There’s nothing like the smell of barbecue on a Saturday afternoon … hogs roasting on the street among a sea of crimson and cream. It was a breathtaking scene, coming from a culture that lives and breathes basketball to be immersed in a culture that lives and breathes football and Alabama football only. I travelled alongside my fiancé to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to cheer on his beloved Crimson Tide as they faced the Arkansas Razorbacks, and although I love football, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that I planned to constantly have a glass of sweet tea in hand.
We awoke on Saturday morning and struck out for a late breakfast. Heading down the main strip near the football stadium, I noticed that fans were already lining the streets. Tailgating tents were set with music blaring and pigs roasting … at 11 a.m. for a 6 p.m. game! As we drove a little farther, I noticed fans in lawn chairs lining the street as if they were awaiting the Pegasus Parade.
After our meal, walking to the Paul W. Bryant Museum, we passed a multitude of fans. With a sweet Southern twang I heard repeatedly, “Hey, how y’all doin’?” I admired the flair of the women: It was game day and their hair was perfectly done, makeup-flawless, wearing dresses coupled with cowboy boots. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a great affinity for cowboy boots. I like big, sexy hair, natural but glamorous makeup and, of course, an occasion-appropriate dress. Oh, there’s nothing like a Southern woman.
We arrived at the stadium early to watch the team take the “Walk of Champions.” It was at this moment that we learned why folks were lining the streets. Fans at the University of Alabama line the street from the hotel where the team stays the night before a game, all the way to the football stadium. That’s right, fans lined up, seven hours before kickoff just to see the team ride by and cheer them on! It was at this point that I realized that while fans at most schools come to games to be entertained, Alabama fans come to participate.
We had pregame field passes, and this was probably the part I was most excited about. I wondered how a stadium that could hold over 101,000 people felt from the ground. I’ve had the privilege of standing on the field during some of Louisville’s biggest football games, and naturally, I wanted to compare. As we were escorted from the gate to the field, we were met by a lovely young lady in a red dress. She was wearing a red and white floral boutonnière and a warm smile. We followed in her footsteps, and I noticed more ladies in the exact same dress. They were field hostesses. A brilliant investment. There’s nothing like a pleasant hostess to make you feel welcomed and at home. When we got to the field, we were told that our photo would be taken in the end zone. Excited, we stepped right up. We took our picture and began to take in the grandeur. The stadium felt massive. We realized that we needed a selfie or two and then a gentleman standing nearby offered to take our photo. No sooner had we finished smiling did our hostess approach us, again, smiling. She handed us two copies of our photo in the end zone. They were placed nicely in a photo cover bearing the university emblem and of course, “Roll Tide.”
We watched the team run out of the tunnel, which was somewhat anti-climactic in comparison to the superb pre-game video, Cardinal blow-up tunnel and smoke we have at Louisville. What did impress me, however, was how big their players are. At 5’9”, and with a 6’6” fiancé, I don’t feel tiny often, but those guys even made my fiancé look small.
Standing there, watching the stadium fill and the players warm up, I felt the magnitude of it all. This was a totally different level of fandom. Immediately, I wondered how any 18-, 19-, 20-year-old could handle such pressure day in and day out? It’s one thing to play big time Division I sports, but it’s another thing when virtually the whole state lives and breathes it, cares about every move you make and cheers it on. The pressure is staggering.
The game was great. Overall, the trip was amazing. My only disappointment during the experience was the lack of food options in Bryant-Denny Stadium and the fact that our assigned seats, although they provided a great view, were bleachers. I realized that I am immensely spoiled by the great food and comfortable seating at Papa John’s Cardinal stadium! All in all, my assessment is this: Alabama football is more than just a sport. It’s an experience. I still love my Cards and always will! But today, I confess a new found appreciation for the tradition that is University of Alabama Football! #RollTide (Until 2018)