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Alabama Crimson Tide: Being a Fan Provides a Lifetime of Memories

Douglas WebbCorrespondent IJuly 16, 2009

ATLANTA - DECEMBER 06:  A fan of the Alabama Crimson Tide looks on during the SEC Championship against the Florida Gators on December 6, 2008 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

As a kid, you don't always realize at the time something happens the effects that it is likely to have on your life later on down the line.  Seeds get planted though and often take root forming the basis of our likes and dislikes later on in life.  Kids being what they are and living in the moment, hardly take notice at the time.

I can vaguely remember, as a young boy, gathering together in the living room in front of our TV, with my Dad, a couple of Uncles, and my older brothers, to watch Alabama take on Notre Dame.

I couldn't have been more than six or seven years old at the time and didn't fully understand the game of football itself, nor why it seemed to have such a significance to the adults in the room around me. 

To them, the game seemed to be the single most important thing happening at the time, bar none.  They were all on the edge of their seats living every moment right up until the end, a Notre Dame victory that seemed to take the air out of everyone in the room.

Now, even though I couldn't comprehend at the time why this game seemed to have such importance to the grown-ups around me, I'm pretty sure it was at that moment that the seeds of my love for college football, and most importantly the University of Alabama, were planted.

I can remember just a couple of year later watching Bama's famous goal line stand against Penn State in the Sugar Bowl.  It seemed everyone in the room was holding their breath when the ball was snapped and the Nittany Lions Mike Guman tried to go over the top. 

The room erupted when Alabama's Barry Krauss met him at the apex of his leap and drove him back just shy of the goal line.  The Tide would go on and win the game and be named that years National Champions.

Alabama would make it back to back championships with a pounding of then Southwest conference champion Arkansas in the following years Sugar Bowl.  At the time as a 12-year-old kid, I had become reasonably sure that the Tide would never lose again.

Growing up in the late '60s and early '70s was an easy time to become a Tide fan.  Alabama fans had become addicted to winning.  We were so spoiled by the success of our program that we didn't know what it was like to lose  On the rare occasion that it did happen you'd have thought we'd been slapped in the face.  Alabama just did not lose.

That all changed though when Coach Bryant retired.  I can remember hearing all the old timers discuss the Universities choice of a successor in Ray Perkins.  Though they were glad he was a Alabama man, they were a bit concerned with his lack of experience coaching at the college level. 

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That struck me as funny considering he was hired away from the NFL.  I often wonder what would have happened had Coach Bryant lived a few more years after retirement. 

Whether it would have made enough difference as far as stability and recruiting to prevent Alabama from taking the competitive dip that so many expected after his retirement.

He'd often said when asked about retirement that if he ever quit coaching he'd probably be dead in a week.  As with most things, coach didn't miss by much passing away just thirty seven days after announcing his retirement.  I remember vividly when and where I was upon hearing about his death.

I was in the ninth grade and had just gotten out of school when they broke into the Atlanta radio station I was listening to at the time to announce that Coach had passed.  Normally things like that only happened for Heads of State, but that was the effect coach had on people in the south.  Even fans of other schools often took pride in Coach Bryant.


For the first time in my life that I could remember Alabama began to struggle on the football field.  Recruiting had dropped off in the Bear's last year or so and Alabama began to feel it's effects in Perkins first couple years at the Capstone. 

Perkins decision to have the Bear's tower taken down from the Alabama practice field further alienated a fan base that for so long had had little to nothing to complain about and now seemed eager to make up for lost time.

Still there were almost magical type memories that happened during that time.  The 85 season in particular had two of the more memorable games of my life.  Alabama opened the season that year playing Georgia in Sanford Stadium in Athens.  The Crimson Tide led most of the game, but the Bulldogs blocked a punt late to take the lead. 

Alabama was quarterbacked that season by a young Mike Shula.  Though he lacked a big play arm the left-handed quarterback seemed to make up for it with smarts and a gutsy approach to the game. 

Shula showed just that when with less than a minute left in the game he found junior college transfer Al Bell on a deep post pattern for the winning score. 

The season ended almost exactly as it had begun, with a fierce Alabama comeback.  Facing in-state rival Auburn in the annual Iron Bowl both teams traded scores in a fourth quarter for the ages. 

It appeared as though the Tigers had finally managed to drive a stake through the hearts of Alabama fans when Tiger great Bo Jackson dived over the top for the go-ahead score with just less than a minute left in the game.

Things looked even worse for Alabama after the first two plays netted negative yardage leaving the Tide facing a 3rd-and-18 with just 37 seconds left in the game.  On the next play Shula found freshman Gene Jelks for a 14 yard pass play. 

Jelks managed to get out of bounds with just 27 seconds left on the clock.  On 4th-and-4 Shula tossed right on a sweep to Jelks who confounded the Tiger defense by then tossing the ball to receiver Al Bell going left on a reverse. 

One Auburn defender stayed home and had a chance to make the tackle but at the last second Shula blindsided him with a nice block springing Bell for the first down.  After an in-completion, Shula found Greg Richardson across the middle of the field. 

Making the catch, Richardson alertly managed to get to the sideline where dragging his defender, he just managed to get out of bounds at the Auburn 35 yard line.  There were only six seconds left on the clock.

Now, I remember watching all this with the girl I would later in life marry.  When the Tide lined up for that 52-yard field goal, I could take no more.  As the ball was snapped and before Van Tiffin could start towards it, I cut the TV off using the remote control. 

I just couldn't stand to watch.   My future bride to be immediately jumped to the television hitting the power switch and the picture sprang to life as the kick sailed through the uprights. 

While Keith Jackson and Frank Broyles were excitedly announcing the Alabama victory and Tide players mobbed their diminutive kicker, the camera swapped to a replay of the Auburn sidelines as the kick was made.

It was a shot of Auburn quarterback Pat Washington holding hands with another Auburn player as they seemed to bow their heads almost in prayer just before the ball was kicked.  Whether it was the crowd's reaction or just fate, both players looked up just as the ball sailed through the uprights. The look on their faces was one of complete despair.

The two reactions, the Alabama players on the field and the Auburn players on the bench reminded me of the old opening to ABC's Wide World of Sports when the announcer would say "the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.” 

That's when you know that the seed of “fandom” has truly taken root.  When you feel the wins and losses every bit as much as the athletes on the field.  The wins can cause a near euphoric feeling.  The losses on the other hand can leave one feeling completely disgusted.  I've actually known fans who have become physically ill after a loss.

Of course, these days with the Internet, video game consoles, and televisions in nearly every room of the house, not to mention single parent homes, it makes you wonder whether families still gather together on Saturday afternoons to watch their team play.  I've spent many hours on fall afternoons watching college football with my sons. 

My oldest still swears he can remember Alabama thrashing the Hurricanes in the '93 Sugar Bowl even though he was only five years old at the time.  Missing being together on the third Saturday in October to watch the Tide take on Tennessee would be unthinkable.  Iron Bowls in our house are on a par with Super Bowl Sunday's for most people. 

Hopefully as they move out and start families of their own they'll keep these traditions alive. It would be nice if when they reach my age they'll be able to look back and reflect on the memories of Saturday afternoons spent not only as kids watching ball with me but also as adults watching their favorite team with their kids. 

Whether it's at the stadium or in their living room in front of the television, it's something they nor their kids will ever forget.

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