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Dixie's Football Pride: Why I Am An Alabama Fan

Update [2007-5-2 13:51:17 by Nico]:
Later this month, RBR will have its one year anniversary. Todd & I both have been blogging about Alabama football for years on various sites that covered everything from movies to music to vacations to soccer. When the site started, it was only me writing and the site was averaging about 50 readers a day. Almost a year later, the site traffic has increased massively and Todd and bamahoops have been added as authors. This post was one of the first on the site and I decided to repost it because the vast majority of you probably never read it. Please post in the comments section stories about "why you are an Alabama fan." Reposting old stories certainly isn't going to be a habit around here, but this is one that I thought needed repeating for all of the new RBR readers that are on board.

===Original Story Below===

Bruins Nation published an article called "Why We Bleed Blue & Gold" to explain his attachment to the UCLA Bruins. Dawg Sports followed suit with "Why I am a Georgia Fan" and then U-Dub Dish chimed in with "Times may change, but answers do not" to explain his cheering on the Washington Huskies.

They all had unique, interesting stories, so I figured I'd take the time to explain why I am an Alabama fan.

There are two ways one could explain my "choice" of the Crimson Tide. One is simple. Allegiance to a sports team is something one typically inherits from their parents. Much like religious belief and political affiliation, people tend to cheer on a team because mom and dad did too. That's the simple answer, and one that's true for me. However, I'd also like to offer the complex explanation.

This is going to be rather longwinded and a bit meandering at times, but I hope some of you will finish reading it.

While my politics and my religion are now different from that of my parents, my sports team of choice has remained the same. I'm not suggesting that a tie to a sports team is more difficult to break with than a religious affiliation, I'm just explaining a bit of my past.

Unlike the authors of the pieces listed above, I didn't get my undergraduate degree from the institution whose sports teams I follow (though I am currently in graduate school at Alabama.) Nor did my parents, my grandparents or any of my siblings. My cousin went to Alabama though and was even elected homecoming queen one year. That was it - that was the only connection growing up. Even though the term is popularly associated with Notre Dame fans, I guess my immediate family and I qualifed as Alabama subway alumni .

My family more or less comes from rural stock. My siblings and my cousins are the first generation in our family to grow up in an urban environment. My dad's family grew up in the tiny, rural north Alabama town of Hanceville (pop. 2,951), where they lived in a small house and worked in the fields. My mom's family hails from the south Alabama town of Ramer (pop. 2,517), where they grew and raised much of their own food.

My father and his brother were the first people in our family to go to college. My dad graduated from tiny Birmingham-Southern College (whose current enrollment is less than 1,400.) They didn't have a football team, and even if they had, it wouldn't have been one anybody cared about. He then graduated from the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University. Their football team probably didn't exist when he attended. Once again, even if it had, nobody would've really cared. That bit of family history helps explain the setup of our connection to the Crimson Tide.

To this day, my father fondly remembers listening to the 1946 Rose Bowl on the radio in rural Alabama as an eight-year-old boy. Alabama defeated USC that day 34-14 and it just so happened to mark the last time a Southern team played in the Rose Bowl until the modern BCS-era. My guess is the western teams were tired of being humiliated by the "inferior" Southerners and entered into their exclusive deal with the Big 10. For what it's worth, Alabama's all time Rose Bowl record is 4-1-1.

The game that put Alabama and Southern football on the map.

While listening to the broadcast of that 1946 Rose Bowl, my great-grandfather (who I never met) told my dad the tale of the excitement surrounding Alabama's historic 1926 Rose Bowl victory over Washington by a score of 20-19. The Crimson Tide were only begrudgingly invited to the bowl after several Ivy League teams turned down the invitation based on the idea that they felt their schools' academics were beginning to suffer at the hand of athletics. Journalists across the nation predicted that the "Tusca-losers" would be soundly beat and "put in their place." No one gave the Crimson Tide a chance. The football and the humanity of Alabamians were repeatedly denigrated in the national media. One Baltimore journalist wrote several articles about the small brain cavity size of Southerners.

Alabama shocked the country and won its first national championship with a 10-0 record (they outscored their opponents 297-26 that season.) A wave of euphoria erupted across the South and Alabama's football team were treated as heroes throughout the region.

Winthrop history professor Andrew Doyle had this to say about the game:

"You can look at the 1926 Rose Bowl as the most significant event in Southern football history. What had come before was almost like a buildup, a preparation for this grand coming out party. And it was a sublime tonic for Southerners who were buffeted by a legacy of defeat, military defeat, a legacy of poverty, and a legacy of isolation from the American political and cultural mainstream."

Basically, that's a really long, drawn-out way of saying that my family began to follow Alabama football at a time when Alabama football was the only thing people around here could be proud of. None of that history played into my decision to follow the Tide as a child, but I have a great appreciation for the history of my family's "fan history" with the team.

As a kid, I was "converted" while attending my first game, the Iron Bowl in 1984 when Alabama beat Auburn 17-15. The energy and excitement in the stadium made a huge, lasting impression. Even as an eight-year-old kid, the passion of the fans consumed me. In 1985, when Van Tiffin kicked a 52-yard field goal to defeat Auburn 25-23 as time expired, I called every Auburn fan I knew and mocked their team over the telephone. I was nine years old and truly an obnoxious fan.

Years later in 1989, there was the time Alabama trailed Ole Miss 21-0. The Rebels struck hard and early. Alabama sucked it up though and reached down deep inside of themselves to score 62 points and win the game in a 62-27 blowout. At 21-0, I stopped listening to the game on the radio and went to go play football outside. A neighbor called me inside once Alabama was close to scoring the go-ahead points. That was the first and last time I ever gave up on my team.

Coach Bryant's presence still looms large.

Other things contributed to my attachment to the team: taking 3 out of 4 games against Penn State in the late 80s when I was becoming a serious football fan, Cornelius Bennett nearly decapitating Steve Beuerlein in Alabama's 1986 victory over Notre Dame, and one can never underestimate the power of The Bear in the imagination of a child. The ever-present iconography of his triumphs greeted you more or less on a daily basis around the state.

Sweet, sweet victory

Then, in 1992, when I was 16 years old, Alabama won the national championship. They'd won two others in my lifetime, but I was too young to remember them. Alabama blew out Miami in the Sugar Bowl 34-13 on New Year's Day 1993 in a game no one thought they could win. Outside of familial and religious occasions, it was one of the happiest days of my life. It's a feeling I've been chasing and hoping to experience again over the last 14 years.

(Abruptly shifting gears)

When I started attending the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1994, UAB's football program was Division I-AA and only two years removed from being an upstart Division III program. Anything less than Division I was a cute minor league diversion at best and nothing to be taken seriously enough to displace 18 years of emotional investment in Crimson Tide football.

Shortly after my arrival to UAB, it was announced that they would be moving to Division I in 1996...while I would still be enrolled. I was livid. How dare one of the satellite schools spit in the face of the mother institution and start a D-I football program? That had to be the granddaddy of all insults.

Both schools having basketball teams didn't bother me because basketball is just one of the diversions we occupy ourselves with during the eight months or so it isn't football season. UAH (Alabama-Huntsville) didn't have a football team, so why did UAB want one?

Not only was I opposed to UAB going to Division I on grounds that it was an insult to Alabama, it did two other things that irritated me:

  1. It drove our tuition rates and student service fees through the roof.
  2. It was going to force me into a lifetime of explanation of why I cheered for a team other than that of my alma mater.
I found the prospect of reason #2 particularly troubling. If I went to a school in the University of Alabama system that didn't have a football team, then I could naturally support the only Division I team in the system without question or contradiction.

(Shifting gears once more)

Through 1996, all I ever knew was success in my 20 years of Alabama fandom. Three national championships, seven SEC championships, and only one losing season in 1984 made this "being a fan stuff" really easy. And then we hired Mike Dubose.

By 1997, I had reached a mature fandom and that season was a completely disorienting sucker punch. That year saw our first lost to Kentucky since the dawn of time and the season ended on a four game skid that included losing to out of conference cupcake Louisiana home. 1998 saw the Tide finish with a winning record and that was refreshing after the `97 debacle despite a humiliating beating at the hands of Virginia Tech in the Music City Bowl.

1999 was Dubose's "miracle year," and despite losing to Louisiana Tech...again...Dubose did the unthinkable: beat Florida in The Swamp and beat Auburn on The Plains. He then out maneuvered The `Ol Ball Coach again to take the SEC championship. In 2000 the limits of sanity were tested again with the Crimson Tide going 3-8 with losses to Central Florida and Southern Miss and being shutout twice.

Most people out there are familiar enough with Alabama's 21st Century history that it doesn't need to be recounted here. Suffice it to say that the scandals, probationary periods and the revolving door in the head coach's office have tested the mettle of the Crimson Tide faithful.

Even with all of the infamy swirling around the program for the past few years, I've stuck with my team. While I never wanted to witness the horrible losing seasons we've experienced, I unquestionably know that the next time we hoist an SEC Championship trophy, or better yet, the BCS crystal football, that it'll be even sweeter for having suffered through one of the most turbulent periods in the program's illustrious 100+ year history.

2005 provided a glimmer of hope. A 10-win season right on the heels of getting off of probation was a pretty good sign that we probably have weathered the storm. It'll be high Tide again before you know it. The determination, the playing with character and guts, the proving the naysayers wrong, and the rising above whatever adversity is thrown the team's way is why I'm an Alabama fan. They will forever be my team.  And win or lose, they will always be "Dixie's Football Pride" just like our fight song says.

Update [2007-5-2 13:51:17 by Nico]:
Okay, so 2006 pretty much sucked. Progress must have patience though and we at least have a coach that knows what he's doing.