“We just beat the hell out of you! Rammer jammer yellow hammer, give ’em hell Alabama.” Cheer after another University of Alabama football victory.
I live in Alabama. Except for a brief period of exile spent in the Louisiana Territory, I’ve spent most of my life here. Alabama is my State, the place I love, the land I’m proud to be from. When I die, whatever is left of my worn out shell will become a part of Her, molecules and atoms mixing to bond with the soil, trees, and rocks that formed a people and influenced the man I was during my brief stay.
Alabama is unique, and she has produced a unique people. Her native sons and daughters have retained their singular spirit through three centuries. We once survived invasion by blue-coats from the North. We now survive a new invasion from Yankees with a different intent, those who are fleeing harsh weather and the economic and social collapse of their own lands. They mix with us, but they will never be a part of us, and they will likely never understand us, for they are not formed from this same soil.
Part of what separates us as a people is our intense pride. We will not be looked down upon with impunity. We corporately despise those who think they are better than us. And we have been, and continue to be, ridiculed by our fellow countrymen. We are summarily dismissed and labeled: rednecks, hillbillies, hicks, Bible-thumpers, in-breeds, and racists. For some, we will always be associated with a troubled racial past and the little bulldog of a governor who knew how to capture and focus our frustrations, even though his aim, and thus ours, was misdirected. Our achievements and contributions to world culture remain ignored or unrecognized. Our native sons and daughters are among the world’s best musicians, athletes, writers, scholars, soldiers–even astronauts.
We are in many ways an enigma. Although we distrust our government, we are are always first in line to volunteer to shed our blood for her. We defend the rights and liberties of the very ones who disdain us. Our blood is mixed with the soil in every place the U.S. has sent her armies. We are the pitbulls of the American people, and we never run away from a fight.
Through our troubled past, through all of the disdain, through all our struggles with poverty and a myriad of other problems, we have clung to one source of pride above all others: we will flat-out whip your ass in football.
It matters not to us where you are from. For the last fifty years, from sea to shining sea, we have vanquished more foes than not. No state with a population this small has accomplished this with such frequency and consistency.
It started with a man called “Bear.” For many years, his teams humiliated and conquered all foes. He left a legacy that will never be forgotten and a cadre of players who went on to other fields of glory. Household names engraved on hearts and in halls of fame: Starr, Namath, Jordan, Stabler, Musso, Hannah, Lowe, Newsome, and many, many others. The phrase “Crimson Tide” became synonymous with winning, and by default our citizens became winners too. Truck drivers and farmers, cotton mill workers and loggers, janitors and ditch-diggers all could share in the pride that came with the wins and championships. Many of these blue collar folks are her most rabid fans, even though they have never set foot on campus or witnessed a game in person. It is part of a corporate pride in a place where personal pride can be as hard to come by as a sawmill dollar.
Over the last twenty years, things have begun to gradually change. The Bear retired and passed on, and Alabama’s “other” university began to improve. Now the state has two football powers to reckon with instead of one.
Last year, the University of Alabama collected another National Championship to go with all those in the past. One of her players won the Heisman Trophy, the award given to the best college football player in the nation.
This year, Auburn University won the National Championship, and Auburn quarterback Cam Newton won the Heisman.
Our pride should be at an all time high, but it is not.
The last two months have tested our unity. The last week has left a wound that will not heal for years to come.
A University of Alabama “fan” poisoned two trees on the Auburn campus with herbicide, then called a national sports-talk radio show to brag about it. These were not ordinary trees, but the “Toomer Oaks,” which have been a gathering point for celebrations for Auburn University victories for years. In many ways these trees are a symbol of the University itself. They are irreplaceable.
The more educated and sensible citizens of our State have decried this as the act of a mentally unbalanced individual. But a couple of hours spent listening to the callers on the same sports-talk radio show this week leave me unsure. For every Alabama fan who denounces this act of stupidity, there seems to be one who is willing to excuse or condone it.
My personal hope is that no one with an Auburn label attempts any sort of retaliation.
But I wouldn’t be surprised. This is Alabama. We are a proud people and we never run from a fight. If there are no more worthy opponents, we’ll make do fighting ourselves.