Something to Brag About

This Saturday the #1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide will take on #4 Auburn Tigers in a game fueled by historic rivalry and flavored with National Championship implications. 

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The game is known as The Iron Bowl.

ESPN announced Saturday Lee Corso and the rest of their Gameday crew will be there.  It’s a safe bet Corso will choose the elephant mascot.  It's a safer bet, if you’re not from Alabama you’re sick of hearing about Saban, the SEC, and what the entire state has done for college football.  You’re sick of Kirk Herbstreit singing the Tide’s praises.  Sick of CBS game callers trying to sell viewers underdog win scenarios just to keep the blowouts interesting.

But I believe the state of Alabama deserves something to brag about.  

Football is the one place where you can scream for someone to lose and not feel like you’re losing your salvation in the process. It’s a game about more than the shouts, the hits, the yelling, and the cursing. It’s where no one cares what color you are, the status of your financial background, or who you’re dating. (Unless you’re AJ McCarron of course.) As long as the man in the Crimson uniform grabs the ball and runs, we’ll cheer his name into the heavens.

Being from a region where one is constantly poked at by the rest of the country for being too dumb, too fat, not having enough teeth, marrying a cousin, or worst of all, being racist, football is a balm to those wounds.

As a TV news reporter in South Florida and Las Vegas, my UA education was something to be scoffed at, despite my college boasting one of the best Broadcast Journalism schools in the country.  

When my future husband introduced me to his California friends and family, one of them asked with genuine sincerity why Alabama was a Red State, considering how poor its people are.

Now living in San Diego, whenever we meet someone new who learns how we met, he or she will ask my husband, “What on earth made you go to Alabama for college?”  Yet they never ask what on earth made me choose to leave home and loved ones to settle down across the country.

Alabama's head coach, Nick Saban on the right. On the left is some guy I can't remember ;)

Alabama's head coach, Nick Saban on the right. On the left is some guy I can't remember ;)

So yes, I brag about taking home the National Title in 2009, 2011, and 2012.  As I proudly admit I cheered loudly for Auburn, our in-state rival, to beat Oregon down to a hot mess for the 2010 title.

People outside the South may think they’re better, more educated, and more open-minded, but in our country’s favorite sport, the Crimson Tide reigns supreme again and again.

Alabama is far from innocent.  A stand in a schoolhouse door, public beatings by those charged to serve and protect, and the bombing of four little girls inside a church, forever gives new meaning to the words red state.  Generations later, a defensiveness fills the air surrounding Birmingham difficult to describe.  And nearly a decade since I called it home, I’m forced to be careful with any comparisons of my old life to my new, for fear family will look at me and say I now think I’m somehow better than they.

But then I remember The Bear - Paul “Bear” Bryant, The University of Alabama’s winningest football coach - and how he took up the profound theme, "We don't have any black football players. We don't have any white football players. We have football players." 

And how he won.  A lot.  And never stood in any locker room door.  And that’s also a part of Alabama history.

Here's to the Iron Bowl.  Roll Tide.

The Dirty South

Sunday was the 50th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four little girls in a race fueled, violent Birmingham, Alabama.

Saturday the Crimson Tide won a hard fought, high-scoring, revenge laden battle in College Station against a top ranked team with a Heisman trophy winner at the helm.

One of these brings bragging rights, great pride and national praise.

One of these brings shame, sadness and national embarrassment.

It’s the curse of being from Alabama.  Such pride and such shame all wrapped together in an accent that only peeks through when I talk too fast, or need to refer to “y’all.”

It doesn’t matter that my grandfather moved his family to Birmingham from upstate New York just weeks after that bomb went off.  That I didn’t know what the “N” word was until I heard it said by a kid in the neighborhood...and then was threatened with a backhand if I ever dreamed of uttering it myself.  It doesn’t even matter that when my grandfather went to a black employee’s funeral - who just also happened to be a civil rights activist - he received his fair share of threats.

None of that matters when it comes time to tell people where I’m from.  For when I say the state’s name, the word “ALABAMA!” is almost always shouted back at me in their best mocking redneck tone.  

Shields automatically go up for what they’ll say next...because I catch that unspoken shadow behind their eyes.  It’s the shadow of an Alabama stereotype filled with the idea that I’m poorly educated, close-minded, and worst of all:  racist.  

Since a certain coach’s arrival at my alma mater their next words have become so much sweeter.

“I suppose you love that Nick Saban too,” they’ll say.

To which I have only one response, “Roll Tide.”

I’m from a state marred by an ugly history that will forever follow it in the minds of those born above the Mason-Dixon line and far west of the Mississippi.  To be from the south, is to be looked down upon.  Yet when I again see the faces of those four girls, a part of me can’t help but wonder if today’s treatment isn’t still deserved.

And then I think about The Bear and how he took up the profound theme, "We don't have any black football players. We don't have any white football players. We have football players."

And how he won.  A lot.  And never stood in any locker room door.  And that’s also a part of Alabama history.

So even as I take the taunts of being too dumb, too fat, not having enough teeth, marrying a cousin, and yes, being racist...football is a balm to it all.

May we honor those girls with our lives filled with humility, kindness, and equality for all.

May we crush the rest of the country’s hopes for a title with a simple, “Roll Tide.”

 

In college Jason (my husband) was the mascot.  I think this is our best picture together ;)

In college Jason (my husband) was the mascot.  I think this is our best picture together ;)

At the Alabama state line welcome center.  Jason was showing a posture of defense.

At the Alabama state line welcome center.  Jason was showing a posture of defense.

My mom, me, one of my college roommates, and Jason on "the quad" before a game.

My mom, me, one of my college roommates, and Jason on "the quad" before a game.