Back in 2013 or so, Josh started what has now become an annual tradition on the site: Calling All Gumps — a cattle call of people and their fandom.
We have a ton of contributors: About 640,000 users, and a third of them are “active”. The site gets nearly a million reads a month — less with the offseason, more with breaking news or big games. And to those, we add new readers and new faces to Roll ‘Bama Roll all the time.
With that in mind, this is our annual opportunity for new readers and lurkers to say hi, and for the old-timers to drop back in and tell us how you came by your Alabama fandom.
It’s your turn to share your origin story; just like Spider-Man. But with less radioactivity.
I guess I’ll start. I’m not from Alabama originally. I was born in North Carolina. But, my grandfather was a huge Alabama fan, and particularly liked Bear Bryant. I didn’t think too much of the team or the coach. Alabama may as well have been a different country.
Then, my mother remarried the man who was the events director at the Von Braun Civic Center in Huntsville. So, with me in the second grade, we relocated to that dread foreign land — Alabama. My grandfather was jealous. He just wanted to see the Bear, Pawwwwl.
I had been in the state a grand total of 6 or 7 months when what should happen? Paul W. Bryant retired. Three weeks later, he would be dead. It was simply impossible for me to process what death meant at the time, much less what that particular death meant.
When I began pee wee football the following fall, I would learn.
My first foray into the sport would be in football-besotted, Bear-worshipping Alabama. Bryant’s defense became canon; the wishbone, our offense; his salty abusiveness, de rigeur. And such would persist for the next several years of life in North Alabama. (My stepfather was managing state parks by then, and much of my youth was spent growing up in some of Alabama’s more remote areas — near Fort Payne and Rogersville, particularly.)
During all of this, I loved the game, but I was still just a casual Alabama fan. It was the home team. It wasn’t full of weirdos cultists like Auburn. And it certainly didn’t have the cretins that Tennessee did. Tennessee was not just a despised institution for those in Western Carolina, it was also a geographic one. You learn the disdain early. But, my heart was very much still up for grabs.
So, 1984 rolls around and Bryant’s successor, Ray Perkins, is in the midst of a struggling year at the Capstone. A preseason Top 10 team had lost four of its first six games. It had been beaten by pitiful Vanderbilt; lost to despised Georgia Tech (that rivalry was a thing back in those days — gotta trust me here); outgunned by Doug Flutie and Boston College en route to his Heisman Trophy; and shut down by Georgia at Legion Field.
It wasn’t all bad. There was a paycheck win against directional Louisiana. And, going into the Tennessee game, things were looking up. Just the week before, Alabama won a defensive classic: a 6-0 win over No. 11 Penn State.
Then, Third Saturday dawns in Neyland Stadium. Alabama and Tennessee are in a nip-and-tuck game, with the Vols driving, down just 27-20. A controversial fourth-down conversion by UT gave them new life where they would punch it in. The officials didn’t even measure the chains, when the ball looked to be short. The Alabama faithful, players, coaches were furious. Even the Tennessee radio crew were baffled.
Having been screwed big-time, a demoralized Alabama team then imploded in the space of about three minutes. It allowed a two-point conversion. It threw an interception on its next possession. And, after forcing a punt and retaining some chance at a miracle, Alabama then committed a game-killing pass to an illegible receiver.
The final was 28-27, Villains
So many pathos and so much rage. Despised Tennessee had cheated. The refs had cheated out of fear of the 95,000 hillbillies. Alabama had been screwed.
It was then that I devoted my life to hating that inside-of-a-pumpkin orange. It took me a while to come around to what was being sold...but Tennessee has that effect on people.
And you know what? He still hates Tennessee. And so do I.