Larry Burton (Panama City Beach, Fl) This week, I've been on a vacation of sorts. It was my wife's college reunion, and I was able to meet a lot of her compadres—none of which I had ever met.
They were a very eclectic bunch, as they all went to the Ringling School of Art—perhaps the nation's finest art college. There were drinkers and nondrinkers, meat eaters and vegetarians, musicians, funny people and serious people—but not a football fan in the bunch.
Here I was, with a dozen folks or so, and I couldn't talk football for two days! Suddenly, I understood the feeling smokers go through going cold turkey and what junkies must go through during withdrawal.
Because we booked the condo for the week, when the three-day reunion was over, I decided to hit the parks and enjoy the rides, shows, and food the places had to offer.
I was blessed to find football fans everywhere I went.
At a dinner show at Arabian Knights, I wore an Alabama shirt that got me a good conversation with a Virginia Tech fan—who was, likewise, donning his colors. We talked about last year's contest and this year's hopes for both teams.
Wow! What a good pick-me-up before the show started and we had to hush.
At Universal Studios, a lady with her family sat next to us at the Animal Actors show—and she was sporting an Ohio State blouse. I told her I write sports stories and had picked the Buckeyes to face my Tide at season's end for all the marbles.
I had a very intelligent discussion with her about why she too thought head coach Jim Tressel may be able to finally string together a whole season and get to the championship game undefeated. My wife was even listening to her account—and while we killed time waiting for the show to start, I got some great talk in.
During dinner at the Latin Quarter, a guy sees my shirt and gives a loud "Roll Tide!" that turns every eye in the restaurant as the hostess walks his group to their table. We fist bump as he goes by.
Later, I met Duncan and his wife. Duncan was sporting his Vanderbilt polo and was wearing it proudly—despite the futility of years of Vanderbilt's struggles. Duncan reminded me that while Vanderbilt may have less to celebrate, there's still the pride over the small accomplishments, as well as the bigger ones—like Vandy's first bowl in 25 years just two seasons ago.
Things were the same the next day there—in yet another Alabama shirt—and today, when I was at Sea World. I met Mitch and his son Tyler, (pictured at the top of the article), from Emmanuel County, Ga.—Dad in his Dawgs shirt and Tyler with his Georgia cap and football T-shirt.
What a great family, as even mom was a fan. We talked for 30 minutes until a very cool show at the Nautilus Theatre finally started.
Things like this made me realize that every school has a fanbase—we call ours "'Bama Nation." But meeting Mitch, and even young Tyler, reminded me of something I had almost forgotten—we are all family in our love of sports.
Young Tyler told me that he likes Alabama, too—except when they're playing his 'Dogs— and he was glad to see us win last year.
I'm proud to say that I have friends in a lot of different schools—yes, including even Auburn—and I respect and admire any person who loves his or her school and portrays that love in a positive and respectful way.
They are my brothers and sisters—maybe not as close as my Alabama ones—but brothers and sisters nonetheless.
To each of these people, who recharged my batteries with their stories, their smiles, and their love of their teams, I thank you.
To the rest of you: Sport your colors, support your school, be part of your fanbase, and be respectful to the others who are like you.
And if you run into me somewhere, sometime, be sure and share a story with me.