The week that you consider the rest of the season a warm up for the next game, it might be rivalry week. Alabamians, in general, have strong opinions about most topics, but are especially opinionated about college football. There is no professional football team in the state of Alabama and there are only a handful of professional football teams in the country with a fan base that compares to the level of passion and intensity of the fans supporting the college football teams in Alabama. In fact, some argue that on any given week there is a professional team that would find at least two of the college teams in Alabama formidable opponents. The physicality and consistent performances of the college football teams in Alabama resonate throughout the populace.
Alabamians are known for being opinionated on most topics, but when it comes a to football Alabamians have strong opinions and deep rooted loyalties. There is no fence riding by a true Alabamian, including decisions about your favored college football team. As far back as I can remember, rivalry week meant that my family cheered for Alabama State University to beat Tuskegee University in the Turkey Day Classic and we cheered for the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Iron Bowl.
While all of the institutions are arguably excellent institutions of higher learning, you must pick a side. Once you pick a side, there can be no fence straddling and no inkling of side switching. There is an understanding that you will be sold out for your team and that you will be forever loyal to the team you pick. Other football loving folks will respect your unwavering loyalty and you can be pretty certain that they won’t press you to flip or to look like a traitor in front of the world by cheering for your rival team.
Thursday, someone stopped by my house and jokingly said a rally cry for Alabama’s in-state rival. At first, I thought I didn’t hear what I thought I heard, but the room of about seven or eight people went silent except for the noise from the television so I stopped to listen more intently. Sure enough, the resident comic said it again. Then, I said in my jokey voice, “You trying not to sit at my table to eat.” Everyone laughed. Then, I was asked, “How do people in Alabama pick the [college] team they will cheer for?” It was a legitimate question so I offered an answer based on my personal experiences.
I explained that most of the folks I knew picked one team over the other due to family ties. Others picked a team because of their decision to just be different than the majority of their friends and family. Many of my high school friends didn’t chose Alabama because generations of their family members had gone to the rival school. That was not my story, however, because people who looked like me were not admitted to either school until a little more than fifty years ago. Alabama admitted the first Black students in June 1963 and the rival school integrated that campus about six months later in January 1964. Similarly, both schools desegregated the football teams in the early 1970’s. Alabama’s position as first with respect to the desegratation of the campus coupled with Paul Bear Bryant’s public statements that his team would be better if there was diversity made my father one of Alabama’s most dedicated fans. Hence, everyone in the house loved and supported the Tide. It was that simple.
I find that people outside of the state either shake their heads out of respect for the legacy of Alabama football or they shake their heads and say they don’t like Alabama because, “Y’all win too much.” Well, that is something that an Alabama fan would never say. In fairness to the in-state rival, I’ve never meet a fan from that school who would say that there is such a thing as winning too much. We are not programmed like that in the state of Alabama. Being a true fan of a college team in the state of Alabama means that we do expect to win not just a lot, but every time we play. Last year when my team lost to Clemson in the National Championship game a very happy Clemson fan said to me, “Y’all have won enough.” Another one said, “Y’all will be back next year. We won’t.”
Alabama fans do expect to win every time, every season, and when we lose we are disappointed. We respect the play of the opponent who played hard for the determined period and scored more points than we did to claim the victory. We take from the loss the lessons that our team must learn: Remember the sting of loss and go work hard to be more prepared and more focused the next time you show up. We also learn that in addition to working hard and focusing, you have to keep believing that you have a chance to be successful in your chosen endeavor. I tell my students get up every day expecting to win at something! Why would you show up for anything expecting to fail or not do your absolute best.
I hope that in life we can all aspire for greatness in whatever we do for the time assigned to us to do it. Do like Bama folks and engage in some introspection after a defeat or disappointment in order to set your sights on improvement or success the next time out. Stop hating the process of thinking yourself great every day. Don’t count yourself out before you even give yourself a chance to attempt more greatness. Be great. Do great. Consider yourself a champion because you have now been in the presence of a champion. #RollTide