There’s a lot about Alabama that can’t be fully explained to outsiders. Our obsession with football is one of these things. It is much like a religion.
In this State, most natives are die-hard fans of one of the two big State schools: The University of Alabama or Auburn University. You love one and hate the other. It’s a given. You must declare an allegiance, and there is no middle ground. Never mind that you may have never actually graduated, attended, or possibly even visited either school. Every resident is expected to make a definitive choice.
It is a blood feud, this rivalry. Think Hatfields and McCoys; Crips and Bloods; Jews and Arabs. Families are divided. Neighbors may become enemies. All this over a game that will be cussed, discussed, and analyzed for 364 days until it comes around again the next year.
In spite of the pressure to make a choice, there are a very few of us who can go either way. We are considered freaks, so we stay quiet. Football loyalty in Alabama is a lot like politics–if you stand in the middle of the road you are likely to be run over from both directions.
I am one of the freaks. I grew up an Alabama fan. It was during the days of Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, and I was one hundred percent committed to the Crimson Tide. When it came time to go to college, there was only one choice. Academics never even entered into my thought process.
I spent two years at U.A. Then the unthinkable happened. A summer job in forestry led me to change my mind about a career. Forestry isn’t available at U.A. The only option was Auburn. It was such a serious decision that I actually went back to the University of Alabama for the Fall semester–just to make sure my thinking on a career change was solid. The idea of going to Auburn was, how shall I say it, repulsive. But I felt I had no choice.
Auburn University turned out to be a great place to go to school. I made a lot of good friends. But it took a long time before I was able to pull for the football team. Even though my diploma said “Auburn University,” I still favored the Crimson Tide on Fall Saturdays.
Eventually I saw the foolishness of my situation. I live ten miles from the Auburn campus. Many of my friends went there, and when they were old enough, my children went there. It was not a “Damascus Road” conversion. It was a gradual, but it was a conversion non-the-less.
But unlike most Auburn fans, I wish no ill-will against the Crimson Tide. I still cheer for them every game but one. Their fans are neighbors, friends, co-workers, and even some of my family, too.
Last year Alabama won the National Championship. A player on that team won the coveted Heisman Trophy, the highest individual honor in college football.
This year, the unthinkable happened. Auburn won the National Championship, and an Auburn player won the Heisman.
To my knowledge, no single State has never had this happen.
You would think that all of Alabama would be bursting with pride. Yet both years, approximately half of her citizens are angry or distraught.
Football is a jealous god, demanding constant worship.
I was reminded of this as I listened to a sports talk radio show the day after Auburn’s National Championship victory. The Auburn caller asked “How many games do you think we win next year with the players we have coming back?”
Sweet home Alabama. Football 365 days a year.