The following is a review originally posted at Bartow Sports Digest.
You may be surprised to find a book review on a sports website. You shouldn’t be. One of Hemingway’s early role models was a sports journalist and, should you include it a sport, the Old Man was a huge fan of and wrote about bullfighting. Early on in the history of Sports illustrated, Faulkner penned an article on hockey. Over the years some of the best writing available has been sports-related. A Season on the Brink,Seabiscuit, Into Thin Air, Friday Night Lights (yes, it was a book first and much better), and John Wooden’s They Call Me Coach are some of my personal favorites and a fraction of what needs to be on every sports fan’s reading list. Being added to that list is Chad Gibb’s God and Football.
Ever since I first heard about God and Football, I’ve had trouble trying to like Gibbs. First, he found a great excuse to travel to every Southeastern Conference stadium in one season, 2009. Second, he wrote the book I would’ve liked to have written, though I wouldn’t have done nearly as well.
Like Gibbs, I grew up a University of Alabama fan. I’m from the same area of Alabama as him and my wife shares his high school alma mater, having graduated a couple of years ahead of Gibbs. I’m also a Christian and – more so, it seems, in the past few years – have noticed the idol status I’ve placed upon college football.
As a graduate of Jacksonville State University, my top-tier of football support belongs to the Gamecocks, though I’d rank Alabama at 1-B. Rooting for the Crimson Tide is very easy to do these days, with very little room left on the bandwagon (good for me I marked my seats long ago and kept them during the woeful Dubose/Shula years). Unlike Gibbs, I remained an Alabama faithful while he pulled the rarest of switches in my home state – moving his allegiance to that other school, the one on the Plains. For the purpose of writing a book about how the level of play by 19-year-olds can affect the spiritual states of grown adults, it proved to be a great step.
Each chapter in the book is about Gibbs’ visit to a particular campus, where he talks with other Christians also struggling with the idol football has become to them. Like himself, these fans admit that it’s much easier to worship in church on Sunday when your team won on Saturday. Conversely, praising the almighty creator of the universe just doesn’t have the same zip when your team lost, especially to a conference rival. Gibbs’ had to deal with this the morning after Alabama won (on the way to another national title) while Auburn lost:
Of course I’m going to feel pain when Auburn loses and joy when they win. There are times, however, like today, when the disappointment carries over in the next day and the next. If I see a disappointing movie on Saturday night, I’m not going to let it keep me from worshiping God the next morning. So why do I let a football loss ruin my entire week?
Is it too much to consider how this plays on the local level? When your favorite team is winning, whether it’s high school, college, or pro, how does it affect your happiness? How does it affect the way you treat others, regardless of where their own team affiliations lay? Gibbs draws up the difficulties in states like Alabama and Georgia where fans have to share the two most popular teams. Sure, there are Sooners living in Dallas and Wolverines in Columbus (I assume), but those intersections of fans from rival teams don’t begin to match the close proximity of UA/AU and UGA/GT supporters rubbing elbows.
My wife and I moved to Cartersville in 2001. That same year Andrew Zow led the Crimson Tide to a 31-7 thumping of Auburn in Auburn (the best part). For the next six seasons we floated in a dismal haze as the Tigers owned Alabama year after year, oblivious to the fact when we moved here how big a hotbed of Aubie fans Cartersville actually was (Thanks a lot, Ronnie Brown.). Sundays after the Iron Bowl, it was particularly tough to go to church. I’ll admit I just didn’t have the spiritual oomph being shared by Auburn and UGA fans, themselves enjoying another streak of wins against Georgia Tech.
Like Gibbs, I’ve often wondered if it should be easier to have a closeness to God when my team isn’t doing well. After all, my idol has been shown to have faults, like not being able to convert on third-and-long. Right now, though, I can thank my fellow Alabama fans and our collective lack of ability to think things through before posting on Facebook for my current re-gauging of football. That, and the app on my phone that allows me to tune in to Birmingham sports talk while driving through Atlanta. Apparently, humility wasn’t a popular gift for those wearing crimson and white.
I still love the sport. Like me, you probably consider the holiday season not starting with Thanksgiving but the first kickoff in late August. It doesn’t begin with roasted turkey and the saying of grace but smoked brisket and Big n’ Rich. My copy of God and Football was a present by my in-laws, residents of Glencoe, Ala. where Gibbs grew up. As my children busied themselves with the toys given by their Nana and Papa, I had some spare time to read. I finished Gibbs’ book in about a day-and-a-half. The fact of the matter is I can’t remember when, if ever, I’ve spent two hours reading my Bible.
In reading God and Football you will, like me, end up liking Gibbs. He’s funny. Really funny. I almost want to use the term Grizzardesque, though Georiga folks in particular will have a hard time delving out such high praise. In the book’s central question, though, we all know when something has too high of a place in our lives. Gibbs just decided to address the struggle. He admits that he still does. In this book it’s football, but food, a person, brand of entertainment, or job could be the same. It’s about a constant self-assessment on where he, and we, find joy and peace.