By Peter Fischetti
You may be familiar with a neighborhood in Panama City Beach called Bid-a-Wee. Yes, it’s a funny name, but no doubt when marijuana becomes legal in Florida, it will be changed to Bit-of-Weed.
What I like best about our living here—other than its proximity to a pretty nice beach—are the people who live here. They hail from all over the country. There’s Ohio next door, Colorado across the street, Southern California next to Colorado, and North Carolina and New York around the corner. Coming soon less than a block away are couples from Kentucky and Wisconsin.
But as you might guess, the majority are from Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Florida. And what they have in common other than a strong desire for fried food is an overzealous interest in an organization called the SEC.
Now when I was growing up in New York, I’d often take the subway to Wall Street. So I’m familiar with the Securities & Exchange Commission. Five years ago, not long after my wife and I moved here from California, I learned that the initials stood for something else. I was chatting with a neighbor who was concerned about the safety of investing in the stock market.
“Don’t worry about your investment,” I told him. “The SEC is vigilant about financial crimes.”
His response: “OK, but I don’t know how they could do it. Keeping tabs on Sabin and the Tide is a full-time job.”
Well, the conversation went something like that. The point is, I’ve never experienced the obsession with college football like in the South. Oh, there might be an exception. I should have mentioned that I’m a Notre Dame alum, and we play football too.
Now you may be wondering why I'm writing about football when we still have NBA playoffs and the Major League pennant race to contend with. Well, all the major college teams have just concluded spring practice games, many of the televised, and after a dysfunctional season we can again look forward to tailgating and real people making noise in the stadium.
Last August, when the newspaper's sport section almost disappeared, what was reported read like something out of the New England Journal of Medicine. Instead of the preseason top 25, we got late-breaking stats on schools with the most Covid-19 cases. And with baseball, the 15-day injured list was replaced by the 14-day quarantine list.
Remember watching sports on TV? “Best of Synchronized Swimming” was fine except during the singles competition. Curling became so popular that Walmart ran out of brooms. Bowling was fun to watch but they disconnected the sound because of all the gutter language.
Back in 2016, when I decided to hang the ND flag under the Stars and Stripes in front of our home, I wondered if it would survive. Would someone who says "y'all" a lot take a shot at it?
There was no need to worry. In fact, a friend down the block, who had dyed his blood to match the Alabama red, invited me to watch a game with USC and promised to root for Notre Dame unless they were playing the Tide.
That inspired me to build a Christmas display in front of our house with a dozen snowmen wearing the caps and colors of schools from Gainesville to Athens to Baton Rouge. Oh, and South Bend. In front was a sign reading, “We’re all one team at Christmas.” The News Herald even did a story on it.
Football fans consider autumn the best season. To them, fall colors mean crimson and white, blue and gold, scarlet and gray and so on. Beer and hot dogs taste better in the fall, and no one complains when the ribs I barbecue during the game are a little burned.
I'll end this with a conversation I had with a neighbor, Tommy, in the middle of the pandemic. One day, restless because there was no live sports on TV, he invited me to watch a NASCAR race with him. “It’s Tuesday,” I said. “There’s no NASCAR on Tuesday.”
“I know, it’s a tape of the Daytona race in 1994,” he said.
“Why would you want to watch some old race?”
“Why not? I forgot who won. It’s like a new race for me.”
Like I said, the best part of living here are the people.
Peter Fischetti is a retired journalist from Southern California, which he hopes you won’t hold against him. He lives in Panama City Beach.