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Published: October 23rd 2019
For the past decade or so, one phrase has become standard for teams on the rise that want to prove they're legit: We Want Bama. And the team from the University of Alabama has not only accepted their role as the dominant team in college football; they have unabashedly made it their brand.
Before this season began, I knew I would need to make it over to Tuscaloosa at some point during the season. I had originally planned on visiting about a month ago, but the quality of the opponent in that game made me reconsider. The Bama-Tennessee rivalry, so much that it is, caught my attention. It is played every year, and always the third Saturday in October. And until this year, it has been the CBS game of the week—meaning it takes place at 3:30 PM, eastern time. The time slot, the storied rivalry, and the cheapness of the ticket enticed me to put this on my calendar about two weeks ago. And then I found out the week of the game that the time had changed to 9:00 PM, which meant I was going to have to make a decision about post-game activities. Tuscaloosa is a four-hour
drive from Athens, so a 3:30 game is an easy day trip. The game wouldn’t be over until after midnight, eastern time, and so I could shell out the money for a hotel or bite the bullet and drive all the way back immediately after the game. Seeing as I had commitments in Athens at 11:00 AM Sunday, I chose to simply drive all the way back and hope I got at least three hours of sleep. My financial situation also induced me not to spend any extra money on a hotel if I didn’t need it.
I bought an Alabama t-shirt about ten years ago, so that would be one school where I wouldn’t feel any need (or desire, frankly) to purchase any swag for the game. So I wore that shirt when I pulled out of Athens around 11:00 AM. I also had forgotten that this week was Homecoming for UGA until Wednesday, and so I felt a little bit of betrayal for wearing this shirt and for driving out of town on Homecoming. Alas. Make your games more affordable.
But the t-shirt did throw me off when I got to Tuscaloosa, around 2:00 central time.
I saw lots of people wearing crimson and Alabama logos, and I immediately went into “hide now” mode every time someone approached me. At least, I did that for the first ten or fifteen minutes of my walk around downtown Tuscaloosa. I don’t normally wear crimson or any clothing that says “Alabama” on it, and I’ve grown to assume that Bama fans are a bit condescending to those who don’t also wear those things. Every time someone just looked at me as if nothing was wrong, I had to remind myself that they assumed I was one of them. Also I had to remind myself that I wasn’t wearing anything with UGA or Georgia on it. And they weren’t going to mock me or sneer or make any other derisive comments. This was weird. But it was the new normal for today.
I parked for FREE at the Tuscaloosa Downtown Intermodal Parking Facility as soon as I arrived in Tuscaloosa. It’s a mile from the stadium, and if you get there early enough, you can find spaces. Mine was at the top of the deck, and it was filling up fast when I arrived. But it allowed me to
walk around downtown Tuscaloosa, which I otherwise wouldn’t have done. It was mostly closed—the shops were, anyway. It’s not like downtown Athens on game day, where they expect to do more business. The main tailgate scene in Tuscaloosa is on the university quad, which is just past the stadium when coming from downtown. So maybe they realize that the party is all over there and just close up shop. At any rate, I walked the main road toward the stadium and scored a free can of cold Pepsi (yuck, but it was something to fill me up since I hadn’t eaten since I left Athens) along with a clear drawstring bag with a crimson shaker in it. There was also a koozie with houndstooth design, and I have no use for either of those things.
By this time, it wasn’t even 3:00, so I still had five hours before kickoff. What to do? I had posted on Facebook about going to this game, and none of my Alabama friends responded until I called out a few of them. All but one sent their regrets about not going to this particular game. And the one who did respond didn’t get
my information until after I was already in the stadium. So I spent the day virtually alone.
I also spent most of the day on the quad. I do love Art Deco, as many of my readers will recall. And the Denny Chimes, in the Art Deco style, are a landmark on the Alabama campus. They are also virtually in the center of the main quad, between the library and some old antebellum-looking mansion across the street. This is also where a large portion of Alabama tailgating takes place. They do it up right, I’ll give them that. It’s pretty orderly, with groups being allocated a specific numbered spot. And there are clear walkways in between all the rows and columns. I walked through this area a number of times, either from boredom or people watching. I found a row of food trucks on the opposite side of the quad from the stadium, and since I had only had a Pepsi to drink in the previous five hours, I opted to get some food. The Full Moon Bar-B-Q truck had the largest lines, and rightly so. They provided a tailgate with tent, chairs, and even streaming ESPN for people
who bought from their truck. I don’t really like barbecue, but they were the only truck offering sweet tea to drink. So I got my food elsewhere and then bought a drink from Full Moon and was thus able to partake of the seating and football-watching. At least until halftime of the LSU game, which is the only game most people were interested in viewing.
Once I found out that LSU had won that game (against my clanging friends at Mississippi State), I decided that would be my destination for next week. So this week I got to see the number-one team in the country, and next week it’ll be the number-two team.
After finishing my food, I walked around behind the library and found a long row of port-o-potties. And beyond that was a nice walkway that led to the student center. These were very nicely designed—the walkway, the plaza with fountain, and the buildings. I even went into the campus bookstore just for the hell of it. Lots of things beyond my price range. I had considered getting a sweatshirt or hoodie, simply because it had been overcast and kept the temperature down all day, and
I was thinking it might be nice to have an extra layer once the sun set. But again, nothing cheap enough to make me think it was worth having.
By this point, it was nearing 5:00, and I had been told that the Walk of Champions (say it loud!) would be at 5:45 and to get there early if I wanted to watch. It’s the standard procession of the team getting off the buses and walking into the stadium to get ready for the game. I got in line around 5:15, and I got to chat with people for a little while. But when 5:45 came and went with no team appearing, people started getting chattier. What was going on? Did Tennessee forfeit? They joked. It was after 6:00 before the buses finally pulled up. And they were all no-nonsense. Saban got off the bus first, making no eye contact or acknowledging the cheering crowds. Then a few more coaches before Tua Tagovailoa, the star quarterback and Heisman hopeful, made his way into the line. Players and coaches alike tried to act like we weren’t even there. But they knew. And so did we.
After that, it was
time for me to head into the stadium. Bryant-Denny Stadium is one of the largest in the country, holding nearly 102,000 people. And the gates getting into it are no joke. There are so many sections of gates, where there’s a single line for going through the metal detectors before you can choose from 8-10 gates to enter, where they scan your ticket. Mine was marked for a couple of gates, and so I went to the first of these after clearing the metal detectors. And then it was an insane amount of stairs. I guess I should’ve realized that paying for one of the cheaper tickets meant I had one of the cheaper views. It was the endzone corner, and at least I didn’t have to make the climb alone. There were also elevators, for wimps and old people. And one could meander up a ramp on the other side of the elevator. But I chose the stairs, as the most direct route for people who could still move. I was winded by the time I reached the top. And then I discovered that my actual seat was in row 34 (of 35) in this section, which meant another
climb. At this point, I was pretty much alone in the section. So I went back down to get a drink.
Their souvenir cup is $8, one of the most expensive so far this season. But it was needed after all that stair-climbing. The wind had picked up, too, this far up in the atmosphere, and I was beginning to second-guess my frugality in not getting an extra layer. But then more people began to arrive, and then a guy proposed to his girlfriend (she said yes!), and they started showing some of the unpleasantness going on in Athens on the big screens.
About this stadium: it is a wonder. When I first got a glimpse of the bowl, after climbing the first bit of stairs but before I went up to my seat, it was almost a religious experience. I’m no Alabama fan, but this view was impressive. I had to just stand and stare for a few minutes. The stadium is completely enclosed all on sides: no break for a big scoreboard or open endzone or field house. And so there are four big scoreboards, one in each corner. They’re not huge like some stadiums, where
there’s only one or maybe a large one in one endzone and a smaller one in the opposite. These would all be of the smaller variety, but you can always see one from any seat. And the enclosed nature of the stadium made it feel more like a cathedral than a typical stadium. Kudos to the architects for that.
There were also lights for various occasions. The white lights, which are normal for stadiums and necessary for night games; and then the crimson lights, which could be directed. Both sets could be turned off to make the stadium look alternatingly “normal” and completely “crimson.” UGA introduces a set of bright red LEDs during the Notre Dame game this year, but Bama has been doing it all season. It definitely gets the crowd excited.
But speaking of excitement, I never really felt like it was an electric atmosphere. Maybe such a long track record of dominance has made it commonplace for the fans. They seldom feel challenged on the field, and so they don’t rise to the occasion in terms of excitement or loudness. I rarely felt like it was going to get too loud. It was loud, don’t
get me wrong. But it never got deafening, at least from where I was sitting. They have lots of chants, but honestly I couldn’t make out the words to some of the longer ones. I heard “Roll Tide, Roll Tide” at the end of a few, but otherwise it was just a big mumble.
We had a crew of Tennessee frat boys (I think they were, but they may have just been regular college students) sitting three rows in front of me. They were good sports, despite being grossly outnumbered. They knew their team had little chance and were quite self-deprecating about that. Nevertheless, some Alabama fans decided that their self-deprecation was a little too loud and would occasionally jeer at them. That’s one thing I despise: taunting the opposing team’s fans. Cheer for your team and with your fans, and boo the opposing team. But don’t direct your anger or haughtiness at opposing fans. Fat chance of that at Bama, though. After all, whenever they win, they taunt the opposing team with their “rammer jammer” (which doesn’t rhyme with Alabama, by the way) cheer. Tonight involved that, since Alabama won by a score of 35-13 (oops, spoilers!).
But the Tennessee boys kept me entertained. They were excited when their team did something good, which was more frequently than most anyone expected; and they were mock excited whenever their team did something boneheaded. But they couldn’t catch a break from some of those Bama fans.
So how was the game? Bama was supposed to win by more than thirty points. But after trading touchdowns, and then a Bama touchdown answered by a Tennessee field goal, Bama was only up 14-10 in the second quarter. Tua Tagovailoa suffered some ankle sprain and was pulled from the game (we only realized this when another guy named Jones was announced as the guy who passed the ball), and then Tennessee’s quarterback took a bad hit and was also sidelined for the rest of the game. After all that, Bama got another touchdown before the half to make it 21-10 at the half. They also missed a field goal as time expired, which led my Tennessee friends to rejoice.
For the halftime show (and I don’t normally mention these at all), the Tennessee band was far and away the better performers. I wish I had videoed that one. Lots of
coordinated movement and great sound. Although I do hate the sound of “Rocky Top,” which I heard at least ten times in that stadium.
In the second half, there was a lot of lackluster performance. Bama scored another touchdown to go up 28-10, then Tennessee scored a field goal to put it back within a two-score game. Lots of nothing happened, except some questionable officiating and LOTS of reviewed plays. Then in the middle of the fourth quarter, Tennessee drove the ball all the way down to the Bama one-yard line and looked to be about to make it another close game. But then they fumbled the ball into the endzone and some Alabama defender scooped it up and took it all the way back down the field for a touchdown. New score: 35-13. That was the nail in the coffin for Tennessee. They got the ball back immediately, but after driving halfway down the field, their quarterback threw an interception, and many of the people who were still in the stands decided it might be time to leave. My Tennessee friends were in that group, too, and I couldn’t blame them. Me, I was gonna have a late
night either way, so I decided to stay until the end. I wanted to hear that “rammer jammer” song without feeling like it was directed at me, for a change.
So at 11:35, I exited the stadium with many other people. I walked back a mile to my car and left the parking deck at 12:10. And then I sat in some of the worst post-game traffic I’ve experienced this season (though it was no Michigan State). I stopped for gas and Whataburger in Birmingham, and I pulled up at my apartment at 5:53 AM. What a day.
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