Before this past weekend, Mitch last made the trip to Tuscaloosa with me on Sept. 22, 2001.
It was the first weekend of college football games after the attacks on the United States that resulted in the deaths of almost 3,000 people who were only guilty of reporting to work on Sept. 11.
Some went to work in buildings where they served as accountants, administrative assistants, food workers, lawyers and any number of professions ,where getting up and heading to the office is just part of the routine. Some simply just got on an airplane.
Others went to work at places where you wear a uniform and badge and when the phone rings, there is typically a problem waiting for you.
Danger is a facet of what these people do, but it is not expected to be encountered on the scale those brave people faced on that day.
When we arrived on the campus of the University of Alabama that September day, you could sense a different vibe. Usually big games bring an air of excitement to Tuscaloosa, but on that day the air just seemed heavy.
Typically, there are large numbers of people walking about, tailgating, and taking in the pageantry of college football. That day, people just seemed to be wandering around aimlessly.
Crowds at Bryant-Denny love their Tide and cheer with gusto as the team enters the stadium to the sounds of “Yea Alabama.”
That day the greeting from the stands was more polite than raucous. As the game went on, the energy usually brought by Alabama fans was missing. That day was very different than a typical one.
Like many fans, recalling the outcome of games is almost an automatic for me, but the results of the game between Alabama and Arkansas from that day was not cataloged in my mind and it required a look through an old media guide to recall the Tide’s victory that day.
Last Saturday, Mitch was back in Tuscaloosa with me to watch Alabama play Penn State. It seemed very different than that day.
Tailgaters were dining in wall to wall tents on the quad just a block away from newly renovated Bryant-Denny Stadium.
From early morning until the 6:00 p.m. kickoff, the number of people wearing their crimson shirts and dresses kept growing. Penn State loyalists who made the trip dotted the crowd wearing their distinct blue and white.
In the middle of the afternoon, there was a heavy, but brief, downpour that was unable to dampen the spirits of the crowd. People took refuge where they could and excitement for the approaching kickoff only increased.
Inside the stadium, Bama fans were built into a frenzy, with highlights from Alabama greats of the past and last year’s national title team.
Coach Nick Saban and his team were captured for all to see on the giant video screens as they walked from their locker room to the tunnel that leads into the stadium.
Finally they sprinted onto the field with the Alabama Million Dollar Band blaring “Yea Alabama” for a crowd that was in full voice, as kickoff was all but here.
What happened next was typical. Bama fans cheered great plays, worried with bad ones, and cheered like there was nothing more important that night.
Penn State’s outnumbered fans that filled the northeast corner of the stadium did the same for their Nittany Lions. When the clock expired at the end of the evening the Crimson Tide had another win.
It was all very different than Sept. 22, 2001.
On that day back in 2001, what took place in college stadiums around the county was very much like what happened in Tuscaloosa.
People were unsure about being at the games and just a little nervous about the possibilities of what could happen. They were at the games in body, but much of the spirit was missing that day.
It may have seemed like things were back to normal, but it is a good bet that in every place where college football was played, there was something done to honor the memories of those who died on Sept. 11, 2001.
There were also remembrances made of those who lost their lives in the wars fought in places far from home.
We may seem to have moved on, but the events of that day are still very much in our individual and collective memory.
That is good. We should never forget the events of that day. It is a part of what now defines us.
Mitch is a Razorback fan and wears a different shade of red than Bama fans. In Ann Arbor, they wear their maize and blue with great pride, and you will never confuse them with the scarlet and gray worn by Buckeyes everywhere.
From coast to coast, we wear our school colors with pride and cheer our teams on with all of our hearts.
We love our schools and the traditions we share with others that fill the stands on football weekends, but what is beautiful to watch in America is that when we are faced with a challenge and have our backs to the wall, there is no Texas A&M maroon or Texas burnt orange.
There are just Americans of all stripes and colors pulling together to make a difference for their neighbors.
While we may have great love for our college football teams, there is one thing that is more certain. We love being Americans even more.
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