Saturday, January 4, 2014

An Open Letter of Apology as a Crimson Tide Fan

I hate that I even have to write this.  I guess I should have seen it coming but, still, I hoped it wouldn't be necessary.  I've spent a few days reading countless posts online - editorials, Facebook, etc - and feel it necessary, for myself anyway, to write and apologize.  I think the culmination of all of this was when a 'fan' launched herself over two rows of Oklahoma fans to get to one that was taunting her.  Actually, I'm not sure it wasn't the other way around, though I will assume it was mutual.  We were at the game and, as usual, alcohol played a part in the melee.  Does that make it right?  Of course not.  Was it in any way justified?  Never.  It was, as I said, the culmination of a season in which some of the Alabama fans consider it their birthright to win every game.

As many of you know, my daughter will be attending the University of Alabama next fall.  I was ecstatic and elated at the news.  I have been one of the Crimson Tide faithful for years and was extremely proud of the fact that she will be attending her 'dream school'.  One of the things that I have always admired about the fans at Alabama is the reputation that preceded them.  I remember a few years ago when the rivalry with Penn State was renewed.  It was to be a home & away series - once in Tuscaloosa, then in State College, PA - when Joe Paterno would coach against Nick Saban.  It was a bit of the 'changing of the guard' in some ways.  Joe Paterno, winningest coach in NCAA history (don't get me started on the NCAA stripping him of the wins) against Nick Saban's Crimson Tide.  At that point, Coach Saban was one of two coaches with championships at two different schools.  That club consists of Saban and Bear Bryant, Alabama's other beloved legend.  When Penn State and their fans came to town, Alabama fans had only recently won their first championship in 17 years,  There had been a long drought and they were proud without being arrogant.  Penn State fans went home with stories of 'southern hospitality' and kindness shown them in Tuscaloosa.  The following year when we went to Penn State, I recall vividly their fans showing us great kindness.  I remember friends telling other PSU fans, "Let's show them the same good time they showed us last year."  It was a great experience tailgating and spending time with the majority of the fans (as I'm sure they experienced the previous year), and they were nothing if not the most gracious of hosts.  We even spoke of the other schools that are not as gracious.  They shared their Big 10 stories and we shared the SEC stories.  It was a camaraderie that left us feeling good and, more importantly, I recall feeling humble as Alabama was victorious.  Both fan bases left the stadium that day feeling good about the experience, acknowledging both the victory and the defeat, yet laughing together afterward.  Now, sadly, I fear we have become one of 'those schools' that we discussed that day.

Winning will do that, I suppose.  When you win as much as Alabama has recently, many come to expect (and almost demand) a victory in every game.  To the other Crimson Tide fans, I have to share this harsh reality  - there will always be a winner and a loser as we all understand the cliche, "You can't win 'em all."  Oh, yeah, you can certainly try.  As a matter of fact, that's why they play the games.  We'd better try to win them all, but the sad fact is it just won't happen.  Period.  Unfortunately, some people not only take losing personally, they become violent and vindictive.  This is the part I dread writing as it brings back unpleasant and unpopular memories.  We all remember Harvey Updyke poisoning Auburn's beloved oak trees.  Lest any of you think, "What's the big deal?  They were only trees," you have to understand what they meant to Auburn and their traditions.  This would be like toppling the statue of Bear Bryant in Tuscaloosa or taking a sledgehammer to the Nittany Lion Statue at Penn State. The sad fact is that this man brazenly called in to a radio talk show and admitted he did it.  There is also video evidence of the woman at the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma a few days ago engaging the OU fans, being pulled away, then returning and literally jumping OVER other fans to get to the person that was arguing with her.  Her name is Michelle Pritchett and she is now trying to justify what she did.  Even with the video of her jumping the OU fan, she wants us to believe she did it because her son was being taunted and challenged to fight.  Never mind that there are other pictures of her taunting earlier - she wants to say that, "earlier, these OU fans were throwing bottles in the stands because they were drunk."  Michelle, I was at this game and many others - I can promise you that, had that happened, they would have been removed far earlier.  You were visibly intoxicated and are now trying to lie your way out of this.  You come from a town with a population of 258, I believe, and you own a photography business.  Something like this cannot be good for business, can it?  Neither can lying, nor can it be for the fan base at a school with proud traditions.  You are an embarrassment to your family, your children, and the school that, honestly does not need you as a 'fan'.  Moreover, and I hope I speak for many when I say, we don't WANT you as a fan.

As I was writing this, I had an exchange on FB with a few friends from work - one in particular that is an Auburn alum.  After this year's Iron Bowl when Alabama played Auburn (oh, please, you ALL know which game it was.  Think "for a second."), there was a shooting here in Birmingham where, allegedly, a woman shot another, saying they, "weren't real Alabama fans because they weren't upset enough about Alabama losing."  That was where the story stopped when it went out to the national media.  Sensationalism sells and, living in Birmingham, we know there is more to the story as it was reported locally.  Yes, that exchange took place, however the women then left the party and, as the first woman (the eventual shooter) tried to drive away, her car was blocked in by the second woman.  She then got out of the car, yelled for the victim to move and, when she did not do it quickly enough, the shooter shot several times, killing her.  Yes, they were at a party for the game, and yes, there was an argument about the game.  There was also alcohol involved and this is in an apartment complex that is known for violence and shootings.  So, was it related to the football game?  It would be easy to help paint Alabama fans are stone-cold killers when they lose by relating this story, however (and many will believe what they want anyway) I think this was more than a bit unfair.  Paul Harvey would have had a good time telling 'the rest of the story'.  The problem, though, is that there are the Harvey Updykes and Michelle Pritchetts in this world whose actions automatically make the shooting a very real & believable story.  The next step, and what we see happening now, is that we all get lumped into that category.  I, for one, have had enough.  To those that feel the need to act this way - we don't want you as fans.  You are classless and poor sports.  Take it somewhere else.

As for the Sugar Bowl game specifically, let me point out to Tide fans that want to complain - Alabama lost.  They got beat by a better-prepared team.  Are you seriously going to blame Oklahoma for AJ McCarron overthrowing his receivers by 10-15 yards?  Are you going to be upset because the Oklahoma freshman quarterback was deadly accurate with his passes and their offense moved at a pace Alabama couldn't defend?  Nick Saban has freely admitted he doesn't like the 'hurry-up, no huddle' offense.  Want to know why?  They haven't figured out how to, as one reporter put it, 'kill it' yet.  They cannot, with their detailed defensive schemes, defend against this style of play.  They will eventually, but for now, you cannot blame Oklahoma or their fans.  Were we all frustrated?  Hell yes!  Did I punch anyone or jump someone?  No, we cheered more loudly and supported the team.  That's what fans do.  Let me ask this, too - you wanted Mal Moore to go find you a coach that would restore the winning ways here.  You'd do almost anything to get 'that guy'.  We got him.  In the beginning, Nick Saban challenged all of us, players and fans alike, to do our part to restore this proud program to where we expect it to be.  We all bought in and made our promises.  We wanted a coach that would avoid NCAA infractions and ensure compliance.  We all know the knot we get in our stomach when we hear there's even a whiff of impropriety, right?  Earlier this year, Clinton-Dix was suspended for two games when an assistant coach let him borrow money (that was repaid immediately) when his car broke down and he had to get home to his family.  The coach got fired.  Nick is trying to do his part to maintain the highest standards of the program, right?  Then let me say this - DO YOUR PART, TOO!  We can no longer hold the team to a higher standard than we are willing to give ourselves.  If we don't, I'm telling you now that I do NOT want to hear any bitching when Nick Saban decides the fan base here is more than he wants to deal with and he leaves or retires.  Go ahead, tell me how, "He's under contract through 2020."  I suggest you ask Penn State fans how that works.   

I'm not sure where we, as a society, are headed when this behavior seems to be rampant.  Honestly, we see it with pro sports teams and have witnessed it, in person, in college sports.  We've all read the stories and seen the news about this happening with high school and youth sports, too.  It's time for it to stop.  Coach Saban, after the loss to Oklahoma, made the statement that he thinks it's time to go back to where we, as a program, were in 2008 before they began their winning ways again.  It's time to, "start over again," and get back to the basics that allowed them to build championship teams as they have to this point.  I think it's time for the fans to do that, too.  It's time for people to remember what the 17-year layoff felt like.  It's time to remember what it was like when the coaches stayed only 3-4 years because they were NOT winning.  It's time to go back to that point and recall Tommy Tuberville's Auburn teams that won six Iron Bowls in a row.  It's time to support the team, not act like classless fools that pout, kick, cry, and scream when the team does not win.  As a matter of fact, if you really want to stymie an opposing fan, congratulate them on their win.  On our way home from the game, we stopped for gas in Slidell, LA.  Several other cars arrived at the same time and, as the people entered the store, we could see the Oklahoma jacketed and sweatshirts.  I happened to be next to an OU fan as we walked in and jokingly said, "Oh, no, Oklahoma again. I saw so many sacks tonight, I'm expecting to be tackled."  This, alone, helped start a five minute conversation about the good and bad of the game.  As we left, we both congratulated the other and wished each other the best next year.  Does that make me any less an Alabama fan?  Those of you reading this, that truly know me, know that answer.  I bleed Crimson!  Technically, we all do, but you get the point.


So here is my challenge, going forward, to ALL Alabama Crimson Tide faithful, as well as fans of every team and sport - "Hold ALL fans of your team to the same high standard you expect of a competitor and their fans.  We must bring back the 'spirit of competition' and remember that, ultimately, there can only be one victor."  No longer, as far as I'm concerned, will I stand by and allow some of the actions I've witnessed.  I challenge all of you to do the same.

Again, on behalf of the arrogant, ugly actions of (apparently, more than) a few, I apologize for the stories making news.  I apologize to the University, the coach, and the players for allowing bad press to reflect poorly upon them.  It sickens me that it has come to this, but know that I, for one, will do my part to see the change I wish to see in others.  I'll do this so I can, once again, proudly say, "ROLL TIDE."

Until next time…………..