The first Alabama game I remember was the '65 Orange Bowl. Texas was the opponent. The coaches, I learned from my father, were named Darrell and Bear. Bear? It was a night game, college football's first prime-time foray. My family gathered in suburban St. Louis around our black-and-white, which was still TV enough to show that Joe Namath really did wear white shoes. That night, whether he got over the goal line or not, Namath won me over, and I pulled hard for Alabama for the first time.
To root for a college team is to be part of one of life's perfect unions, a relationship that deepens with time, like all the good ones do. In my house, Saturdays in the fall have become like one of those reserved sections at the front of a church wedding. My best friends, partisans of Georgia, LSU, Clemson, Auburn and even Ohio State, are allowed under the ropes. Pretend fans are politely turned away.
Two years ago, the slave trader who is my loving bride sold me into a restaurant dinner party that coincided with the kickoff of the Georgia-Alabama game. There, while scanning the menu, I contemplated green hedges and a black-faced Sanford Stadium, mulling how to salvage some part of my marriage and still get to a TV for the second half.
Just then, my cellphone went postal. The text messages and phone calls whistled in from all over the country. By the time Alabama scored to make it 31-0, in the first half, at Athens, the electronic updates were cutting through the dinner conversation like shrapnel. My friends had found me. The other husband at the table, a Gamecock guy, was laughing out loud. Even Jennifer had to smile.
Thursday we come full circle: Alabama and Texas once again, this time in a winner-takes-all showdown that turns a college football game into a prime time mutant. The Tide is the favorite, but so was Namath's team. And with so much riding on the outcome, who knows how either set of kids will play.
For that matter, who knows how adults will react? That's why I've invited Tommy Tomlinson over to see how it all unfolds. He's a Georgia guy, sure. But he's been to the big game before, and he knows how to behave no matter how the scoreboard turns out. He also brings his own bourbon.
He and Trent Roberts and Peter St. Onge, Steve Harrison, Cliff Mehrtens and I started the SEC Expats because we wanted an outlet at work to discuss our schools and our favorite sport. We've had fun, learned some things, and we appreciate those of you who've climbed aboard with your jabs and insights. My personal favorite came down the chimney on Christmas morning: This blog blows, it said.
We're down to one game. The SEC is again reaching for the crystal. This is the one day when we're supposed to close ranks, to reach for the Dramamine, swallow hard, and get behind the last team standing from the greatest conference on earth. I'll happily accept the Karmic blessings from any one-game alliances. And in Texas, which features a fan base as obnoxious as any in the SEC and a $5 million coach flashing an Alfred E. Newman grin, we have an inviting rallying point.
But relationships like ours are complicated, and let's be blunt: Many of you don't like my team, and I don't like most of yours. If you can't manage to root for Alabama, so be it. Mutual contempt, after all, is our esprit de corps, and it's those kind of feelings that remind us we're part of something bigger and more enduring than the outcome of a single game.
It's called the SEC.
-- Michael Gordon