I know most of you aren't into football, but that's okay. In honor of the national college football championship game tonight, I'm going to attempt to explain to you why it is so important to me and why I'm such a crazed fan.
I was born in Alabama and I lived there for much of my early childhood. There's not a lot going for Alabama. There are no professional sports teams of any sort, poverty is rampant, unemployment is high, too many people smoke and/or are overweight, and the state has a sordid past relating to the civil rights movement. But I love Alabama. It's where my family is from and I have many happy memories of living there and then visiting my Nanny, my grandmother, my favorite person in the whole wide world, after we moved to Florida. I will admit that the state and the people can be backward, but some of the best people I've known have come from Alabama and I am proud of my heritage.
What does this have to do with football? Well, since there's not a lot going for Alabama, people who live there have to cling to what makes them great, and one of those things is college football. The University of Alabama has one of the most storied football programs in the country. One of the most prolific college football coaches, Bear Bryant, coached at Alabama and led them to six national championships. Amazingly, Bryant was one of the first college coaches to recruit and play black players. That's really saying something, considering where he coached and who was governor at the time (George Wallace). Alabama football gives the people of Alabama something to be proud of. When you add in the rivalry between Alabama and Auburn, which is really heated, football is a big deal in this particular state.
It's also a big deal in my household. It was in my home growing up - some of my earliest memories are of both my dad and mom yelling at the TV for some player to "Run!" or "Make a tackle!" I was raised to be an Alabama fan and to hate Auburn and Tennessee and Penn State and Notre Dame and to have a disdain for any team outside the SEC. My husband became a hard-core Alabama fan shortly after we married. I have enough Alabama t-shirts to wear one every day of the week (although I try not to do that) and I've read everything ever published about Bear Bryant. It's not just a hobby for me, it's an obsession.
This season has been magical. We are undefeated. We beat everyone in our conference, including Auburn and Tennessee, our biggest rivals, then we beat undefeated Florida to win the SEC championship. Honestly, though, it's been heartbreaking to be a Bama fan for a long time. We last won a National Championship in '93 and since then it's been a long line of failing coaches and NCAA rule violation scandals. Finally in 2007 we got a new coach, Nick Saban (called "Satan" by some of his naysayers), and it's been uphill ever since. Last season was promising, but we lost the SEC championship to Florida and then lost the Sugar Bowl to Utah. This season went much the same way, except we were able to pummel Florida to win the SEC and we got our first Heisman Trophy winner - Mark Ingram. Tonight we are playing Texas for the national championship. I will stay up as late as the game goes and I will probably cry actual tears if they lose. This is saying a lot, since I can't remember the last time I cried over anything.
I probably have only succeeded in making myself sound like a lunatic and confirmed for those of you who don't like football that you've made the right choice. That's okay because I'm not trying to convert anyone. But football is one of my favorite things and I'm just so thrilled that for me, it's still going on. For many people, their seasons ended at the end of November or with a disappointing loss in a no-name bowl game. But I get to cheer my team on with hundreds of thousands of other fans across the country. It's been a long time coming, but it was worth the wait!