I was ill prepared for this.
My first clue was the retirement home they built on campus. People may graduate from Bama, but they don't really ever leave. The education is top notch. The campus is absolutely gorgeous, kind of a picturesque, stately, old South thing.
But that's not it. It's the football.
I've never been much of a football person. But you never, ever say that out loud in Tuscaloosa ("T-Town"), Alabama. If the President of the United States were to visit Nick Saban, the newspaper caption under the photo would be "Most Important Man In the Free World visited by the President." Have you ever seen the movie 300? Yeah. That's how it feels. Think of Nick Saban as Leonidas and the Alabama football team as his 300 warriors. The faithful in T-town are not just fans. They're obsessed. And they're proud of it.
So I bit the bullet last year and went with my daughter to a football game. First important point-there were no men involved in our excursion. Just me and my 19 year old girl. The obsession is gender neutral. We had to park a mile away in someone's yard (for a mere $20). At first, I was convinced it was because there were just that many people. Close, but not quite. Several blocks away, the festival started. Tents with food, shirts, purses and jewelry (all covers with the obligatory "A") were everywhere. On the quad, where the day before there had been nothing but a field of beautiful green grass, there was a mass of people with grills and tents with recliners and big screen TVs that put my living room to shame. Second important point-it's not just a game. It's an event.
Hours before the game, we're already headed for the stadium. We're in the student section and my daughter says we need to be early to get good seats. I discover we need to be early to get ANY seats. The students are already fired up, especially the guys up front wearing nothing but paint. And when Saban takes the field to wave at the crowd, escorted by two sharply dressed state troopers, the students go into an absolute frenzy. It's hero worship in a big way. Gerard Butler himself could not have gotten this reaction.
I'd seen plenty of the games on TV before. They're nothing like this. It's electric. The adrenaline and the on-the-edge-of-your-seat excitement is something you have to see to believe. What a rush! No wonder they're obsessed. That's why I'm headed back this weekend to see them walk all over the Ole Miss whatever-they-ares (sorry Donna!). It's catching. It must be in the water up there.
An acquaintance of mine is an accountant. He's also the president of the area alumni association. He wears a houndstooth jacket to work more often than not. He'll probably end up in that retirement home someday. I don't blame him. Roll Tide.