They say football is like religion down here in Tuscaloosa, Ala., though that’s a tired cliché. They say we worship at the feet of coaches, of quarterbacks, and crucify our kickers when they don’t do right, or kick straight. They said we had stomped around for too long, and that our crown was teetering, always teetering, barely balanced on our helmets. I guess they were right.
This past Saturday night, the Crimson Tide lost the 78th Iron Bowl to Auburn University, and for just a minute, the world as I knew it, as all Alabama fans knew it, stopped dead on its axis and just hung there. As for me—well, I stood in a local restaurant/bar/pub with a hundred of my closest friends, staring silently at a dozen blinking TVs streaming orange and blue and toilet paper, and I cried.
I spent my four years as an undergraduate at the University of Alabama walking around a winner. During that time, we lost only five football games, but won three national championships. I’ve only ever known red and white confetti, and shiny crystal footballs. Saying that I don’t know—that so many people don’t know—how to be an Alabama fan and lose is perhaps the biggest euphemism of the calendar year.
My own father, bless him, graduated from Auburn, from that place which legendary UA football coach “Bear” Bryant called “that cow college across the state,” and I spent my formative years shouting “War Eagle.” I was always glad about it—when you live in Alabama you’ve got to grow up yelling something, or else people will think you’re from the North or the Midwest or Mars or some other place where they just don’t care about what’s important. I don’t regret knowing the words to Auburn’s fight song. But when it came time to make a real choice, I chose Alabama, because on a random weekend visit to campus, I’d sat on the steps of a beautiful building and seen my life take shape.
When I think about that, about why I planted myself on the banks of the Black Warrior River and bought a houndstooth hat, I remember this place is more to me than just football, and the people here are more to me than just fellow fans. I took a full-time job at an on-campus magazine here after I finished with undergrad—sure, because I like football, and yeah, because I like trophies, but mostly because this is my home, and it’s my home whether we win or lose or tie or quit because we get mad (is that an option?).
It’s easy to say that football is all there is here—this past Saturday, that certainly felt true, as my friends and I shuffled to our car in silence, with nowhere to go and nothing to celebrate. But the Earth is still spinning, albeit maybe a little more reluctantly, and I’m still a better person from walking around this campus, as a winner or not. I’d say it doesn’t matter, in the end, but I could never convince myself that’s true. What I will say, though, is that it’s not the only thing that matters. Roll Tide anyway, y’all.
Photo from al.com.[divider] [/divider]