In order of influence:
My wife and her friends are in the habit of going to plays at a local theatre. It has a loyal following, but last Saturday’s show had to be canceled after only five tickets were sold. The reason: Everyone was home watching the Alabama-Florida game — that is, if they hadn’t made the pilgrimage to Atlanta to see the game in person.
SEC football in Alabama has all the characteristics of a religion. Usually the principal festival is the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the sacred Iron Bowl, the annual contest between cross-state rivals Alabama and Auburn. But this year there was an even greater convergence of mythic forces: Alabama, ranked No. 1 in the nation by the college football adepts, was pitted against No. 2 Florida at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Both teams went into the game undefeated. The winner would emerge as the conference champion and leading contender for the national championship. The contest occurred only one week after Alabama beat Auburn — badly — after six straight years of losing. Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville was dismissed in the aftermath.
In an instant, triumphant Auburn and mournful Alabama had switched places. Everything pointed to a fateful realignment of the celestial oval that mysteriously guides the arc of each earthly pigskin. The Alabama-Florida game would be a revelation; there was no choice for the Crimson Tide faithful but to witness the great contest. Auburn devotees were also summoned to witness, as the fate of the Tide and its celebrity coach would be portentous for the future of the mystic War Eagle.
Thus it came to pass that in 2008 Alabama sacrificed not one, but two full Saturdays to the rites of its principal religions. And verily, a great stillness did fall upon all the land, and within the sports bars and before the flat panels of the living rooms, there was both great rejoicing and lamentation. And behold, it was decreed that the Gators of Florida should be victorious over their enemies, and the voice of the post-game commentator was heard in the land.