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July 3, 2012It requires a small stretch to incorporate Andy Griffith into the sports pages, until you think of his famous early-career monologue "What It Was, Was Football" or the ubiquitous references to fishing on most episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show," along with occasional Mayberry nods to other outdoor pastimes such as skeet shooting, rock throwing or the pursuit of the elusive lake loon.
It is less of a stretch, on the Fourth of July, to incorporate Andy Griffith into Americana, and particularly into a particular slice of Southern culture that includes college football, even if it doesn't reference it directly.
"The Andy Griffith Show" was a hit across the nation, its perennial top-10 ratings indicating plenty of viewers in California and Wisconsin, but it resonated differently in Alabama since two of its stars - Jim Nabors and George Lindsey, cast as the Pyle cousins, Gomer and Goober, came from the state.
There were certainly some Southern stereotypes among the Mayberry cast of characters, but generally speaking, they came across as eccentrics, not idiots. At the center of it all was Griffith, not always shown as perfect - that was part of the show's charm - but always honest and intelligent and a paragon of family values before the phrase existed. What other fictional Southern sheriff, in the world of Buford T. Justice, has been similarly cast?
Remember, this all came at a time of tumult in the South, and while no outside controversy like civil rights ever crept into Mayberry, the overall impression was positive, and it is one reason the show still survives in reruns 50 years later. And the fact is, the other positive in the South, in terms of image, was its college football, with national championship teams at Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Ole Miss in the same late-'50s/early-'60s timeframe.
Mayberry, of course, remains frozen forever in that time. College football couldn't do the same freeze frame and has changed for the better, integrating in the late '60s and including all Southern citizens, not just some, in its success. And it clearly is successful. The game is better, more popular, more profitable than it has ever been. If Sheriff Andy Taylor was an icon of Southern manhood along with Paul "Bear" Bryant, let's recall that the fictional character never had to adapt to changing times the way the real person - and lots of other people - did.
Andy Griffith's passing this week didn't mark the end of an era. That era passed a long time ago, taking with it some things that people cherish, and other things that are perhaps better off gone. There is nothing wrong in looking back on Griffith's most famous creation - Sheriff Taylor and Mayberry itself - with nostalgia and affection, just like we look back on what was a great era of SEC football from the same time. But it is worth noting - particularly on a day when we celebrate America's heritage - that no matter how glorious our memories of the past, we are still at our best moving forward.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.