Commentary by Bill Buchanan
Sadly, it looks like my Alabama Crimson Tide has probably lost its chance to play for and to win another college football national championship. I was at the game last Saturday night when they lost a heartbreakingly close game to LSU, the No. 1 team in the nation. For many Alabama football fans, losing a game is akin to the death of a family member. In some cases, depending upon the family member, it can be even worse.
That may be an exaggeration, but football is a huge deal in the South. At Alabama, losses take a terrible toll. Some people cancel social plans, or plan weddings around game days. A Southern bride knows better than to schedule her big day in direct competition with an Alabama game. Fans have been known to skip school and church in order to avoid ribbing from a rival team’s fans after a big defeat. Losses can cause our young men to cry, our grown men to curse and our women to rethink why they were ever attracted to us in the first place.
The LSU game was a national event, and television ratings were very high. It is estimated that almost 15 million people watched at least a portion of the game. I believe it — it felt like I bumped into at least that many people just walking around campus before the game. If you could have had a bird’s-eye view, it must have looked like an ant colony after someone had stirred it with a stick. If you can imagine an ant colony wearing school colors and drinking beer.
We tried to find a friend who was tailgating from a tent, but there were more than 1,800 such tents set up on that day. It would have been easier to find an honest politician in Washington. In fact, an estimated 60,000 people came to the game just to experience the atmosphere, unable to join the 101,000-plus who were in the stadium. Those who came were there to make noise. The decibel level in the stadium was measured at over 120 — up there with sandblasting and rock concerts.
Pre-game tailgating (read: eating and drinking) has certainly evolved over the years. From my college days of a tub of Kentucky Fried Chicken and a bottle of cheap bourbon (which was later concealed in your date’s purse and smuggled into the stadium), it has grown into a full-scale event. Now people set up elaborate tents, some seating 20 to 30 people. There are grills cooking hamburgers, sausages and hot dogs, and coolers the size of small cattle filled with cold beer. Many tents also house wide-screen televisions that seem larger than some of the apartments I have rented.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the intoxication level of some of those attending. We spotted one young coed in particular who had clearly started celebrating early. She was already weaving badly at 4:30 p.m. for a game that didn’t end until midnight. I couldn’t help but wonder what the next day would hold for her. When I was in college, I had a fraternity brother who was famous for being “over-served” at games and parties. He was a decent enough guy when he was sober, but he was a truly obnoxious drunk. One night after a game, he left the fraternity house on foot and passed out on the lawn of a rival fraternity next door. They simply carried him to the back of the house and deposited him in the dumpster, where he awoke the next morning disoriented and reeking of rotting food. He took the term “stinking drunk” to a new level.
I would think that waking up on Sunday morning after a night in the dumpster might prompt you to reassess your life choices. I think Leon just took a hot shower and started all over again.
The game was disappointing, but very exciting, despite the loss. I realize that in the great cosmic scheme of things, a football game registers pretty far down on the scale of things that are truly important. But sheer passion, even for something as relatively meaningless as a sporting event, is still a wondrous thing to behold.