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front porch In 1953 a close observer of southern tribal customs recorded his observations of a desperate but popular weekend ritual. "Friends," said the young Andy Griffith, "I seen that evenin' the awfulest fight that I have ever seen in my life. I did." The violence was frightful, featuring running, kicking, grappling, and stomping, and resulted in numerous casualties. But each wounded participant was eagerly replaced by another as the batde wore on. Despite the very real carnage, however, the rustic anthropologist finally decided that he had only witnessed a game. "I think that it's some kindly of a contest," he concluded, just to see who "can take that punkin and run from one end of that cow pasture to the ofher'n without either gettin' knocked down or steppin' in somethin'." "What It Was, Was Football," announced the tide of this famous comedian's first record, which went on to sell over a million copies and launch Andy Griffith on a remarkable career devoted to mass-marketing the soothing vernacular wit of above: Southern Championship Wrestling match in Butner, North Carolina. Big Slam ispinned by Boris Dragoff, 199J. Photo by Candice C. Cusic, courtesy ofthe Raleigh News and Observer. the rural and small-town South. Griffith had touched a Iti the pOStffîodern nationalfunnybonebyexploringthe tensionbetweenthe ,7 r ,1 , befuddled hayseed and the worldly but impassioned view, the South has, . . . , , . , , 7 crowd so caught up in a game that they had no idea how been Continuously absurd it looked to someone who could only describe it , t ? in the language of a simpler past. Between chuckles, we invented and,., . , . , , . , listeners realize that the real )oke is on us, because we projected by thosesophisticates are the ones who identify with the distract7 7 , ? ed fans. It is our athletic mania that ends up looking who have wanted ... , , . . . f , . . , A ridiculous, and it is we who reel the ignominy or the tO believe in it.imagined encounter between the noble gridiron hero and die inglorious cow plop. Even in this classic comedy routine, the enduring conflict between the South's rural past and its big-time aspirations comes back to tickle us when we least expect it. Southerners have long been devoted to their games and sports, and this issue of Southern Cultures takes a close look at this very serious business. Long before the invasion of Europeans, anthropologist Charles Hudson tells us that Native Americans of the Southeast regarded ball-playing as "the younger brother of war." As Hudson tells it in his authoritative survey, The Southeastern Indians, ball games drove competing villages to prepare for their annual autumnal combats with an intensity that would even shame the rivalry between Texas and Texas A&M. Typical preliminaries included rigorous physical training, special diets, prolonged negotiations between political leaders, earnest consultations with wise men, cold-blooded decisions to target specific enemy players, prohibitions on pregame sex, role-modeling for younger players, spirit-rousing dances by supportive young women, and even preparatory prayer meetings. "These ball games," Hudson assures us, "were not mere games, but had important political functions ." Somehow it all sounds very familiar. Before they took up planting tobacco, the English settlers atJamestown were famous for bowling in the streets. Much later, aristocratic Southrons who called diemselves "the chivalry" enjoyed the pastimes of medieval knights, jousting for the favor of fair damsels by striving to see which horseback rider could best impale a dangling ring with his hand-held lance. Plainer folk disdained such frippery and sought the same end by trying to see which galloping rider could first wring off the head ofa greased gander who kicked upside down from the bouncing top of a limber sapling. Running, riding, shooting, and wrestling were kindred sports of the antebellum South, and regional skill at such activities was supposed to be all the evidence anyone needed to prove the well-known fact that any southern soldier would be able to whip a dozen Yankees before breakfast. Sports, it seems, have a long southern history. 2 Front Porch Like the Creeks and the Cherokees before him, Andy Griffith's narrator called his first ball game a "fight," andy4.S football IS a Andy Doyle...


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