I'll be honest, following Crimson Tide football has not been easy for me since leaving the Capstone in the mid-1980s. Living in North Carolina, Texas and California during that era meant finding information about the program was difficult if not impossible.
I settled for being able to watch a handful of games on national television every season and following along as best I could other than that. It got a little easier to find things after the 1992 national championship not by much or for long. When I was lucky if there was a box score for the Alabama game in the "other games" section.
The Tide did come to me on one occasion. In 2000, Alabama returned to the Rose Bowl and played UCLA for the season opener. I was there. With the 1999 SEC Championship (and two wins over Steve Spurrier's Florida squad) hopes were high for the No. 3-ranked Crimson Tide. That was redoubled when Freddie Millons returned a punt 71 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.
Things got worse from there. UCLA responded with three touchdowns before the Tide would score again. The final score was 35-24. An ignominious start to an ignominious season. Still, I got to see my team play.
Of course, by that time, the internet had arrived. It suddenly became easier to find out things about the far-away teams, particularly my own. I could check the scores and recap of every game on Sunday. A wonderful change from before. Articles from Alabama media outlets were now available. And, lo, the rise of the message boards.
When I picked up stakes in 2003 and headed to South America, the internet had changed things significantly but nobody was really sure if it was for better or worse. Message boards were already a hive of scum and villainy and while news items are handy, they rarely painted a larger picture. I settled for checking the scores at some random internet cafe every Sunday morning.
There were a few interesting developments. ESPN's online-only effort, Page 2, gave a voice to Hunter S. Thompson, Gregg Easterbrook and Bill Simmons. These were writers whose work spoke to me a hell of a lot more than the usual bloviating nonsense from the typical newspaper sports columnist. Then Football Outsiders arrived and a whole new way of understanding the sport via statistics opened up. And their stable of writers described these new ideas in ways that made them even more exciting.
Then came the blogs. If it goes back to anything it would have to Wonkette established by Gawker Media in 2004. More than any other person, Ana Marie Cox established the tone of "blog" writing that set it apart from the conventional media. This was picked up quickly in the realm of sports with Gawker's Deadspin and then Every Day Should Be Saturday.
Suddenly the floodgates opened. AOL's Fanhouse and The Sporting News's Sporting Blog and a host of others began gathering steam. Matt Hinton transformed into Dr. Saturday for Yahoo! And there was a blog for pretty much every damn team. Even better, these blogs tended to work together. To find ways to discuss the teams and the sports in an open manner, to trade information and act as a sounding board for the larger community of readers.
SB Nation stepped into that niche pretty quickly and started bringing the best of these blogs under their wing. And there I was in Peru, following Alabama football closer than I ever had before through Roll Bama Roll.
Then two thing happened that changed the game for Alabama fans. After the tumult of the Mike Price debacle, the NCAA sanctions from the Dubose era and the on-field malaise of the Shula tenure in Tuscaloosa, the reputation of the Crimson Tide was at a nadir. But in the fall of 2007, Mal Moore fired Shula and the chaos of the head coaching search descended on the Capstone.
This is when I started following Roll 'Bama Roll. It quickly became an indispensable filter from all the rumor, innuendo and tsunami of stupidity that surrounded the coaching search. I wasn't a commenter yet but RBR was my way to keep track of things with a minimum of chatter. And when Saban was hired and launched the process, RBR was how I followed along.
By 2008, I noticed something interesting. I was working as a freelancer in Peru but, very often, the internet gave me the ability to investigate things a world away and write about them. I began by doing this covering news in South America but, one day, I simply thought why not do it for Alabama football? And so I began providing fanposts for RBR under my then nom de plume Kleph. Todd finally got tired of promoting them to the front page and made me a writer.
My whole strategy as a writer for the site was to bring all my skills as a journalist and apply them to the subject of Alabama football. To be honest, it was y'all that made it easy.
I always felt that the strength of RBR has always been the community. Despite the annoying flyspecking of every article for typos and grammatical errors, there has always been a robust amount of feedback and input. For example: my work on the history of the program grew out of the suggestions of long-time Bama fans who had questions about the subject. I was able to bring my investigative skills to the task and, hopefully, helped clarify many errors and educate folks on the past.
I've been around newspapers and other media enough to know that they are not static entities. They evolve and change as the readers and the subject matter change. Eventually, the staff has to change as well if the institution is to survive. So, when the time seemed right, I stepped aside for a new regime and, as expected, RBR had kept chugging along. It's gonna be fun to see how it handles the next decade of Crimson Tide excellence.