As reported earlier today by John Simerman of NOLA.com, Brian Downing of Smith Station, Alabama agreed to a plea deal that will leave him with a two-year prison sentence for his actions after January's BCS title game. And so comes to a close one of the uglier instances of fan-on-fan crime in college football history.
Most of us have, at some point in our lives, been in situations similar to what Downing, 33, faced way back on January 9th. It was a joyous atmosphere, the Crimson Tide had just won the BCS national title for the second time in three years, and in an inebriated stupor Downing and his pals went out for some grub.
Someone comes up with what seems like a good idea for an apparently harmless prank. Not thinking as clearly as he should, another friend decides to carry out the ill-concieved plan. Admit it, you've been there.
Unfortunately for Downing, the prank in question on this night was one that is highly illegal. To make matters worse, the act was videotaped and posted on the Internet.
The problem with Downing's actions that night is that the prank was not harmless. It was not funny. It was not anywhere close to legal. And in a town (New Orleans) that has a street (Bourbon) where questionable hijinx and shenanigans occur on a fairly regular basis, Downing set a new low with his actions.
When I first heard about the sentence, I must admit that it came across as pretty harsh. Not since Cool Hand Luke was sent to a Georgia labor farm for cutting the heads off of parking meters has one been punished so severely, I thought.
(Warning: Video NSFW.)
But after thinking it through, as Downing should have done before committing this crime, I have reconsidered.
By resting his, uh, "laurels" on the face of a drunken LSU fan, Brian Downing crossed a line that should never even be approached. Getting in a verbal jab at an opposing fan is a part of the college football experience. Most of what we see at stadiums throughout SEC country is done, and taken, in good fun.
Instead of having a little fun at this unfortunate Tiger's expense, Downing took the unfortunate victim to a level lower than human life and lowered himself to this sub-zero level in the process. He drug along with him the University of Alabama, it's players, students, and fans.
Today there are Dawg, Gator, Tiger and Volunteer fans across the southeast laughing at the fact that reigning champion Alabama has yet another black eye. They shouldn't be, though.
The reality of this situation is that when Alabama is blemished, the SEC is blemished. The entire southeastern United States is blemished. In an area of the country that has been disgraced by everyone from Honey Badger to Honey Boo-Boo, this is not something that we need.
Yes, Alabama has a rabid fanbase. Like everyone else, every kitchen has its nuts and Alabama is no exception. Nonetheless, do not let the Brian Downing's and Harvey Updyke's of the world become an accurate representation of Alabama football. These senseless clowns are the exception to the rule.
I have been in large crowds with fans of every school in the SEC, sans newcomers Texas A&M and Missouri, and have seen winners and losers from all of them. While I am honestly more fond of some schools supporters than others, I must say that, as a whole, the typical fan of SEC football is perfectly harmless and enjoys conversing with fans of the opposition on game day.
It is our job as normal, but dedicated, fans to lift up our programs by being respectful and by having the judgement necessary to avoid getting ourselves in situations like Downing did. We owe it to our respective universities. We owe it to our coaches and players. We owe it to our conference. Most importantly, we owe it to ourselves.
Mr. Downing will one day have to explain to his one-year-old son why daddy was not around for a couple of years and why daddy didn't come to the birthday party. And if he has learned anything from this at all, he will tell his son the truth. He cannot take away what he has done, but he can do his part to make sure it never happens again.
Downing got what he deserved and the sentence he will serve is appropriate for the crime committed. With any luck, future instances similar to this one will be avoided as Downing serves as a living example of how not to represent ones self.