One of my buddies from my hometown, who raises money for a historically black college (HBCU), was in town this weekend for the United Negro College Fund training session. We got together on Thursday night to catch up and watch the game between the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets.
He made an observation while the pre-game show was winding down. "It's just so funny to see you and my brother watch football these days. You two were some of the most "no sports watching" people I knew when we were growing up."
"I've come to realize this is good cheap entertainment. And of all the sports, what I really appreciate the most is the way the NFL invests so much time and energy into telling its own story."
He was right about his brother and I, though. When we were in our teens, we didn't care about pro sports the way other guys did. Didn't know who ran a 4.2 forty. Couldn't tell you when Draft Day was (I still can't).
Which is why I was amazed myself on Friday when I actually found myself sitting in a ballroom in a hotel in downtown Atlanta for the SEC Coaches Luncheon the conference puts on the day before its championship game.
I was the guest of another buddy of mine, my pal from Alabama. I had no idea what to expect, except a very good chance, given the looks of the crowd in the lobby, that we would be having beef for lunch. I grew up in South Carolina, where the college football rivalry was between the University of South Carolina Gamecocks and the Clemson Tigers, but since the HBCU my father went to was right down the street from our house, my early allegiance was to the South Carolina State Bulldogs.
The lunch itself was hilarious. The attendees were obviously diehard Florida and Alabama fans, so all you saw was either crimson or orange everywhere you looked. There was beef. It was steak. I had two - a woman at our table was a vegetarian.
The day was certainly looking up.
At our table, my buddy launched into a discussion about Alabama's top pro prospect. A short guy with a heavy Boston accent regaled us with tales of his paraphernalia hoard, clicking the button on his digital camera to show us his collection of 5,000 hats in college colors. The rest of the table thought he was pretty funny until he used the words "Harvard" and "football team" in the same sentence, whereupon the woman next to him proceeded to inform him that they were only interested in watching "real" college football teams.
The guy from Boston tried to get our attention back by asking us the date of the first SEC championship game. When nobody got it, he reached into his shirt and pulled out a plastic ticket holder that contained a ticket from that very first game. Somehow, I figured there were similar scenes between fanatic fans going on at many of the tables around us.
The Q&A by Nick Saban and Urban Meyer was almost an intrusion into the conversation we had going at our table. They said the obligatory coach things. They smiled for the cameras. They waved at their fans in the audience. Then they looked relieved that it was all over, and they could get back to their teams for some last minute instruction before today's big game.
Who knows - after all this fanfare and buildup, I might even watch the game.