Life With College Football
Spending most of one’s life in the land of superlative college football is a real pleasure and a privilege, not to mention quite a trip. I grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and I have been horribly spoiled by good football most of my life. College football is a sport in which the women fans are almost as rabid as the men. I have seen fights break out over rival teams, including women slapping and pulling hair. Fights break out when opposing fans sit near each other in the stands. This kind of passion, although at times misguided, is what forms the exciting atmosphere that surrounds near mystical teams.
No discussion of Alabama football would be complete without mentioning Bear Bryant. He is known as the winningest coach of all time, and his character and his wisdom continued a tradition of excellence that was already present in Alabama football when he arrived. Bear Bryant is a hallowed individual in Tuscaloosa and areas surrounding, ranking up there with God and Jesus for persons inspiring reverence. No one badmouths the Bear. Not even people on opposing teams.
I grew up with Bear Bryant and football. He was pretty much ubiquitous as coach during my childhood and adolescence, in large part. I remember when he retired and when he died. I loved the advent of the fall, as it meant cars driving by with their radios tuned to the roar of the football field, and bonfires, and homecoming. I went to school with two of his grandchildren, Stella Gray, and the brother who was younger than me. Needless to say, they were celebrities in their own right, just by dint of their attachment to the great Bear Bryant.
I remember when the Bear won number 315. That was such a huge event, and it was memorialized on radios and TVs everywhere. It even had its own popular radio song. And Blondie sang that song about The Tide Is High; that was such a big hit with everyone. We all sang it. I can remember listening to those songs on the radio while out playing in the yard, and thinking about how neat it was that our team won all the time.
Both my parents taught at the University of Alabama, which made my affinity for the team and the sport even stronger. Every day, I was surrounded by monuments to the strength of the university, the huge library on the Quad, Denny Chimes, the stadium, the President’s Mansion, the Gorgas House, the haunted ROTC tower where civil war look-outs still patrolled. The stadium just grew and grew. They keep adding new seating to it as the games become more and more popular, and it is currently one of the larger stadiums in the country.
When I went to college, the team was not quite as strong as it had been, but it was still a very good team, and the fans turned out as always. The cool part of going to school there was that you got to meet all the players. They were in my parents’ classes, they were in my classes, they showed up on the radio, my friends knew them. It was like being part of Hollywood somehow. I went to Med School in Birmingham, so of course my fandom continued.
In the state of Alabama, everyone must take a stand: Alabama or Auburn, you must pick one or the other. Even if you don’t like college football, or you don’t like football, or you are a fan of another team elsewhere in the country, you still must choose, Auburn or Alabama. There is no other option but to pick a side. Come gameday, you better have a favorite. People put flags in their front yards when football season starts. They put flags on their cars. And when babies are born, little Auburn or Alabama wreaths go up on doors. Sometimes there are people in the same house who root for different teams; these are called “a house divided.” Then the baby wreaths are half and half. The flags are half and half. They actually make such things. And such a difference in a household has caused rifts that last generations.
You’d better not schedule anything important on gamedays. I have known women who only had half their guests show up because they got married on a gameday. Of course, you usually find out that getting married in Tuscaloosa on a gameday is impossible: there are no hotels or venues for weddings or receptions or restaurants that aren’t booked up six months in advance. You don’t travel to or from Tuscaloosa on a gameday unless you are going to the game. Even then, it is best to arrive a day early and leave a day late, for the traffic is prohibitive. The RV campers stay all weekend and party the whole time: the day before, the day of, and the day after. Then, hungover, they slosh their ways back to wherever they came from.
The culmination of the entire season is the Iron Bowl. No matter how each team has done all year, the success or failure of the season boils down to this: who wins? Alabama or Auburn? A team could have a perfect season, but if they lose to that mortal rival, the season is not a success. Nothing is scheduled during the Iron Bowl. I have seen grown men cry because their wives went into labor during the Iron Bowl. I have seen grown women cry because they went into labor during the Iron Bowl. Then which ever team won gets bragging rights over their opponents for the whole year. We get to rub it in all year til the next Iron Bowl.
The last two seasons of Alabama football have been amazing. Of course, we won the National Championship last year, and it looks like we are well on our way again this year. The Alabama/LSU rivalry is very strong, and definitely reared its head last year when LSU won one game and Alabama won the rematch to win the championship. This year’s LSU game was INCREDIBLE. The fans nearly all peed themselves (me included) the whole game. WE WON WITH 93 SECONDS LEFT TO GO. My daughter was asleep and I literally had to stuff my hand in my mouth to keep from screaming out loud at the end of that game. It was GREAT! AJ McCarron, the quarterback, literally burst into tears with raw emotion when he threw that winning pass. He went and hugged his mama, which we all know in the South is what we do when we throw the winning pass. So there is nothing else to say but ROLL DAMN TIDE!!!!