Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What It Means To Be A Crimson Tide Fan - The Role We Play and The Expectations

I have to admit, there were plenty of mind-numbing, thoughtless, hateful comments that pushed me to write after the loss to Ole Miss this past Saturday.  I read many hateful, negative comments on various pages and sites, as well as criticisms of the fans.  I have to admit, I was even a bit upset at myself after it was pointed out to me that I had allowed myself to get pulled into it.  I was angry and embarrassed, as many of us were, about several incidents that took place during, and after, the game which got me thinking. A lot. Especially on a long drive with nothing to do BUT think.  From nowhere, a long-forgotten quote came to mind:

"To those whom much is given, much is expected." 

 - John F. Kennedy

For some reason, it stuck in my mind and I questioned, if only for a brief moment, it's correlation.  Was it applicable to my thoughts and our responsibilities as fans?  I've come too the realization that it is...and there are many reasons I feel that way.  Much has been given to us as fans of the program.  "Given to us," is the term I use because, I dare say, no one reading this has actually been a part of the team that plays on the field.  Don't get me wrong - I share Coach Saban's ideal that we, as fans, have our own particular job to do and our own special part of the 'Process' which is to provide support.

I remember walking into Bryant-Denny Stadium for the first time.  The south end zone had not yet been enclosed.  As we walked through the walkway leading to our seats, I was aware of the sense of anticipation.  Oh, sure, I had been in other stadiums...but this was Bryant-Denny.  This was the place built by the Bear and the champions of years gone by.  As we made the last two or three steps toward the seats and came out of the walkway....there it was.  It opened before me and, I have to confess, it still does.  I make myself aware of it every time I walk into these hallowed grounds.  This is a special place, my friends.  A place where the grass is greener, the sun shines brighter, the atmosphere is....well, electric.  It doesn't matter who they are playing - Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Florida, or Auburn or any number of so-called 'cupcake' teams - every time I go to a game in this stadium, I make myself keenly aware of what I am about to see.  As we sit and watch the videos on the large, oversized screens in each corner of the stadium, I silently glance at the clock in the corner.  It tells me how soon we can expect the walk from the Tunnel and kickoff.  When a few players run to the field to warm up, they are always greeted the same way - with cheers and applause.  We love these kids and what they are about to give us yet again.  When the time finally arrives - less than half an hour before kickoff - for the team to take the field, I feel it.  I kid you not, I literally feel wave of unbelievable good fortune wash over me yet again.  I am about to see the Alabama Crimson Tide play football.  I DO NOT CARE WHO THEY PLAY!  I just know I get to watch them......and that, to me, is a gift no one can give me but the team wearing crimson jerseys with white numbers on the helmets.  THEY give me this gift....and they don't even know it.  Nick Saban has assembled the finest staff of coaches and players IN THE NATION right her in Tuscaloosa!  He has NO IDEA what he is giving me as a gift...which is why I choose to support them.  Look at what they are doing for me....FOR US!  Don't get me wrong, I know why they do it. the game and the competition.  Some are playing so they keep their scholarship and get a quality education.  Others, still, are trying to get to the next level and become professional players.  Yes, they're doing it for themselves...HOWEVER...Coach Saban also instills the values that they are doing it as, and for, the team.  He is teaching these boys to become men.  Better people, if you will, by instilling values they will carry with them through life.  Still, I have to admit, they're doing it for us, too.  And we should be DAMN GRATEFUL!

Show of hands - how many of you, when the mercury topped 100 degrees, would be willing to strap on the pads and jersey, buckle the chinstrap, and spend hours playing this game?  Let's try to go back a few months when we sat, transfixed, listening to the evening news and waiting for the sportscaster to give us the Tide practice update.  Do you remember counting down the days until the season began?  I do.  It was....well, it seemed to last forever.  The season is 1/3 over already.  These young men have been there in the grueling heat of summer and will be there in the cold hours of winter pounding into each other, tackling each other, and practicing the same play for hours in the relentless pursuit of perfection.  My question to you is, "Why do they deserve less from us?"  If these young men are willing to do that so that we can do our part and bear witness to their efforts, why is it okay for us to give less than 100%?  Why is it okay for us to criticize them or the coaching staff?  Honestly, why is it okay for us to do anything other than support them in every endeavor?

Along with being a cheering section, we have other responsibilities, too.  One of those is to perform with the same level of class that is expected of this team.  I'd like to point out that this town did not bear witness to a 13th Championship for 17 years.  17 YEARS!!!  We, along with the school, found that unacceptable.  Mal Moore found it extremely unacceptable as he had been part of this university as a player, coach, the AD.  What did Mal do?  Only went out and got the 'Ungettable," Nick Saban.  The university and we...WE...have been reaping the rewards of his work for several years now.  This past week, I've heard more than enough criticism of both the coach and his staff to last for the rest of my lifetime.  I want to personally slap someone every time I hear them do it.  Why?  Well, I can give you 17 very good reasons. Lest you think he's 'lost it', you might want to check the recruiting classes we get each year...for the past 5 years! Coaches Saban, Smart, Kiffin, and the others cannot perform on the field.  Their position is excellence in play-calling and game management.  The players have that responsibility.  I said it earlier in the week and will say it again - please, will the person who never commits an error or makes a mistake at work kindly make your presence known.  I have yet to meet them.  These are 20-23-year old kids and, though they appear to be brick walls with clothing, they are kids.  Let's try to be understanding that they are in the pursuit of excellence...not excellent every time.  If they make a mistake, we want nothing more for them to admit it, correct it, and not make it again.  Period.  We can ask nothing else.

While we are on the subject of class, let's deal with the treatment of opponents and other schools.  I have heard one of the Ole Miss players being called everything from a criminal to a thug to a....well, I can't repeat some of the things I've read.  Many Alabama fans have been calling for his dismissal and stating that he should be charged with assault.  We act, dare I say, 'holier than thou' on these occasions and it honestly bothers me.  Why, you ask? (go ahead, ask)  I'll tell you why - it wasn't that long ago that we had a few players charged, publicly, for beating a student, taking his debit card, then using it. Yes, they were removed from the team - I understand that.  My point is, if you're living in a glass house, drop the rocks.  We have had our share of problems with this program, though they (fortunately) dealt with quickly.  Still, there is NO reason to be saying some of the hateful, horrid things directed at other teams and their fans.  We are better than that.  By now, many (if they are still reading this) are saying, "What are we supposed to do? Just say nothing about the actions of another team or their fans??"  That's exactly what I am saying.  I remember several years ago when Penn State came to Tuscaloosa for a renewal of that rivalry.  They came to town and, much to their actual surprise, left feeling like they had been at the most hospitable place on earth (short of Disneyland, I'm sure).  Seriously, when we travelled north the following year, their comments to fellow PSU fans was, "Please show the Alabama fans the same hospitality we were shown and treat them as well as they treated us."  You have NO idea how good that felt.  Did Bama beat them?  Absolutely?  Were they unkind toward us or the team?  In no way, shape, or form.  We need to have class in everything we do, every day, as we strive for the same degree of excellence that is expected of the team.  They, as players, deserve that and should expect nothing less.

I realize there are points I will want to make later but, for now, this is a start.  This is my message to the Crimson Tide faithful and, I hope, the feelings of many rather than a few.  Perhaps I am wrong and I am in the minority.  I hope not.  For those that take the time to read this, I thank you and hope that you, too, will join me in doing our best always for this amazing team and university...while making sure that we discourage others from giving any less than their absolute best in supporting the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Until next time..................

Sunday, October 5, 2014

My Disappointment & Contempt for a Few Alabama 'Fans'...and the Bad Name They Give Us All.

I'm pretty sure your mindset, upon reading the title of this post, is one of defensiveness.  I beg you not to feel that way until you read it all...please try to have an open mind and read what I am saying completely before forming an opinion.  If, however, you are one of the fans I am addressing, your mind will already have been made up and you're already muttering negative things, both about me and, worse, about the Crimson Tide team. Still. I fear this will a rather lengthy post as many of the things I want to say have been on my mind for some time, yet I haven't written about them until now. Sadly, especially in light of yesterday's game, they need to be addressed.

First, allow me to set the scene.  I have been an Alabama Crimson Tide fan since I was in high school in PA, a feeling borne out of respect and admiration for Bear Bryant and his ability to keep his program in the national spotlight year after year.  In later years, I moved to Alabama and have called it home for more than a few years now.  Earlier this year, my daughter (who fell in love with the Tide upon seeing her first home game at the age of 11 and deciding she wanted to go to school there) enrolled as a full-time student.  She is part of the Crimson Tide family and is now forever linked to the school and its traditions.  While being proud OF her, I am as proud FOR her.  Her love of the school, the town, and the team is unmatched. 

We attend most, if not all, of the Crimson Tide home games in Tuscaloosa.  The away games we've seen have either been the Kickoff Game (twice in Atlanta) or the National Championship Game (in Miami) against Notre Dame.  I had not, until yesterday, experienced the rich traditions of the SEC and pre-game activities of any of the other universities.  I decided to make the trip to Oxford, MS to watch the matchup between the Ole Miss Rebels and Alabama mostly because I have a customer that is an Ole Miss alumnus.  I had hoped to meet them at The Grove - the renowned site of their 'tailgate' pre-game festivities.  Ironically, I never found them...but it certainly didn't diminish the atmosphere felt walking through The Grove.  ESPN's Gameday made its first trip ever to Oxford and the school deserved it.  For the first time since 1962, their team is undefeated after the first 1/3 of the season.  The Ole Miss fans were gracious and kind, asking that we, "not hurt them too badly today," as we walked toward the stadium.  The air was crisp - what we all know as a perfect Saturday afternoon in the fall that is reserved for football.  A slight breeze, temperatures in the low 60's, sun shining, not a cloud in the sky.  I, personally, was wedged into a seat between Ole Miss fans - two on my left and two on my right.  Through the game, we praised the good plays of each team, and criticized the poor. We were in agreement on most things, both positive and negative, as we had a civil conversation while watching the game.  THIS is what I am accustomed to.  These are the fans with whom I enjoy interacting.  In short, it's how we, as fans, should act (in my opinion).  Early in the 4th Quarter, I said goodbye to these fans and walked toward the end zone so I could get more photos.  As I watched Alabama commit mistakes, while Ole Miss rose to the occasion, I began heading toward my car parked about three miles away.  I left after Ole Miss tied the game and Alabama fumbled the ensuing kickoff knowing the end was, almost certainly, a foregone conclusion.  Ole Miss scored again, then proceeded to miss their extra point.  It was actually missed initially but a penalty gave them another try.  The second attempt was blocked leaving the score at 23-17.  As I walked, my thoughts were of the cliches of Saturday afternoon college football - I literally heard the roar of the crowd diminish as Alabama began their final drive. Less than two minutes remained and they were moving down the field, a fact evident in the lack of crowd noise. I could hear the PA announcer as I walked and knew the Tide could pull it off...until I heard that 'roar' again.  Blake Sims had been intercepted with :37 seconds remaining to seal the victory for Ole Miss.  I later found out that the fans stormed the field (I expected it when I heard their announcer reminding them they were NOT to do that) and that a goal post had been brought down.  It was, though Alabama lost 23-17, a memory that will not soon fade from my mind.  It was, literally, perfect.  The only thing that would have made it better would have been a final drive resulting in a touchdown and and extra point conversion for a final score of 24-23 in Alabama's favor.  

It didn't happen that way.  Oh, everything described above happened, yet the final score remains 23-17 and Alabama lost to a very good Ole Miss team.  Still, I won't forget it because the scene, with setting sun and temperatures dropping again, was such a perfect memory for me.  Again, I know they lost, but guess what?  It's Sunday afternoon and I sit here writing.  The sun actually came up, the earth didn't spin off its axis, the apocalypse isn't upon us.  Well, not this week, anyway.  There are still very real concerns and priorities we all have to deal with.  The economy is still in disrepair, there are people starving and homeless, the Ebola virus is a very real threat to life.  THESE are things that matter.  In addition, let me add that there are a few other harsh realities that take importance over this loss - three very good players were injured yesterday and one, God forbid, may never play again.  I truly hope I am wrong, however watching it happen and seeing the replay makes me question how anyone could come back, whether it's because of the physical or mental aspect.  Kenyan Drake, a very big part of the offense as both a receiver and rusher, broke his leg.  That, in itself, would be bad but it was the way it happened.  When he went down on the field, my view was blocked by the medical staff that ran to the field immediately.  The only indication we had of the severity was the 'cart' driving to midfield within seconds.  As they were tending to Kenyan, I got a text from my daughter watching at home saying, "Oh, my God, did you see that? His leg is completely broken."  When I told her the cell service was spotty and they were not showing the replay (which, to the credit of the Ole Miss folks, they didn't) in the stadium, I asked if she was sure.  "Did you see his ankle? Dad, it was completely sideways."  My immediate thought, as it was for many I now know, was a flashback to Joe Theisman when he played for the Redskins.  For anyone that witnessed it, you will not forget it.  My mother then texted me telling me she could hear his screams as it occurred.  In reviewing the game, I heard them, too....and I felt physically ill.  He was shown wiping away a few tears on the cart as he was taken from the field, though he did what we had hoped - he gave a 'thumbs up' to the crowd before being airlifted back to Birmingham.  He's a junior and, though Dr James Andrews and/or many other amazing surgeons are here in Birmingham to fix the injury, it's almost a safe bet that this was his last game for the Crimson Tide.  Many that know the program had our thoughts turn to another former player - one with speed, agility, ability, and class from several years ago - that had his career cut short as well - Tyrone Prothro.  We only hope it isn't the case.

So with all this background, nothing makes you relate the title to the story so far.  I understand.  It isn't what happened before or during, it's the reactions afterward.  The reactions to the loss by a #3 team to a #10 team.  At this point, there are a few other things that need to be pointed out, too.  You are aware that Nick Saban has had only one undefeated team in all the years he's been coaching, right?  It was the 2009 team that beat Texas in the National Championship.  He's been the winning coach for 4 National Championship teams, yet had only one undefeated season.  Hell, when he won it at LSU, they had TWO losses!  Let's keep that in mind, shall we?  As soon as the team loses a game, there are suddenly a multitude of people that are immediate experts at coaching a college team.  I've heard that Saban must go because he is a DB coach and that's the weakest part of the team.  I've heard Kiffin must go because his play-calling on offense sucks.  I have heard that we need to get rid of Kirby Smart as the Defensive Coordiantor because they cannot stop, or at least couldn't stop, the no-huddle, spread offense.  I have seen people saying hateful, vile things about some of the players.  Based on what I've read, some of you would be happier scrapping the whole program and starting over.  To those people, I'd like to say.....well, I can't say because I don't want some people to think less of me.  Suffice it to say, though, that you people are idiots and what we refer to as 'fair weather fans' - the kind that are only there when a team is winning.  It isn't going to happen, folks.  Here'a harsh reality - the percentage of undefeated teams is almost nil.  As in none.  As in, are you stoned or stupid enough to think a team can win every game?  As Hugh Freeze, coach of Ole Miss said in victory, "We beat a very good program that is considered the Gold Standard for years now."  Everyone prepares for Alabama and wants to beat them.  It's no different than everyone wanting to beat the reigning champion FSU Seminoles.  It happens - it's the price of winning.....and a good problem to have.

I'd also like to submit this little tidbit to those of you that expect a perfect season year after year.  I see you come to the stadium wearing your houndstooth or sporting the hat made famous by Bear Bryant, coach of 6 National Championship teams.  "By God, Bear was the greatest to ever walk the sideline," are words that come forth effortlessly, though I'm pretty sure you don't mean the teams in 1967, 1968, 1969, or 1970.  So we're all on the same page, The Crimson Tide, in those years, posted records of 8-2, 8-3, 6-5, and 6-5 respectively.  Let that sink in.  6 wins and 5 losses....two years in a row.  How many of you would be hanging Nick Saban's likeness in effigy if that happened now?  So you know, Bear followed those years with 4 teams that went 11-1 and one that went 10-2.  Why?  He was considered the brains of the operation and everyone, including the fans, listened to what Bear said.  Come to think of it, that's not a bad idea now.  Maybe, just maybe, some of you could let Nick do what he does best.  In the past 5 years, they've had the #1 recruiting class in the country every year.  Guess what?  he still has to get great individuals to play together as a team.  Great individuals don't always make the best team, though his record speaks for itself.  Bear Bryant was at Alabama for roughly 26 years and won 6 Championships.  Nick has been here 8 and has 3 Championships.  Do the math - he is here for a reason and it's time we start following, blindly if you must, his lead.  It's called trust and he is, per the University President, the best investment the school has ever made.  Who in the hell are you to question that?  Maybe it's because your only affiliation to the school is watching the football team and yelling, "Roll Tide," rather than, "War Eagle."  That's great, but when you voice the things you do, whether in person or on social media, you portray ALL Alabama fans as the senseless, thoughtless, hateful people you've become.  It isn't fair to those of us that try to win with class and lose with dignity.  MAKE NO MISTAKE - We ALL hate to see them lose!  Most of us, though, are realists and took our own lesson from Bear Bryant and applied it to our lives - "When you get to the end zone, act like you've been there before."  When you lose with dignity and respect, and you show respect for the performance of the opponent, you are perceived as someone with class and, honestly, they won't be able to say anything bad, nor find fault.  Trust me, it is better to have the reputation as the classy, kind Bama fans than the hated fans most perceive.  Their perception is the reality and, while most of us spend time trying to be classy to our opponents, your actions make us have to work harder.  I am NOT saying to be complacent or that we like to lose - we don't - but you have to respect and appreciate the fact that the program IS the gold standard and the one that others are hoping to become.  It serves no purpose to be boastful, rude, arrogant, or hateful to others, though that is what I have seen from many.  It truly disgusts me and makes me distance myself from that portion of the fan base.  It says a lot, too, about how those people are in their everyday life.

Let's try to remember this, too - these are kids.  Oh, they are huge and can eat a side of beef in one sitting, but they are just out of high school and have to perform in front of hundreds of thousands weekly.  Yes, yes, I know we give them scholarships and an education to do it, I realize this is what they have been training for, etc.  I get that.  Still, I have yet to see 101,821 people show up to watch me do my job.  If I have a bad day, there might be a handful of people, at most, that know of it.  If they have a bad day, it is seen by millions, especially when televised nationally.  I know few of you, and fewer still that I am addressing with this post, but can guess that you are in the same position.  What, did you file something incorrectly?  Did one of your welds break?  Did you dump trash on the ground rather than hit the truck?  Again, not many know of your mistakes and fewer still watched you commit them.  You aren't perfect and do not perform perfectly every day.  Don't expect it of others if you cannot do it.  Think about that the next time you are criticizing OJ Howard for dropping a pass, TJ Yeldon for missing a first down, or Blake Sims for overthrowing his receiver.  

I am going out on a limb here but think I can safely say, based on the friends I have that are fellow Tide fans, that you are giving us a bad name and we don't appreciate it.  More importantly, if you cannot support the team when they are down and experience a loss (and need it MOST), please go cheer for another school.  Alabama has enough fans that are there through both the good and the bad that we don't need you on the bandwagon.  If you only want to be a Crimson Tide fan when they are winning, that's fine but do us ALL a favor - Keep your mouths shut when they are losing.  Your ignorance seeps out.  This pertains to ALL fans of every sport.  If you cannot be there and give them 100% support, your team not only doesn't need you, they don't want you.  I know you question the abilities of the coaches and the players when they lose, but I will submit this - if you were any good as a player, you'd either be out there or would've been previously.  If you were, I'm guessing you weren't good at it because you'd never hear anything but positive comments coming from former players and coaches.  If you think you can do a better job than Nick, Kirby, Lane, or the others, show us.  Show us how you can coach a national powerhouse or, better yet, turn a 7-5 team into a perennial champion.

For now, though, lay off.  Stop being rude, hateful, and critical.  The Alabama Crimson Tide are off limits if you want to be a fair weather fan and only ride the bandwagon.  Period.  We support them 24/7/365.  We do not find fault, we offer encouragement.  I have to admit, it was extremely evident yesterday at Ole Miss - there fans are hungry and so is the team.  We have taken winning for granted and almost look at it as a birthright.  It is not.  It has to be earned, year after year, which is how you get respect and build a dynasty.  Alabama fans get the opportunity, every week, to watch one of the most storied programs in college football history take the field.  I don't care if they are play Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Auburn, Florida Atlantic or Georgia Southern - keep your asses in the seats and encourage the team.  They have earned it and, as Nick pointed out years ago, it is OUR responsibility as part of being 'ALL IN' as a team.  You'd never expect them to play in an empty sit and watch them win, and lose (as infrequently as possible), with class.  If not, there are other teams that you can bitch about.  Matter of fact, why not go be a Michigan fan.  That ought to keep you busy this year.

Thanks - I had to get that off my chest.

Until next time...................