Fans expecting more of the Saban golden age will be somewhat disappointed in Eli Gold’s “Crimson Nation: The shaping of the south’s most dominant football team.” Rather, Gold’s pacing tells the story of Alabama football, giving each era its turn, and doing so in a slower, more deliberate style designed to emphasize the building of the product, not that finished Death Star that Alabama would become. And, in the slow panorama of history, these past nine years have been an eye-blink.
After a nice history of Tide play-by-play announcers, Crimson Nation fires up in earnest with Dr. George Denny, the namesake of about a third of the streets and buildings on campus. Dr. Denny was the legendary president of the University from 1912-1936, and it was during his tenure and with his not-so-gentle prodding that football began to be emphasized on campus, despite Alabama having fielded a team for two decades before his arrival. Those characters from a century ago shaped the foundation of what Alabama could and would become, and they are brought to life in 21st century color.
From there, Crimson Nation begins to travel through the legendary coaches like Frank Thomas and Wallace Wade, bridging the narrative with seminal events like the 1925 Rose Bowl, and the game-changing players like Don Hutson.
Obviously, the Bryant era is given much consideration and time, but Gold makes it clear that the Alabama Dynasty did not begin with Bear Bryant, rather that Coach Bryant was the latest caretaker of a tradition that had spanned half a century before Alabama became the household name it had once been.
The story is an old one, but Gold tells it with a folksy wink-and-a-nod, presupposing some passing familiarity with the program and the history of the Tide. Think of it as more Webster’s than Oxford English Dictionary. And, while the story is an old one, and one familiar to most Tide fans, what gives Crimson Nation it’s real charm are Eli’s witticisms, a genuine love of the subject, liberal name-dropping and anecdotes, as well as a focus on the personalities and people that make Alabama great. It’s just your run-of-the-mill, century-long, overnight-success story.
Fans of history will particularly eat it up, and we can all appreciate that Gold delivers it succinctly and in a voice that is as familiar as the radio on Saturdays in the Fall.
Crimson Nation: The Shaping of the South’s Most Dominant Football Team (ISBN 9781629371894) is available from Triumph Books, and was released August 15, 2016.