly brought a smile to my face especially when I heard “Dixie”. Mike is correct when he says for some it is hard to understand how important the football heritage unless you have lived it.

  • James F. Epperson Sep 2, 2009 @ 9:40

    This might be a good moment to point to the following:

    which I wrote many years ago…

  • Mike Sep 2, 2009 @ 8:34

    Football is a way of Life in the South that those who never played the game will never fully understand. The writer is right Football and the State your from in the South is a part of you. Your proud of it and you get joy any time Bama or any Southern school beats a Team not from the South.

  • Johnny Joyner Sep 2, 2009 @ 5:57

    I remember an article in one of the local newspapers when I was about 15 or so and they did an “interview” with the great coach Bobby Lee. He talked about the time coached the 61-65 football teams. The ups and downs of each season, like losing his star quaterback Jackson in the 63 season and the troubles with Athletic Director Davis. I wish I still had that article.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 2, 2009 @ 6:05

      Please pass on the reference if you ever come across it. Thanks for the comment.

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