Monday, October 4, 2010

Tuscaloosa: a Football Fan's Dreamland

Oh, Kentucky Wildcat athletic program.

How I love thee. How I have a collage of the last ten UK basketball and football calendars framed and hanging above my bed. How I drove 1700 miles in 3 days to watch you lose - badly - to an under-ranked opponent in the 2010 Elite Eight. How I still consider my autographed Andre Woodson football to be one of the top two Christmas gifts I've ever been given.

And yet ... how I had to laugh when I read this this morning:

Yes. The 3-2 Cats are confident they can beat undefeated Auburn this weekend, and I'm pretty sure my advisor won't make me finish my dissertation before she lets me graduate.

Are they for real? The great state of Alabama is home to two SEC teams, and with all due respect to my beloved 'Cats, I don't think either of them will be beaten this season until they go head to head in November 27th's Iron Bowl.

I say this, having attended the Tide's undoing of the Florida Gators last Saturday. It was my first trip to Tuscaloosa, or "Tucsaloosa," as I prefer to call it, in homage to my favorite Alabaman who once overheard a boy in Burger King refer to the South's supreme doughnut-erie as "Krip-sy Kreme." Like those sugary concoctions, I learned why they refer to it as "sweet home Alabama," for with the possible exception of the Nebraska fans I encountered at the 2007 Cotton Bowl, I have never experienced a friendlier fan base.

There's definitely something to be said for that. Fan behavior can make or break the way I feel about a team. For instance, while not a card-carrying Cornhusker (though I am really looking forward to my first trip to Lincoln next weekend), I still wish Nebraska nothing but the best. Why should an SEC girl care beans about a Big Twelve team? One reason: because of the way they were represented in the stands and on the hotel elevator. On the flip side, were the earth around Cornell to open up tomorrow, swallowing whole the university and all of its self-impressed student body, it wouldn't bother me the eensy-teensiest, ittiest bit. Why? Because of the way those little snot-nosed "super students" acted when the Big Red played my Big Blue in the Sweet Sixteen last March. For one of the tournament's "Cinderella teams," they sure didn't act very ladylike. Instead, they loudly shouted every kind of curse word while throwing things in the bleachers and making comments like "I hope you DIE, DeMarcus Cousins." Pure class, Cornell. And don't you go acting so high and mighty, Maryland fans. You caused a native Kentuckian to cheer for INDIANA (ew!) at the 2001 National Championship. IN.DI.AN.A. My Mayme would roll over in her grave. She raised me better than that.

But that just goes to prove my point. Being a fan isn't based solely on what happens on the field (or the court, as the case may be). In a way, I guess, we're ALL "playing" for our team - representing them the same way we do our families or, for Christians, our faith. If that's the case, then we could all stand to take a page out of Alabama's playbook.

Now that I think of it, that's probably the only way my Cats, no matter how "confident" they are, will ever beat Auburn this weekend.

In addition to the fantastic fans, there were a couple of other trip highlights. For starters, no self-respecting blog entry about Tuscaloosa would be complete without a tip of the hat to Dreamland Bar-B-Que. That's where our visit to town began. Nothing like watching my father, the heart patient, stuff himself with way more ribs than anyone should be allowed to eat in a single setting. I don't even like ribs, to be honest. Still, it seemed a sacrilege to not have a taste of this tradition. Plus, as Ron Burgundy said to Veronica Corningstone, "When in Rome ..."

Secondly, the Alabama campus is incredible. Streets teem with fans covered in Crimson and co-eds bedecked in their go-to-meetin' best. One of my favorite things was strolling through a strip of sorority houses and passing by the president's place (by the way, Mr. President, my parents and I are deeply apologetic for our accidental "visit" during that party with all of those high-end alums) en route to the Quad. This is the place to be. Here, it seems, is where each of Bryant-Denny's 101,000 fans hang out until it's time to fill the nation's fifth-largest college stadium, which, by the way, doesn't happen until extremely close to kick-off. That's just the way the Tide rolls. Plus, to go in too early would be to miss the tailgating and the family-on-family football scrimmages and the band concerts and the day's other games, which are broadcast on each of about sixteen big-screens set up in nearly every tent.

Finally, that stadium. Sweet sassy molassey. That stadium. I have been very blessed to visit several college stadiums, and there are three that are, without a doubt, the best of those that I've been in. My apologies to Commonwealth, but you ain't one of 'em. The Big House (University of Michigan), Neyland Stadium (University of Tennessee), and Bryant-Denny are in a class all their own. And, last Saturday, the Tide's football team proved to be just as singularly sensational. As that favorite Alabaman told me, "[This season], the only team that can really beat Alabama is Alabama." Agreed.

The same could be said of the whole Alabama football experience. Don't worry, Kentucky. I still bleed blue. Why, you handed me two of my greatest sports memories of all of 2010 (basketball Gameday at Rupp Arena and a come from behind, overtime win at the SEC Tournament). It's just that, last weekend, Alabama handed me the third.

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  1. I know. And all due respect to the Nard Dog, but they are the most obnoxious fans EVER.

    And for what? What's Cornell done with it's life that's so great?

  2. I'm still kicking myself for missing this experience. Can't you down play it just a little so I'll feel a bit better for watching the game from my much less impressive living room?

  3. JKS, as someone who does NOT love football (sorry, y'all, I really am), I still have to say I'm glad to see Bama getting some respect. I can't personally speak for their football, but I do know first hand that it's a great state full of great people. :) (Along with the occasional redneck. Occasional. ;))
    Les, as bad as you talk about Bama's team, I can't believe you'd even set foot in their stadium. ;)

  4. Hi Kristin, I am interested in using one of your Alabama photos for a travel guide my magazine is putting together. If you are interested in working with us on this, please e-mail me at


  5. Absolutely, Jeff! I'd be happy to discuss this with you. I just emailed you via the address above.