Growing up crimson


Video: Notre Dame at Alabama, 1986

My love affair with the Crimson Tide began as a boy. Going to public school in Alabama, you are either an Alabama or Auburn fan from your earliest days of grade school, lest you wear neutral colors on Alabama-Auburn Day (yes, it’s a thing).

I grew up in the era of the Bear. I watched Coach Bryant lead the team to win after win after win; I saw him munch on Golden Flake and take a sip of Coke on his weekly TV show. With no family members of either Tide or Tiger persuasion, I could pick whichever team I fancied.

This was back when the Iron Bowl, the annual season-closing grudge match between the two rivals, was still played in my hometown at Birmingham’s Legion Field, the Football Capital of the South. Alabama used to play a portion of its “home” games here, in addition to Bryant-Denny Stadium on campus in Tuscaloosa.

So, in essence, the Tide was the home team. (The University of Alabama at Birmingham was still a few years away from starting its football program, while its men’s basketball team was riding high during the Bartow era.)

My first real date came as a teenager. My friend Will invited me to see Alabama play at Legion. I had been to a couple of All-American Bowl games before, but not a Bama game. (That was the original bowl game held in Birmingham.)

The opponent: Notre Dame. This would be their fifth contest, the first in 6 years. The Fighting Irish had bested us the previous four times.

I didn’t care — I was just excited to go.

I don’t remember a lot about the game itself. I recall it was a lot warmer and nicer in the stands on that Saturday afternoon in October than during the bowl games of late December.

I remember it was packed, and that everyone was having a good time. And I remember at one point getting so excited, I didn’t noticed the soda cup in my hand had tipped forward, dropping more than a splash of icy Coke on the unprepared fan seated in front of me.

I was embarrassed at my teen clumsiness. Embarrassed, until the fellow Tide fan turned around grinning, saying not to worry because it felt refreshing on a hot day. Immediately, I felt better.

I always think back to that random encounter. He could’ve been pissed, but he took it in stride and was as nice as all get out. I’ve heard Bama fans called nasty things over the years — arrogant, spoiled, hyperbolic, unrealistic — but those things have never rung true in my book.

Most of the fans I’ve met have been fun loving and good natured, just like the guy I doused in cola. Despite the bad apples (the ones you find in every orchard of a fan base), I’ve always been proud to be part of the family.

And yes, I’ve never attended Alabama a day in my life, nor have any of my relations. But growing up with the Tide sparked my lifelong love of college football and irrational hatred of the colors orange and blue. It makes for fun tweeting on game day and memories great and gloomy.

I’ve cheered them on in the glory years of Coach Stallings and stuck by them in the morass of coaches who shall not be named (one of whom was the Tide’s QB in that very game). And some 22 years after that first game at Legion Field, I finally saw the Tide play in Tuscaloosa.

As for that first game in 1986, Alabama won 28-10, the only time they beat Notre Dame in all six contests. Coach Perkins had pulled off what the Bear had not in four tries. And first-year coach Lou Holtz would finish 5-6, his only losing season in his 11 years in South Bend. (Yeah, I had to look all of that up.)

I can’t wait for the seventh battle, Monday night’s BCS title fight in Miami. To me, it’s special.

Not because two legendary programs face off for the first time in 25 years. But because it takes me back to one of my most cherished memories growing up in Alabama and a love that has grown over the years.

Video: Alabama linebacker Cornelius Bennett makes an awesome sack
on Notre Dame quarterback Steve Beuerlein.


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