I grew up in the state of Alabama where college football is as much religion as sport. Some may scoff at that, they may write us off as taking ourselves too seriously. But as with certain other sports teams with extremely loyal and devoted fanbases, there's a reason behind the madness of Crimson Tide football and it's rooted in the state's rough and tumultuous history.
Rick Bragg, Pulitzer Prize
winning professor of writing at the
University of Alabama, describes it this way in an article he wrote shortly after hiring Coach Nick Saban in which he explains the yearning of the Tide fans to see their program return to its place as a national powerhouse:
To find the source
of Alabama's hunger, you have to go back further than the Bear. You have to go
It was hard-nosed
Wallace Wade who took Alabama to its first recognized national championship, in
1925, when his undefeated team beat Washington 20--19 in the Rose Bowl, the
first time a Southern team had ever played in the game. Alabama won more
national titles—and Rose Bowls—under Wade in '26 and '30. His successor, Frank
Thomas took Alabama to Pasadena three more times, won a widely recognized
national title in '34—with Paul Bryant playing end—and a still-debated title in
They were college
boys in suits, but on the trips home from California, across Texas and the
lower South, people stood beside the railroad tracks, waving and cheering. Writers from the North and the West would question if it was
wise to open the nation's premier bowl game quite so often to the
Pennsylvania would make a much better game with the Pacific Coast Conference
representative for the 1946 Rose Bowl than would Alabama and, in addition, such
a game would have that intangible thing called 'class,' something it can never
have with a southern club being one of the participants," wrote Dick Hyland
in the Los Angeles Times. "Me, I'm kinda tired of hillbillies and swamp
students in the Rose Bowl."
But from beside
the tracks, people waved and waved. Reconstruction had faded into the
Depression, and not much had changed. "It became our culture," says
Doug Jones, the former U.S. attorney who successfully prosecuted two Klansmen
for the infamous 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.
"We were a poor state, with a great darkness in our history, but we took a
team by train across the nation and played the best and beat the best."
"Hillbillies and swamp students." When I went out to the west coast in 1986 as a freshman college student I encountered some of the same prejudices. Southern women all walked around barefoot and pregnant etc. etc. It got old after a while and by the time summer break came around I went home with a new appreciation for my southern roots and a new pride in the college athletes who represent us.
Coach Bear Bryant
He's a legend and I won't retell his biography here. But I have to include this anecdote from Bragg's article:
At any flea market
in Dixie, you can still find Bryant commemorative plates. At every roadside
bar, church basement rec room or courthouse café, you can hear this joke:
Guy gets into
heaven. Sees an old man in a houndstooth hat walking on water.
asks Saint Peter, "is that Bear Bryant?"
Pete says, "that's God. He just thinks he's Bear Bryant."
Coach Nick Saban
A couple of favorite tidbits I've read about current National Championship coach, Nick Saban:People here
believe Saban is tough and smart and do not care that he can seem impatient, if
not angry, when dealing with the media or hangers-on or just about anybody
else, as if he has more important things to do. Like coaching football. In a
state where some old men still test their truck's electrical system by grabbing
hold of a hot coil wire, football coaches are not supposed to be in touch with
their inner child. Saban won a national championship at LSU in 2003, out of a
conference where every game can feel like a knife fight in a ditch. No one
cares how he did in charm school.
*********************************************"Kickers are a little bit like assassins,"
Saban said. "They got one shot. They got all day that they can prepare
for it. When they get in the window and take the shot, they've got to
make it. I don't think you mess that up right before he's pulling the
trigger. So I don't usually say anything."
*********************************************2009 National Champions