Autumn: “The season between summer and winter comprising in the northern hemisphere usually the months of September, October and November or, as reckoned astronomically, extending from the September equinox to the December solstice.”
That’s the official definition from the dictionary.
Ask anyone what autumn means to them around here and they’ll likely talk about beautiful natural leaf shows in the Blue Ridge Mountains, pumpkins, street scenes like the Brushy Mountain Apple Festival, bluegrass music at Carolina in the Fall, Halloween and cool evenings preceded by warm days.
All of that will be coming up over the next two months, give or take a few days. It has been a long, hot summer, so I’m looking forward to the change.
I love to recall late Friday afternoons in Spartanburg, S.C., during the first semester of my sophomore year at Wofford College. I had a class taught by Dr. Lewis P. Jones, a highly-regarded expert on South Carolina history. It was an extremely demanding course, but getting to attend Jones’ lectures was worth the effort.
I would leave the musty Old Main building around 5 p.m. and step out into a campus community readying itself for the weekend’s activities. Music would be coming from fraternity row and the fading sun would be filtering through the colored leaves of ancient oak trees. It’s a powerful memory of a place I very much came to love.
But then, as now, autumn meant football from coast-to-coast. For me, it has always been even narrower than that because the brand of football which interests me is pretty much limited to the non-professional variety--high school and college.
Professional football, with its spoiled, overpaid athletes and corporate culture, kind of leaves me cold, sort of like my one visit to Bank of America stadium in Charlotte where the Panthers play.
Like its name, I felt the atmosphere was businesslike and impersonal, with none of the quirky flair and intense passion surrounding the amateur version of the game. I was there for a college bowl game, one lost by UNC to Boston College.
The atmosphere around college games is just so electric, and the college towns themselves, filled with students enjoying their first run at independence, are a joy to experience. Places like Chapel Hill, Boone, Clemson, S.C., and Charlottesville, Va., are worth the visit on any day, but Saturdays in the fall, with the big game looming ahead, are really special.
Thousands of people dressed in team colors pour into town to support their squad and revel in a unique brand of lunacy. Cheers and fight songs are in the air, with charcoal grills and eclectic restaurants and shops adding an extra enticement.
I’ve been fortunate over the years to see some pretty good games, most of them involving UNC.
Over a decade ago, Mack Brown’s Tar Heels and Bobby Bowden’s Florida State Seminoles were both among the nation’s best and both were undefeated. They met for a nationally televised game in Chapel Hill which was played before the largest audience ever to attend a football game there.
Florida State didn’t exactly whip the Heels, but by the end of the game, it was obvious which was the stronger, quicker team. That was the only loss sustained by Carolina that season, and the Seminoles went on to play for a national championship. The Heels haven’t since competed at that high level.
I’m glad that Brown is back in Chapel Hill at the helm of the Carolina football program. Though older, I think he can again bring excellence and integrity to the program.