I don’t think anyone would deny that the State of Alabama has a certain reputation. I mean, the state’s motto is: Dare To Defend Our Rights, after all, which I think just about sums people’s misgivings of the state.
Anyway, this Thanksgiving I visited my uncle and his family who live in a small town outside of Birmingham. Obviously I was excited to see them, but I was also interested in experiencing Alabama, to see if the Yellowhammer State matched it’s reputation (also, Yellowhammer? Dare to defend our rights? You know your state is hardcore when it could easily fit in as a noble family of Westeros .)
Anyway, after telling my uncle my desire to experience some authentic Alabama living, he suggested we go watch the Alabama-Auburn game at a local bar. Admittedly, I don’t know much about or care for college football, but I was aware that it was taken quite serious in these parts, so I agree to his proposal.
So, on Saturday, my uncle and I drive down to the local bar, which turns out to be the restaurant/bar chain Buffalo Wild Wings. I ask my uncle if there isn’t another bar we could go to, one maybe a bit more authentic to the area. He explains that this isn’t New Orleans, and that places of ill-repute aren’t highly thought of around here, and anything that isn’t a church is considered ill-repute (OK so I made that last part up, but given the amount of churches in the area, I feel this is kinda true). So when it came to the bar scene, Buffalo Wild Wings is about as authentic as it got for this area.
And so we enter the Wild Wings establishment, and one thing becomes immediately clear: we should have come earlier. The place is beyond packed and the hostess literally laughs at us when we ask what are chances are of getting a table. Through chuckles, she points towards the bar and wishes us luck.
As we make our way through the crowd to the bar, I find myself slightly disappointed. I know this is horrible to say, but it’s my blog so I can say it, I was kinda half-hoping to find a rowdy red neck crowd here. Kinda like that redneck bar in Blues Brothers where they throw beer bottles at Jake and Elmwood who hide behind chicken wire. But there is no chicken wire here, no missing teeth, or any other silly stereotype I had been maybe sort of hoping for. Instead, I find a lot of families, people of all different ages, pretty women (Alabama seems to have a surplus of pretty women, I had no idea… southern girls man…), and a blinding sea of crimson red and passionate faces. I feel a bit overwhelmed by all of it, but I keep it cool.
We arrived at the bar to find yet another row of crimson red jerseys occupying every stool. We realize that the next four hours would be standing only. Now keep in mind that my uncle is a man in his fifties, and I am a younger man who loathes standing. But in that moment we glance at each other and nod. It’s understood, we are staying put, we are in this for the long haul.
We manage to get our first drinks just as the opening kick is underway. Everybody goes quiet except for these two Auburn fans that appear out of nowhere at the end of the bar and start heckling the crowd. At first I think they are gonna get jumped, but everybody just ignores them and focus on the game. Someone yells Roll Tide. I consider asking my uncle what that means, but decide against it, don’t wanna look stupid.
On the first drive, the Bama kicker misses an easy field goal, and that pisses people off.
“Roll tide?” I suggest out loud, but that doesn’t go over well.
"Randy!" My uncle scolds me.
The orange jerseys grow even more vocal when Auburn manages to score the first touchdown of the game. I look around the room, expecting distraught faces amongst the crowd, but for the most part everyone seems quite calm. I ask this rather large older man with a white goatee (no lie) if he thought we were in trouble.
“Nah,” He says with a cool southern accent. “Alabama gonna be just fine.”
For whatever reason, the way he pronounced Alabama, with that southern twang, sticks in my head. I repeat it to myself quietly, it’s a lot of fun to say.
The quarterback for Bama completes a thirty yard pass.
“Alabama!” I shout in celebration.
“Randy, don’t say it like that.” My uncle warns me. “People are going to think you’re mocking them.”
“OK.” I say.
A few plays later the qb makes another completion.
I apologize once more, and remind myself not to say it like that. And then the QB throws a touchdown and the whole place goes crazy. People who were strangers before are now eager to slap hands with me. It seems making friends is easy here when you roll with the tide.
Auburn fumbles the ball to start the new quarter. Everybody cheers and slap hands again, and I order another beer from the bar. “There’s no way we lose this game. Third championship here we come. Roll tide.” I hear an excited gentlemen announce next to me.
As I’m half way through my second beer I start to feel a little loose, so I decide to ask my uncle a few questions about the team.
“So, what does this roll tide thing mean anyway?” I ask.
“Randy!” My uncle exasperates.
“Come on son, use your head. It’s our cheering cry.”
“Oh OK. So, where are is Alabama ranked in the league?”
“Randy! Stop saying it like that. And you can’t just go around asking those questions in public. That’s like asking who’s the president. Bama is ranked number one. Everybody knows that.”
“Oh, wow.” I say, thinking to myself that I shouldn’t ask any more questions. “So who is their coach?”
“Nick Saban is their coach. He is the coach of college football. Now stop asking these questions before someone overhears you and kicks us out.” You should know, my uncle isn't seriously angry with me, he's only half serious.
Alabama scores another touchdown and the score is now 21-7. Things are looking good for the home team. I share this sentiment with my new friend with the white goatee. He responds. “Roll tide.” It’s a special moment.
During the last drive of the half, Auburn manages to go down the whole length of the field and score a touchdown. The two pesky Auburn fans go crazy over it, and I feel the urge to remind them of the score. But I decide against it and instead head outside to find a place to sit for a little bit. I hate standing still.
As I go outside, I foolishly try to take my beer with me, forgetting I’m not in New Orleans any more. The hostess immediately reminds me though, and admonishes me. I apologize with a sly “roll tide” and all is forgiven. Then I sit down on a curb and look up at the sky and wonder about stuff, the way we all do after a few beers. It’s a nice, quiet break from the madness from inside. I enjoy it.
And then I hear cheering from inside and realize the second half has begun so I run inside and find the hostess that has my beer.
In the third quarter, things get better for my uncle but worse for Alabama, and pretty much stay the same for me. My uncle has managed to procure a seat from one of the tables near the bar. Alabama has allowed Auburn to score another touchdown while missing another very makeable field goal, and I remain standing, with a fresh beer in my hand, getting smiles from wandering women who are forced to go around me because I am standing in the walkway, my temporary home.
At the end of the third, the score is tied at 21-21 and a worried fog has settled in at Buffalo’s Wild Wings.
There’s less than a minute left in regulation and the score is 28-28. Alabama has the ball. The camera switches to Nick Saban, the coach of college football, and a few more chants of “Roll Tide” come from the crowd as they pray their genius coach knows what he’s doing.
The Bama QB slings it to a receiver at the first down marker, he catches it, and gets out of bounds. One second left in regulation, they are near the 30 yard line.
“Hail mary!” Someone in the crowd yells. But Saban never hears them. Instead, he decides to go for a kick. But this time, because his kicker has forgotten how to do his job, Saban wants to use a kicker who has never kicked before in college football. Bold move, now we had to see how it would pay off.
The ball is snapped, the placeholder gets the ball in position. The kicker crushes the pigskin with his foot and it heads towards the uprights. It’s got the direction, but not the power, and the ball falls to the back of the endzone, just five yards shy of the uprights, where it is caught by an Auburn player.
I only wish I had a camera with me at Buffalo Wild Wings so I could replay what happens next. Two hundred jaws hit the floor at the same time as they watch the impossible unfold. This Auburn player takes the ball 109 yards down the field and scores a touchdown.
Bama loses. The crowd is stunned, for the most part. However, oddly enough, a large group of Auburn fans emerge from the rest of the crowd, cheering loudly when once they were silent. Cowards.
“That is one of the craziest endings I have ever seen in a game.” My uncle says after a long, long period of silence.
I nod my head in agreement. Then I add: “And not too mention, a real authentic experience of Alabama.”