From an outsider's perspective, Alabama's 2009 home opener against Florida International this Saturday is little more than a tune-up, a breather after a tough first game.
For those of us who are planning on being counted as one of the 92,000 plus that will be on hand in Tuscaloosa this weekend, it might mean slightly more than that.
For me, Alabama home games (and many on the road) were simply a part of my upbringing. As a kid in the '80s, Bryant-Denny was an awe-inspiring place to be, although the 72,000 seat capacity was roughly three-fourths the size of the behemoth it is today.
Although much has changed within the program in the last 25 years, the gameday experience in Tuscaloosa remains an integral part of life to me, and to about 100,000 of my closest friends.
This year, the opener may leave a little to be desired as far as the opponent is concerned, but the first game is always a unique experience.
In my little corner of the stadium, the first game brings yet another opportunity for me to shamefully apologize to the nice gentleman in front of me for my dropping a hot dog on his head (and shoulder, and back) at the LSU game in '05. Writer's Note: This was my wife's fault, contrary to documents released in 2006.
Once again, I get to exchange high-fives with the guy two rows behind me, who, as far as I can remember, has yelled at the top of his lungs "BLOCK, LINE!", no less than 2,700 times. I can remember him saying no other words. I have hugged him four times. I do not know his name.
To say that I am fidgety during a football game would be a gross understatement. I am up and down, in and out of the aisle, pacing constantly. This is a character flaw. I have come to terms with it. The first game this year provides the lady that sits at the end of my row three hours worth of opportunities to scowl at me and mutter under her breath. I do not know her name either. I have hugged her zero times.
And then there is Hannah. At last count, Hannah was a 8-year-old little girl who sat to my left at most of the home games last year. Hannah not only understands the intricacies and nuances of the 3-4 defense better than I do, but she is happy to explain them to me. Also, if you are confused about the roles of the "mike", "will", or "jack" linebackers, Hannah is your go-to source for answers. You have not really attended a football game until you and the 8-year-old girl next to you jump up and yell in unison, "THAT'S HOLDING! THROW THE DAMNED FLAG!" And then fist-bump if it gets called.
I also look forward to the age-old debate with the guy behind me about the social ramifications of an adult male and his "shaker", or "pom-pom", as they are known to anyone outside of the SEC. I have weighed both sides of the issue carefully. For the record, I support the idea that the "shaker" has no age or sex restrictions. Hannah agrees with me. Fist-bump.
Also, I have made a promise to my wife this year to avoid knocking her over when Alabama scores, as I jump up and down with my father like a couple of 12-year-old kids. For the record, I am 30, he is 57. I never really found anything odd about that.
I have often wondered if everyone that attends collegiate football games has experiences such as these. It might be true, but it is hard for me to imagine anything similar at the Coliseum in L.A. or at The Horseshoe in Columbus. Maybe I am mistaken. If so, please do not take offense. Or do take offense, if you like. Maybe you think you have it better. The hot dog guy, the "BLOCK, LINE!" guy, the scowling lady, the shaker-hater, Hannah, and me do not believe that we could be missing out on anything.
Whatever the case is elsewhere, there is absolutely nowhere that I would rather be on a fall Saturday.