Saturday, July 14, 2007

SEC Fans Are Serious

Ever since I went to the Oregon vs. Mississippi St. game in Starkville, MS I have thought SEC football is something entirely different from any other type of football. It was a small college town with a bad football team but based on the rabid nature of the fans you would have thought they were in the thick of the national championship race. Visiting Starkville has made me want to check out the premier places in the SEC for a football game. The atmospheres in Palo Alto, Pullman and Berkeley on game days just don't get my blood going like I expect any SEC town would. I have not had the opportunity to get back to SEC country but I was able to speak to an alum last week on the cruise I went on.

Joe is in his early 50s and was a student equipment manager at Alabama for the last few years of Bear Bryant. I kid you not, this was the first thing he told me after I asked him if he went to Alabama. The fact that he had an Alabama hat and polo shirt on is what led me to ask. I talked with him for at least a half hour and learned a lot of great things about life at Alabama. Joe told me he was from Louisiana and explained how difficult it is to live near Death Valley. I later found out he lives only 30 minutes from New Orleans and a couple of miles from complete devestation. I got the impression he didn't share that minor detail with me early in the conversation because he finally found someone on the cruise that wanted to talk football not because it was difficult to talk about. I envision Joe thinking there were too many people from the West Coast that only care about college football for 4 months out of the year, if that, on the Alaskan cruise.

I had a great time hearing about Alabama football. Here are some tidbits. The spring game could have had more than 92,000+ people because another few thousand in the parking lot were turned away. The Alabama faithful are giddy over Nick Saban and glad to get rid of Mike Shula. "Shula was a nice guy but was more of a quarterback's coach than a head coach." They realize parity, particularly in the SEC, makes winning far more difficult but that doesn't mean expectations can't be high. Beating Auburn really is what Saban has been hired to do. Bryant-Denny Stadium (shown above) was the size of Autzen about 4 expansions ago and more expansions are in the works. Joe catches the first half of the Pac-10 games before heading to bed and his teenage son makes it a point to watch the entire game. Receiving season tickets to Alabama games is nearly impossible. Joe is a part of the former letterwinners club and since he hasn't requested tickets in a few years isn't entirely confident he is going to get the three he asked for. I get the impression tickets to Autzen are infinitely easier to obtain. It was this topic on season tickets that made me realize SEC fans are more serious than any other fan.

Joe explained that he had a voice message in his cabin on the ship a couple of nights before. The message was from a buddy and simply told Joe to call him back at his earliest convenience. He assumed it was his buddy calling about football season tickets. The season is getting closer and neither of them have the actual tickets in hand so Joe was hoping the buddy called with news about the tickets. Wrong! The buddy called to tell Joe that the Alabama baseball team had hired a new assistant coach from a school in Louisiana. Mind you it cost $7.95 per minute to use the phones in the cabin and that is the news Joe received. He told me the story and had no remorse that he called up his buddy and in return he found out the baseball team had a new assistant coach.

I'm sorry but that doesn't happen anywhere else. In the week I was gone Oregon lost a couple of football players, had a bowl game vacated because the opponent had to forfeit a season's worth of games, brought back baseball, instituted a recreational activity and dropped wrestling. I had no messages on my cabin phone, one text message (related to the football team) and one voice mail (unrelated to anything) on my cell phone. After meeting Joe I realize no matter how much people want to convince me otherwise, the pure devotion of SEC fans to their schools means all other conferences are playing for 2nd.

(Photo from University of Alabama Athletic Department.)

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