I don’t really watch much college football anymore – the BCS having more or less sucked every last drop of interest I once had for the game out of me. In fact, I haven’t even watched a down of non-Division III (my alma mater) football this season, but fortunately for Zondervan that didn’t stop me from purchasing and thoroughly enjoying Chad Gibbs’ God & Football: Faith and Fanaticism in the SEC.
It helped that I was familiar with Chad Gibbs, a seriously funny writer whose blogging, tweeting and writing was introduced to me by the fine folks at the Burnside Writers Collective. If anyone could make college football seem interesting to me in an era of computers, voting and TV ratings determining a champion, I figured it was probably Mr. Gibbs.
As the book’s ticket stub cover collage reveals, Gibbs spent a season – the 2009 season – going to a different game in the Southeastern Conference each week to explore the fanaticism people in the south have for their football and its relationship to their faith. To do this, Gibbs spent some awkward moments as the old guy hanging in dorm rooms, Christian frat parties, student sections and other activities that make him feel out of place as both an out-of-town fan and a guy nearly a decade removed from his own college graduation. He also meets up with pastors, priests, nuns, campus ministry leaders and other fans before, during and after games on campus, in massive stadiums and in Sunday morning worship.
All the while, Gibbs is searching for a healthy balance between football and faith in his own life. He picked a good place to search too since fanaticism doesn’t run much deeper anywhere else in the U.S. than in the towns home to SEC powerhouse football programs. This struggle he describes, however, is one anyone who loves a sports team and follows Jesus should identify and relate to. That Gibbs is married should also be a frame of reference for those of us who are sports junkies, Christians and husbands.
Gibbs describes his journey in memoir fashion with his signature brand of humor and style that keeps the book flowing and engaging even when the football he’s watching – as so many games in the so-called every game counts world of college football are – aren’t so enjoyable.
In the introduction, Gibbs talks about how he wants to love God more and like football less. “This was a scary desire,” he writes, “because we’ve all known people who are so godly that things like football, Star Wars, and video games mean nothing to them. In public we praise these people for being so spiritual; privately we pity them because we think their lives must suck. I don’t want my life to suck.”
It’s not really a spoiler to say that Gibbs doesn’t find a perfect formula in his quest for figuring out this balance. But his struggle is one that sports fans who love Jesus would benefit from reading about, identifying with and putting into perspective. I know I did. And I don’t even like college football.