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What It Was

Two hot dogs and a big orange drink, please.

Andy Griffith Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

It was back last October, I believe it at this college town.

Nearly every year, right around the start of the college football season, I find myself returning to Andy Griffith. His unmistakably North Carolinian accent reminds me of the places my grandparents lived, where I spent summers growing up. There’s a comfortable warmth in his manner of speech, so particularly Southern and familiar that it can make you feel like you’re being introduced for the first time to someone you’ve known your whole life. The recording that always seems to make its presence felt yearly around this time is almost like something calling me home, whether I’m overseas or just right down the road.

Before the gospel albums, before that famous whistled theme song, there was a comedy record. In 1953, just down the road from his Tar Heel alma mater, Andy Griffith recorded the story of a country preacher (or deacon, perhaps) who accidentally stumbles into his first collegiate football game. The recording was sent back to Chapel Hill for mastering and distribution, and from there eventually found its way into the hands of over 800,000 people, kick-starting an incredibly accomplished and enduring career in show business. That’s a testament to the magnetism of Andy Griffith, certainly, but also to the common ground that is college football.

This year, it’s been more difficult to get excited for the season. The Tar Heels kick off a week from today, and half of me is still waiting for the other shoe to drop; for this season to be snatched away from us just like the NCAA tournament was, six decades-long months ago. It feels as though these “uncertain times” (as every brand likes to say) will last forever; I received news a few weeks ago that my day job’s office would be opening again no earlier than April of 2021, a date that still feels so far in the future it might as well arrive by hovercar.

Even in this darkness, though, the voice of Andy Griffith talking about young men fighting in a cow pasture can still break through, not only taking me back to seasons past when all I had to worry about was where to watch the game on a given Saturday, but also making me nostalgic for a time I never lived, when the biggest concern was spilling your big orange drink.

The Tar Heels kick off against Syracuse on Saturday. In any other year, I’d be planning to stop by Sutton’s on Franklin Street before kickoff for an orangeade and a couple hot dogs. This year, I reckon I’ll just have to listen to Andy Griffith tell us what it was.