As it is commonly known, many people in the South are very religious, it’s true. Especially here in Alabama.
But I’m not just talking about Christianity.
They’re also religious about many other things, including drinking sweet tea every day, barbecue, their use of the words “sir,” “ma’am,” and “y’all,” and NASCAR.
And more than anything….they’re religious about football.
COLLEGE football. It is of high importance here, where not knowing the head coach’s name (Nick Saban) is literally the end of the world. College football is to the South as actual football (soccer) is to people in Rio or Madrid, as ice hockey is to Canada, as Olympic gymnastics is to China. And those who succeed in it or who become successful coaches are worshiped around here. They even get their OWN STATUE.
Before coming to the University of Alabama, I didn’t like American football. Actually, to be completely honest, I kind of hated it. I didn’t understand how my father could sit in front of a TV for hours watching men run around throwing a ball and tackling each other, let alone how he understood what was going on. That was another thing – I didn’t understand the sport nor its rules so it made it that much more boring to me.
Therefore, coming to Alabama, a school whose football team I knew was one of the best, I figured I’d go to football games just to enjoy the excitement and craziness, and not the sport itself.
Silly me. I should’ve known.
The craziness and excitement surrounding it all is like a vortex, and it just pulled me right in. It changed me from disliking the sport to becoming an avid Alabama football fan. Yep, I should’ve known.
It all started even before the first game of the season. The use of the phrase Roll Tide was addicting. For those who don’t know, “Roll Tide” is something University of Alabama fans say in support of their team, the Crimson Tide. The first time I heard this phrase was from the flight attendants on my flight into Alabama, but in the college town of Tuscaloosa itself, the phrase could mean just about anything. It’s used to greet random people on the street, or as an exclamation, or just as a response to any question. I have grown so accustomed to interchanging this wonderful phrase with absolutely everything while living here.
The Friday before the very first game day, tents began to appear all over the University Quad, and my curiosity and excitement grew.
Wow, campus really seems to get into these games! Ha, I had no idea
On the very first game day, I walked out the front door of my residence hall and noticed the difference in atmosphere almost immediately. EVERYONE was wearing red or white or the houndstooth pattern, including me with my crimson Alabama Roll Tide shirt. The normal meandering about of college-age students was now joined by families, older people, and small children decked out in their houndstooth hats and skirts. And, not to mention, the traffic was terrible compared to most days.
The excitement in the air was practically tangible.
As we neared the Quad, we noticed a difference. On almost every stretch of grass around campus, tents had been set up and groups of people filled them. And on the Quad itself, the normal, expanses of grass and peacefulness was replaced by masses of people meandering about and their tents and televisions, loud music blasting through air, footballs being thrown, giant blow-up elephants, and of course band members. I was blown away by the amount of people and tents and how much the Quad had changed from a regular day. Our mascot himself, Big Al, was even riding around the area crazily on the back of a cart.
It was all amazing. People coming out here to tailgate (another word for camping out to watch a football game with food and friends and family) really brought out the best in them. Football games were what these Alabama locals reveled, and it was what brought them together. All of this also helped me to finally experience that Southern hospitality I had heard so much about, as random groups of people shouted “Roll Tide” at me from their tents and invited me to join in with the conversation and the food, despite the fact that they had never met me before.
The University of Alabama’s band, better known as the Million Dollar Band, rallied huge crowds of people in front of the library steps. They hyped up everyone even more as they lead everyone in singing the Alabama Fight Song, a song I now know by heart from the amount of times I’ve sang it.
Sitting in the student section at the first game was an insane, eardrum hurting experience. With my red and white shaker in hand, I joined in with thousands of other students screaming as loud as we possibly could, saying Roll Tide in unison, and cheering whenever we got a touchdown.
It was ridiculously fun. Slowly, by probably the end of the second game I attended, I not only knew what was going on, but I understood the rules of the game. I was transformed – a combination of everything that happens surrounding game day and football and my sudden light bulb moment of understanding the rules, and I was a die-hard Crimson Tide fan. Soon enough I was shouting along with the rest of the students at a stupid call by a referee, or at a player for fumbling the ball.
I loved Tuscaloosa. I loved my school. I loved the Crimson Tide. Roll Tide.
Yep, I was hooked.
I soon found myself entering the ticket lottery, hoping to score a student ticket for all the upcoming home games I did not already have tickets for. I scored a ticket to the Texas A&M game, the only one our team lost in an otherwise undefeated season where we had remained #1 for the longest time. Nevertheless, at that game I was screaming louder than ever before. For once, our team wasn’t winning by a million points, and it increased the intensity by a lot.
I’ll never forget screaming in excitement and hugging my friend when we got a touchdown in the fourth quarter, nor how I was jumping up and down so much that I ended up falling of off my bleacher seat and erupting into laughter. We may not have won in the end, but it was nonetheless an amazing day, and the tide would rise up again.
Another game I will never forget was versus LSU, a fellow Southeastern Conference (SEC) football school, and a rival, although not our biggest. The University of Alabama’s number one rival has been and will always be Auburn, the other school in Alabama, whom the Crimson Tide plays every year in the famed Iron Bowl. This year, we absolutely destroyed them at the Iron Bowl with a final score of 49-0.
But our game against LSU wasn’t so close. It was an away game, and me and my group of friends were gathered around the TV, eyes wide in anticipation. Nearing the end of the last quarter, Bama was losing, and if we lost we would not only be out of a chance to go to the National Championship but also to just the SEC championship. I felt so stressed out, we couldn’t lose now.
But then, the very last minute of the game, running-back TJ Yeldon scores a touchdown for us.
Our entire room exploded with screams of joy and suddenly we were running through the hallways yelling Roll Tide. People were running around screaming outside as well. The entire campus was coming together in celebration.
This craziness that happened on campus, as pictured above, I finally got to be part of just last night.
It was the SEC championship game, and we were playing the University of Georgia’s Bulldogs at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. I was back in Tuscaloosa, with the same large group of friends with whom we had made it tradition to watch away games together, especially after the LSU game.
It was a tough game. It was just like LSU with us gathered around the TV in anticipation. When it came down to the last couple minutes, it was us who was in the lead, and the Bulldogs would surpass us if they managed to score.
The clock slowly wound its way down. My friend put on her shoes in preparation for celebration or defeat. They got further down the field, and even further, and to the 10 yard mark….and then time ran out.
WE HAD WON! WE WERE HEADED TO THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP!
Once again our room and the entire building went insane. As soon as the clock hit zero, me and five of the people in the room took off sprinting down the hallway and out the door.
We ran, SCREAMING at the top of our lungs and shouting ROLL TIDE! as loud as we possibly could, all the way to the fountain in the center of campus. We ran through multiple times, took photos, and met all sort of random people doing the exact same thing with us.
And despite it being the first day of December, we were perfectly comfortable being soaked with the temperature hovering around the high 60s (Fahrenheit).
Gotta love the South, especially coming from New England.
Finally, I got to participate in the on-campus craziness I had heard happened after the LSU game. After our fountain excursion, we joined the crowds and stormed the strip. The Strip is the one street of downtown connected to campus where all the best bars, restaurants, and hangouts are.
As pictured in the video, we joined the masses taking up the entire street while screaming and singing Alabama songs. Our shouting consisted of ROLL TIDE and WE WANT THE IRISH! since now we were headed to the BCS National Championship in January, to play Notre Dame, otherwise known as the Fightin’ Irish.
It was an unforgettable experience and night, being a part of something like that. This semester has not only turned me into a football fan, it’s also showed me how it makes people come together as one in a town like Tuscaloosa.
It’s funny, because my top schools were in fact the University of Alabama and Georgia. Being a big football school had not been my reason for choosing them, but I’m so glad that’s how it ended up, and also that I picked the winning school. Big football schools are the most exciting thing ever, I’ve found.
Because at Alabama, we don’t just play football…
We live it.