Crimson Tide Street Cred

I don’t deserve to revel in Alabama’s one-sided mauling of LSU in the BCS Championship game last night. Because I’m not a true fan, long-suffering and loyal.

However, I have serious street cred:

It reads "1/11/80, To Kim Green, Best Wishes, Paul 'Bear' Bryant"

Know what this means? It means I’m grandfathered in.

Sure. I admit that I haven’t spent the requisite number of gorgeous autumn Saturday afternoons grinding my teeth in front of the television for the past forty years. My dad is that true fan, and he deserves all the gloating he wants to lay down for the next few months. I don’t deserve to gloat. So I won’t.

Because I frankly find certain aspects of the college football culture a bit suspect. Images of huge bemuscled young men rippling and murdering each other and celebrating together juxtaposed with rows of cute co-eds in tiny bikinilike “uniforms” jiggling on the sidelines? Very much on my nerves. Guys doing things and having all the fun on center stage while girls act all wind-beneath-their-wings offstage, happy to be admired for their cuteness during TV time-outs? What a fantastic metaphor for the lives of girls in America! How very apple pie! And then, of course, there’s the ugly little fact that college and professional football players are literally beating their brains out, and sometimes even pounding each other into early-onset dementia, for our amusement. It’s a bit Roman when you really think about it. And let’s not even get started on the money.

Putting all that aside, willingly suspending disillusionment, I confess that sometimes, when the band starts playing “Yea Alabama!” and the guys charge out onto the field in a sea of crimson, I feel like a kid again.

There’s no avoiding it: anything you learn to love at an early age, some small part of you will always love. The crowd roars, and it all floods back: the #4 Joey Jones jersey I wore all through high school, the massive crush I had on Mike Shula, the time I called “Bear” Bryant’s radio show when I was 6 years old. I called to tell him that I was planning to play football for him at Alabama. He had the common decency to say, “We’ll be waiting for you.”

And my mom likes to tell this story, a sweet little parable about inculcation at an early age: I was around 5 years old. We were driving to Hunstville, and I was reading billboards as they shot past. “Alabama 53,” I recited from a highway sign. And then I ad-libbed, “Auburn Zero.”

When it came to the Tide, I loved it all. Thing is, I didn’t want to watch or decorate the sidelines. I wanted to play. And it took an unreasonable amount of time for me to realize that the best a scrawny, 5’4″, 110 pounder was going to manage was a few ultramural flag football victories in college. We take our glory where we can get it.

Still, it was fun to be The Girl Who Loves Football when I was in high school. It made me feel like one of the guys, to be able to give the UT fans what-for at the end of October, or to receive what-for in return. During the school-wide “senior sale” (a bizarre human-auction fundraiser that surely has ceased to exist by now, in light of the rather unfortunate history it evokes), some of the guys bought me and made me dress up in full UT regalia, Big-Orange from head to toe. Being rolled in pig $#!^ would have been less humiliating. And even now, it’s kind of fun to explain what “fourth-and two” means to bewildered girlfriends, cramming for Superbowl Sunday.

What did I learn from my football-loving years? For sure I learned how to juke a tackler (OK, a flag-puller) chasing me down the sidelines on a kickoff return. I learned that it’s more fun to participate, at whatever level you can (from tossing a pigskin with the boys at recess to discussing the finer points of the Wishbone offense), than to traffic in passive cuteness. And I just figured out, from watching and thoroughly enjoying the Bama-LSU game last night, that even if you grow in a different direction than the culture of your childhood, it doesn’t mean you have to despise what you once enjoyed.

Call me a fair-weather fan if you want to. But I have an autographed photo of Paul W. “Bear” Bryant. Do you? (Whoops! I just gloated.)

Related article: A sport I could play, even at 5’4″

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