Posted on 1/3/2014

When I mentioned visiting from out of state and said the word “Oklahoma,” the doctor’s ears perked up immediately. His first question following the revelation of my origins was not “Who are you visiting?” or “How has your trip to the great state of Alabama been so far?” Instead, it was “What do you think about the game?” He didn’t specify which “the game.” He didn’t have to. I knew he was talking about the bowl game the next week between The University of Oklahoma and The University of Alabama. OU was ranked #11 in the BCS. Alabama was ranked #3, and if not for their miraculous loss to Auburn, they would be the ones playing for the national championship instead of their archrivals, the Auburn Tigers.

I pondered my options (not unlike the Auburn Tigers, I might add, whose option offense had recently stymied the Crimson Tide). My doctor wasn’t really a doctor, per se. He was a physician’s assistant, a PA, and he seemed to have a small chip on his shoulder. I, in contrast, had no chips, only the flu. Should I pronounce my confidence in my Oklahoma Sooners, perhaps with a comment about how it would be the blood of the Alabama players that would color the Tide crimson? Or should I play it cool, leaving the Sooner football team to do my talking? I did want good medical care, and I wasn’t sure how deep this man’s partisanship ran. I’d already waited 3 hours in the waiting room. He had the power to make me wait some more.

“I’m a little nervous about the game,” I replied cautiously. “I think it could go either way.” It was an honest response, if a bit tautological.

“I think it’s definitely going to go Alabama’s way,” he asserted with a hint of animus. He hardly looked up from his clipboard. No doubts with this guy. That’s partisanship at its finest.

“Well, we’ll see,” I said. Dare I allude to that fantastical catch at the end of the Auburn-Alabama game that had given Auburn its unexpected victory? What a beautiful catch! I wasn’t out of harm’s way yet. I played it safe once again, belying my team’s namesake (the “Sooners” were those in the Oklahoma land rush of the late 19th century who jumped the gun and staked their claims before it was legal to do so).

The PA went on to confess that he had married an Auburn fan, and that he didn’t just want his team to beat Oklahoma. He wanted Oklahoma to suffer an embarrassing loss. “After all,” he explained, “I’ve got to recruit against them for next year.”

This was one of the most remarkable moments in our strange interchange in this tiny room in this modest doc-in-the-box in Hoover, Alabama, 2 days after Christmas. As I painfully coughed up something unpleasant, I marveled over this man’s degree of personal identification with his favorite college football team. “He” was going to have to recruit against my team—against every team—for the next football season. Incredible. This delusion went deep. This man needed to be handled with care, as do most full-throttled partisans in a culture of honor. It wasn’t just his favorite team’s honor that was at stake in the upcoming bowl game. It was his honor, too. That the man and his group were psychologically intertwined was not unprecedented. We were, after all, in the heart of the American South, the center of America’s long-standing honor culture. I had grown up here, so I knew it well. You can never be sure how far such a man might go to assert his supremacy when his honor was on the line, and this man had access to needles and things that make incisions.

My caution might well have saved me some unnecessary suffering. But it would be my Sooners who would later reclaim my pride in their victory over the Crimson Tide at the Sugar Bowl. Boom on, Sooners, boom on.