Sometimes you remember great autumn weekends where the air was cool, the light was golden, and the feats on the football field seemed superhuman and filled with agile grace.
This past weekend was not such a weekend.
It started on Friday when I went by to see our good friend Dan Byford who was in Huntsville Hospital for another round of radiation treatments. It's hard to see people you love having difficulties, but Dan is a trouper. Dan is the person who brought us back to Alabama from Virginia when he called up my husband and let him know about a deal that was hard for us to refuse. His spirit is one of grit laced with ironic humor.
From there, things went downhill.
We got a solid night's sleep in Tuscaloosa and set out for the campus by late morning. The traffic on the main thoroughfare of McFarland Blvd. was running slow, but that is better than expected for game day. We claimed a parking spot, toured the building where our son does his grad work, then began to walk across campus. By the time we hit the Quad and Denny Chimes area, we were in the thick of the tailgate scene. Actually, approaching the Quad from the North where the Guiness World's Record breaking largest gumbo ever was being prepared, it was hard to see the quad for the line of forty of so portable toilets standing as shoulder-to-shoulder sentinels, guarding the area from, well, human waste, I suppose. I had heard that a few years ago when the great Bama Roll Tide Revival began that parents had used Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library as a babysitting service, and the scene had not been pretty. Let me tell you, in the category of portable toilets, these were not your run-of-the-mill neon yellow thrown willy-nilly onto a construction site type of toilets. No, these were more of the Wimbledon type portable toilettes. British racing green. Professionally secured. Precision aligned. These were some CLASSY portable toilettes. I imagine a lot of committee work went into approving these toilets/toilettes. I almost expected to see that classic Bama "A" emblazoned on the door in burnished silver.
Maneuvering around the gumbo contests and the Largest Gumbo Ever event had not been too difficult because the fans there had food on their minds. But maneuvering around the Quad was another story. ESPN's Game Day telecast had originated on the Walk of Champions right in front of the stadium just a couple blocks away from 7:30-11:00 that morning. Those fans had sat in folding chairs for hours predawn waiting for that event. After bouncing around screaming and yelling while the Game Day Pantheon (including Lee Corso and Kirk Ohio State Forever Herbstreit) pulled their shenanigans and pretended to predict the outcome of THE GAME OF THE CENTURY, the fans were still full full full of nervous energy. Walking around the Quad with them was a contact sport. My husband and I were walking at our regular fast pace on the far right side of the designated walkway. Apparently that was not fast enough. People passed us, impatient. So we hustled up the pace. Then herds four abreast ran us off the edge of the sidewalk. So I cut down a new path, one on grass, marked with chalked edges like a football field so you would know exactly where to walk. But this led in the wrong direction, and soon we found ourselves at the intersection of two paths where people darted around like high speed bumper cars. And these were TALL people. I am only 5'1". I did not register in their fields of vision. Soon a skyscraper girl in high heeled boots (what else?) was so busy talking to her friend as they cut across the walkway against the flow that she mistook me for a lull in traffic and plowed right into me, knocking to the ground the objects in my hands, knocking the lens cap off my camera as I held it tight with both hands.
This was six hours before game time.
Duffy Daugherty of Michigan State fame once said "Football is NOT a contact sport--it is a collision sport. Dancing is a contact sport."
In the SEC, being a fan is a collision sport.
We finally made it to the site of the orange Game Day bus--sponsored by Home Depot!--that we had seen pull out of the Home Depot parking lot the night before. I made my husband stand before it in about twenty different poses. Then I took pics of him with a bronze Bear Bryant. A bronze Nick Saban. And lots of other bronze pagan deities of Bama football. Of course there are A LOT OF OTHER PEOPLE IN THE PICTURES. It's not as if on game day it would be possible to take any photos on The Walk of Champions without the masses being there in all the shots.
We walked down The Strip. We walked over to our friends' condo. We walked by old haunts and new in this college town. We walked to other tailgates. And everywhere we went, we had to pick our way through people walking fast and darting suddenly in the oddest directions, like they were running without the ball but expecting it to land in their upturned hands at any moment.
Hey, this is nothing new. I remember the old days at Legion Field, waiting for the student section gates to be open and being near the front of the line. By the time the gates opened, the pattern of the chain link gate was imprinted on my hands from where the crowd behind us pushed closer and closer.
More of the same during THE GAME OF THE CENTURY where we stood most of the time on metal bleacher benches that felt as if if one more fat person hopped on board a rivet would break and we would all be thrown down into the stands below.
Then, after the game was over and we were moving along in the herd, exiting The Walk of Champions, I stepped off a curved curb I didn't see coming and suddenly found myself on the ground, wondering how people were going to avoid walking on me. I knew I had injured the same leg I always injure (those old sports injuries never go away), but I walked as quickly as I could manage with my husband's help back to the car on the other side of the campus. I couldn't risk stopping in the middle of the road and being plowed into by the human traffic behind me.
Joe Namath once said "When you win, nothing hurts."
Well, hey, Joe, we didn't win.
I told Carter Monroe about the game. Carter lives in the land of ACC basketball.
"Damn," he said, "Tide/LSU is apparently a NASCAR race."
I think we need to invite him down for Talladega. He needs to witness the difference firsthand.