Commentary by Bill Buchanan
If the rest of the New Year goes as well for me as Monday night did, it’s going to be a banner year. That is because my Crimson Tide soundly defeated LSU and won the national championship in college football. So at least three people in Ojai were happy, me and my friends Carl Greenfield and Mark Burgess, who are also big Alabama football fans.
I know that a lot of people do not share my enthusiasm for football, especially college football. While I have met some USC and UCLA fans, they do not seem as rabid as the fans in the South. That certainly is not a knock on them. In fact, football in the South, and Alabama in particular, is crazy. People behave irrationally, and do some bizarre things.
People gawk at me in amazement when I talk about how crazy Alabama football fans are. Alabama’s legendary coach, Bear Bryant, wore a signature hound’s-tooth hat when he coached. The hound’s-tooth design has been trademarked and licensed by the University of Alabama. Replicas of the hat are worn by hundreds of coeds at games. The design now appears on everything from cup holders to dog collars – and Bryant has been dead for almost 30 years. One Tuscaloosa couple I know illustrates the passion with which football is approached; while he is rabid Alabama fan; she pulls for Auburn. In Alabama, this is what is known as a “mixed” marriage. The rivalry is so fierce between Auburn and Alabama that this couple takes separate cars when that game is played in Auburn so the “loser” of the game will not have to make the 160-mile, two-and-a-half hour trip back home listening to the other one celebrating their team’s win.
Football is fun, and people enjoy it. It is also an economic engine in many college towns. In Tuscaloosa, the chamber of commerce estimates that each home football game generates $6-8 million in revenue for the town. Multiply that times six or seven home games, and you’re talking about major money.
But it’s even more than that.
In the early sixties, Alabama was ground zero of the civil rights movement. Terrible acts were committed by both the Ku Klux Klan, and also by those in positions of authority. Horrific images of Selma, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Montgomery were captured on film and tape, and were seen on television and in newspapers around the country and the world. Alabama became the poster child of racial prejudice and discrimination. The state was disgraced, and rightly so.
During this time, Paul “Bear” Bryant, through his successful football program, gave the state some positive press and a source of pride when those things were in very short supply. And it gave those in the state who were horrified by the racist acts that were committed, and who were embarrassed and ashamed of the state’s terrible image, a chance to restore a little bit of their self-respect, even if it was only through football. It became something positive to rally around.
So if you see me or Carl or Mark running and jumping around and acting a little crazy, it is just a little football insanity. It isn’t permanent.
But it will pick right back up again next fall.