Clay Travis holds a cool sweet tea as he sits on a porch. He overlooks a beautiful slice of land somewhere below the Mason Dixon Line. He raises the glass to his lips, tasting the nectar of the South. He looks to his right at Paul Finebaum, relaxing in a rocking chair by his side. “Pretty good livin’, eh Paul?” Paul starts to rock back, stops, and shoots a steely gaze toward a poor sap on his knees a few feet away, staring off into the distance. Paul clears his throat, “AHEM.”
Mark Emmert shakes himself from a daydream. “I’m sorry, sir, I got caught up thinking about President Slive and all he has meant to us.” He crawls over to Paul, who kicks his legs up and rests them on Emmert’s back. “Well, Mark, at least we know you’re a loyal son of Dixie,” says Paul, finally able to rest comfortably. “Now, Clay, this is good livin’.”
A hazy figure emerges on the horizon. Backlit against the brilliant summer sun, Clay tries to identify the apparition. It draws closer…starts to take shape….a man….wearing a suit….closer….a Houndstooth hat….still closer….the checkered patterns of his sportcoat….even closer….Clay reaches for Paul’s hand, piecing the clues together….Paul’s eyes widen….the figure, mystified by his surroundings, finally meets their eyes….it is, in fact, Bear Bryant…. “Is this Heaven?” asks the Bear. “No, Coach,” stammers Clay, “this is the Capitol.” Bear is confused. “The Capitol of what?” Paul elbows Clay, embarrassed by his lack of self-awareness. “Sorry Coach, a lot has changed,” he chimes in. “You know this land as Alabama.” The year is 2024. The SEC has conquered America.
Bear Bryant settles in on the porch, trying to come to terms with a future not possible in his wildest dreams. “So, wait a second, you mean to tell me our conference runs everything?” Clay and Paul are giddy as can be, translators of the new world to their old world idol. “Oh yeah, watch this,” says Clay. He rings a tiny bell. Urban Meyer, worn from years of defeat, limps out in full English Butler attire. He carries a tray with a pitcher of sweet tea and pulled pork sandwiches. Clay shakes his empty glass; Urban freshens him up. Paul takes a sandwich and scolds Urban, “Aren’t you going to offer anything to our guest, Traitor?” Urban leans in and, with a bitter grace, places the tray in front of Bear to peruse at his leisure. Paul encourages him, “Try the pulled pork, Coach. It’s delectable.” Bear takes a sandwich and begins to munch. Urban exits back into the house.
Bear starts to come to terms with his new reality, but is still a bit skeptical. It all seems too good to be true. “Okay, I know I’ve missed a lot, but wasn’t he a big deal at Florida? Why did you call him ‘Traitor’?” Clay jumps at the chance to throw Urban under the bus. “Well, you see, Coach, Traitor decided to retire from coaching the Gators to attend to his ‘family’, but just two years later, he took the Ohio State job. So, as a reward for his years of service to the SEC, we allow Traitor to live in the Capitol. But, as punishment, he serves at our beck and call.” Bear nods, “Okay, that makes sense. Who’s the strange man Paul’s using as a footrest?” Mark Emmert tries to chime in, “Well, you see Coach, I’m….” Paul turns as red as Georgia’s home jersey. “THAT’S ENOUGH MARK!” “YOU WILL SPEAK WHEN SPOKEN TO! I apologize for the intrusion, Coach. This man is Mark Emmert. He was the spineless President of the NCAA when it crumbled. He was our inside man. He is honored to be in your presence.”
Bear grins. “You finally did away with that posturing, hypocritical NCAA, huh? Incredible. How’d you get this far? Didn’t that one Polish basketball guy try to stop you?” Paul and Clay break out into uproarious laughter. “HAHAHAHA, basketball. A non-contact sport; we still let them have their three weeks of fun,” explains Paul. “Yes, it’s actually a nice side business for us now that we got the bloated NCAA out of the way,” adds Clay. "It's also a fair distraction from some of the more mundane spring football practices." Bear is almost sold. “Okay, but there’s no way ole’ Joe Paterno was okay with all this. How’d you guys get around that crotchety bastard?” Clay and Paul look awkwardly toward each other. “Too soon,” they reply, simultaneously.
Paul flips on a TV in the corner. It’s all SEC Network and ESPN programming. He starts channel surfing. One station has re-runs of White Girl Wednesday, a canceled reality show starring then 25 year old Marshall Henderson going to Oxford clubs and trying to make out with trashy whores who don’t have any self respect. “Oooo, White Girl Wednesday re-runs!” Clay yells. “You might have to leave it on that, Paul.” Paul ignores him. He turns to the next channel. Southern Recovery is on, Marshall Henderson’s current reality show in which he half-heartedly attempts rehab for the third time. Clay changes his mind. “Ohhhhhhh, man, nevermind, leave it here. I think Johnny Manziel does a guest spot on this episode!”
The TV doesn’t distract Bear very long. “So, seriously, guys. How did the SEC actually take over the United States?” Paul leans forward and turns off the TV.
“Well, it really wasn’t that hard. In August of 2014, the SEC launched it’s own conference network by partnering with ESPN. We’d won every championship since 2006, so the SEC was America’s king of college football. Whether you liked an SEC team or not, you watched SEC football. So, we retained our CBS deal for Saturday afternoon games, but we also had prime placing on ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU. We had three viewing windows for SEC Network games on Saturday: morning, afternoon, and night. The public hailed us as heroes. With our morning window games, the masses were no longer forced to start their college football Saturday’s with the nasally musings of Pam Ward. Gone were the days of suffering through Illinois and Minnesota, praying for a running back that could run faster than any of the Sausage Race guys at Milwaukee Brewer games. With wall-to-wall SEC coverage, the SEC Network and its ESPN affiliation dominated the American viewing audience. The SEC Network generated almost $500 million its first year. The ratings didn’t lie, and Americans began to accept that SEC content was the only true content.
Coincidentally, the 2014 season was when the four team playoff began. We won the first two playoff championships. By 2016, President Barack Obama was about to end his second term. Congress was incapable of accomplishing anything, and since it was obvious Mike Slive was the smartest man in the world, they voted to make him President and Supreme Leader for the rest of his life. Pretty much everyone agreed that we were in better hands with Slive than any of the other idiots that might run for President, so Americans were generally okay with it.”
A foghorn blasts throughout the estate, interrupting Paul. Massive cargo planes fly in formation overhead. Clay jumps out of his chair. “THE REAPING, IT’S REAPING DAY! REAPING DAY!” Bear is completely lost. Paul tries to settle Clay down. “Okay, relax Clay. Settle yourself. Let our security detail know that we are heading to town.” He turns to Bear. “Don’t worry, Coach. It’s all about to make sense.”
Clay, Paul, and Bear sit in a luxurious tour bus as it drives down a rural road. Off in the distance, Bear can see some strange, outdoor fortification. RV’s fill massive parking lots as far as the eye can see. Tailgaters wave at the bus as police cars pull along all sides, leading it unimpeded towards the enormous structure. Bear is both exhilarated and mortified. He looks to Paul for reassurance. Paul senses Bear’s need for context.
“Okay, so here’s what happened. After President Slive took over in 2016, things were great for a few years. He understood the value of tradition, so he allowed all the conferences to exist as they were before the launch of the SEC Network. Teams were allowed to compete for the championship, and only one spot was automatically reserved for the SEC Champion. It usually didn’t matter, as the league was so dominant there had always been at least two SEC teams in the playoffs. But, then, in 2020, there was a great uprising. Three of the four teams in the playoffs were from outside of the SEC.”
The bus pulls up to the front of the structure. A massive fifty-foot gate swings open to allow them through. Bear reads an electric sign: Welcome to Sabantown: Heart of the Capitol. The bus goes down a dark, underground tunnel.
“The three teams from outside the SEC were Oregon, Ohio State, and Notre Dame. They had grown formidable, and made Americans feel nostalgic about the ‘Before Time,’ when the SEC was equal to other conferences. The fourth team, from the SEC, was Alabama. Of course, Alabama was led by the incomparable General Saban.”
As the bus comes to a stop, Bear, Clay, and Paul can hear echoed chants of “S-E-C, S-E-C, S-E-C.” Clay starts to get anxious. He can feel the southern pride flowing through his veins. “Can we go up to the field? It’s about to start!” Paul thinks for a moment. “Clay, why don’t you go ahead? I need to figure out how to explain to President Slive that Coach Bryant is back from the dead. We’ll watch on the monitors here.” Paul goes back to the story.
“So, Notre Dame and Alabama win. Many in the South scoffed at the Fighting Irish; the program was a relic. Brian Kelly had once dared to challenge General Saban in the BCS Championship Game, and he was beaten into submission before halftime. I, however, saw this team as different. See, Notre Dame had established a big footprint in the South with its partial affiliation to the ACC. The Irish had grown bigger, faster, stronger, and meaner by poaching sons of Dixie. Brian Kelly had become Hannibal, the merciless General of Carthage, and his warriors presented General Saban his greatest challenge. Americans began to believe that indeed, Notre Dame could win. They began to yearn for the ‘Before Time’ and question President Slive. In an epic battle watched by nearly all Americans, General Saban beat back the rebellion. The fallout was painful. Notre Dame was forced to sacrifice Lou Holtz as penance for its sins against the SEC. Traitor Meyer was charged with inciting revolution when he predicted a Notre Dame victory on the SEC Network’s pre-game show. Thus, he is now our manservant. President Slive officially disbanded all conference affiliation outside of the SEC. But, being the compassionate Supreme Leader he is, he broke the nation up into 12 Districts so that its teams could still ‘compete’ for the championship. They are required to recruit only within the boundaries of their Districts. Two teams, or Tributes, from each District compete against each other, until only one Tribute from all the Districts remains. Then, that Tribute is blessed with the honor of being sacrificed against one of the three SEC teams in the playoffs….Hold on, it’s beginning.”
Mark Schlabach and Chris Low appear on the TV monitors, wearing crimson and orange suits, respectively. Schlabach walks to the 50 yard line of an elaborately decorated football field. “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Reaping! From District 1, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Ohio State Buckeyes….District 2, the Florida State Seminoles and Miami Hurricanes….”
Paul picks up the story. “You see, Districts 1, 2, and 4 produce what we refer to as ‘Career’ Tributes. These Districts take great pride in the competition, and volunteer teams to participate in the games.”
Bear nods his approval, turning his attention back to Mark Schlabach, who's already announced several Tributes. “District 5….the New Mexico State Aggies.”
“You see, the other Districts have their teams chosen at random. They do not appreciate what an honor it is to compete with our fearless warriors
Mark Schlabach and Chris low introduce the remaining teams. “Ladies and Gentlemen, the honorable Tributes for your 2024 Games! Happy Games! And, as always, ‘May the odds ever be in your favor’!”
Paul puts his arm on Bear’s shoulder. “Do you understand, now?” Bear, overcome with emotion, hugs his friend. Paul gently rubs Bear’s back. “Bear, there’s just one thing I don’t understand. Weren’t you dead? How are you here?” Bear steps back and wipes a tear from his eye, “God promised. He said, ‘You will live once more, when the South rises again.’”