I'm not much for issuing sage advice, certainly not to current students passing through the hallowed halls of the University of Alabama. But there is one bit of information I want pass on to those students who are experiencing this iteration of the Bama Glory Days: Stop and look around - you never know when a sentinal event will occur which defines a game. This post describes one such event.
In 1979 the University of Alabama football team was enjoying success similar to the current version of the Tide. National Championships were hoped for and SEC championships were expected. In the late '70s Mississippi State University was also performing in a similar fashion to the current iteration of the Bulldogs.
On November 3, 1979 the Bulldogs made the trip to Birmingham's Legion Field to meet the Tide. State's record on that day was 3-4, having just lost to Southern Miss the previous week.
Prospects were dim for MSU as they prepared for battle with Bear Bryant's powerful wishbone attack on that clear November afternoon. But this story is not about the Bulldogs or the Tide or even the game, which Alabama won by a 24-7 margin on their way to a victory over Lou Holtz' Arkansas team in the Sugar Bowl and another National Championship.
The event which stands out in my mind happened fifteen minutes before kick-off. The players were in their respective locker rooms preparing for the game. It was the time of day when the stands contained mostly students with general-admission seating and dedicated (obsessive) fans. The majority of the fans that day were making their way to their seats on the aluminum benches which surrounded the stadium.
During this time the field was populated by Legion Field event staff, a few trainers preparing the sidelines for the upcoming game, and the cheerleaders who were staking out their territory for the upcoming game.
Mississippi State was scheduled to be the first team to enter the arena that day. The State cheerleaders were poised in front of the portal from which the players would emerge. Bully the mascot (I believe that version of the mascot was actually named Champ in the late '70s) was poised front and center, ready to lead the team onto the field of battle.
At the appropriate time the MSU band struck up the fight song, the cheerleaders and players emerged and ran to the visitor's sideline showered by half-hearted boos from the student section in the visitor's corner of the south end-zone. The entrance of the State players in itself is not remarkable - teams had been entering to shower of polite boos for the entire year.
It was the actions of Bully on that arc from the portal to the bench which stands out in my memory of an otherwise-unmemorable dispatching of an overmatched opponent. I can only speculate on part of this story, but my guess is that Bully made the trip from Starkville to Birmingham the morning of November 3rd. The trip across Hwy 82 and then north on Interstate 59 to the stadium takes about two hours, possibly three in game-day traffic. This fact becomes significant as the story progresses.
Bully's outward appearance was fine as he stood before the team, waiting to run across the astro-turf field to his spot near the MSU cheerleaders. But something changed as Bully made the trip across the wide expanse of green turf. His back began to arch and he slowed to a stop. The male cheerleader felt the leash tighten and turned to quickly assess what was about to happen in front of about 70,000 spectators.
Bully had assumed a position familiar to all dog walkers. His rear feet were placed near his front legs and he had a look of intense concentration on his face. The cheerleader tightened the leash but was only able to drag the now immoble bulldog across the field. The players parted around the dog and ran on to the bench.
The unfortunate cheerleader, now alone with a defecating dog in the middle of the field, continued to drag Bully to the sideline. Bully was uncooperative. The end result was a dashed line of doggie poo left around the 40 yard line.
The student section erupted into a cheer. Normally there's not much going on at this point in pregame festivities, so this happening in the middle of the field became the center of focus for the entire stadium.
Bully finished his business, gave a perfunctory scratch to the turf and sprinted off toward the MSU sideline with a new spring in his step. Now the real drama began: What would be the disposition of the second-hand Gravy Train that Bully had left as a gift in the middle of the field.
The cheerleaders ran for their spot near the north end-zone and disavowed any knowledge of Bully's action. The buzz in the stadium continued - surely this situation would be cleared up prior to kick-off.
For a couple of minutes no one made a move toward the offending area of the turf. Apparently Legion Field had no protocol for mascot poop on the game surface. Finally a MSU assistant turned to a trainer and pointed toward the area which was now the focus of most of the fans in the stadium. The trainer grabbed a large towel and jogged to the doggie deposits, gathering them in the towel one-by-one.
The stadium cheered for the poor student trainer, the bands played and the game began. Alabama dispatched State that day in workmanlike fashion, but Bully forever cemented in my mind his true opinion of having to face the Tide that clear fall afternoon.