With the season finally here, it’s time for our annual tradition of getting everyone back together to tell their stories of Alabama fandom. More specifically, we are always interested to hear how you came to be a fan. For many people, particularly in the South, college football fandom is a deeply personal affair. Some of us are simply born with the affliction while others make the emotional investment later. No matter how it happens, Saturdays provide a refuge for many from the rigors of everyday life. Seasons are short, and offseasons are eternal.
As for me, I was born in Alabama into a family that was all Crimson Tide on both sides. Still, it took a while. My parents moved to the Atlanta area when I was just a toddler, and I first began to identify with the Atlanta professional sports teams. If Georgia was having a good season, I would watch, and when Georgia Tech made their improbable run in 1990, I rooted for them as well. I always favored Alabama and we watched the Iron Bowl every year, but back then we didn’t get the Tide on TV every weekend.
Then 1992 happened.
My maternal grandfather, retired Major Wallace E. Wigley of the Alabama State Patrol who I knew as “Papa,” was perhaps the greatest influence in my life growing up. He led quite an interesting life, serving as a naval pilot during World War II before spending some time as a civilian flight instructor. He served with the state patrol from 1950-1978, then went to school to learn how to work on televisions. He was also an amateur radio aficionado who built a massive antenna tower in the back yard of their classic brick ranch just off of University Blvd. When I was small we would talk to truckers over CB radio. He gave me the handle “Tadpole.”
As a trooper, he was assigned security detail for Paul “Bear” Bryant when they played at then-Denny Stadium. He got to know the staff quite well, especially Gene “Bebes” Stallings. I heard him mention Bebes many times as a kid, but had no idea who he was until later. Needless to say, Papa loved Alabama football.
Mostly, though, he loved his grandkids. My grandparents left their home empty when I was around 9 to join us in Georgia. They weren’t rich by any means, so my grandmother took a job managing a duplex community in exchange for free rent. I spent many nights over there, staying up until all hours to catch the last innings of the west coast baseball games with Papa and, of course, watching Alabama football whenever they were on. Eventually they sold the house in Tuscaloosa and called Georgia home.
My mother passed in 1991, then my grandmother in 1992. Papa had been a willing and tireless caregiver for my grandmother during a very difficult last couple years of her life. After her death, Papa decided that he would move back to Tuscaloosa and finally retire. He found a little townhome for rent near the VA Hospital and became a regular at Cozy’s, which is sadly now closed.
Just old enough to drive, I went to visit him over winter break in 1992. He took me all around campus, we ate at Dreamland, visited his old post, and even stopped by that brick house that I visited so many times as a child. It was an exciting time to be in town since the Tide were scheduled to play Miami for the national championship, though the newspapers said they had little if any chance to knock off the mighty Hurricanes. Based on quotes, some of the Miami players were awfully confident as well.
We watched that Sugar Bowl in his living room, just as we had when I was younger. I’m not sure I ever saw him happier, more emotional, than he was in that moment. He was so proud that Alabama football had once again reached the pinnacle, and more so that it was Bebes who got them there. From that point forward, I was hooked. There was no going back, there were no other teams. Through the probation and the lean years, I watched every time they were on, never imagining that we would get to experience what we are today.
Papa passed a couple years after that game. Spending that special time with him is a memory that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
So, that’s my story.
What’s yours? Tell us in the comments.