Some people might say that it’s important to rest after treatment in an emergency room. Those people might think that sitting on sweaty bleachers in the midst of Florida humidity is bad medicine for stomach cramps and nausea. But, those people probably aren’t ‘Bama football fans.
I was 9 years old when I embarked on my first journey to Gainesville, and severe food poisoning could not keep me away from the Tide. After leaving the ER of the North Florida Regional Medical Center, I changed into my tent of a Shaun Alexander jersey and headed to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. I hated Steve Spurrier because my daddy hated him, and that was reason enough. After four losses in a row to the Gators, the 40-39 overtime victory served as the perfect medicine for my searing stomach pains.
Twelve years later, I traveled back to the Swamp to cheer on a team that could hopefully do more than the 1999 Tide. We wanted a championship. We expected a championship. Most of all, though, we needed a championship. After Cam Newton gloated in Arizona, over what many Alabama fans regard as a game won thanks to cheating, we had to regain our vigor. I admit I was nervous about this SEC matchup, because though we had put Arkansas to shame just a week earlier, I feared Coach Muschamp’s Gators might ruin our quest for the crystal ball. Thankfully, I was wrong as ‘Bama secured a 38-10 victory. Florida simply wasn’t the program it once was after Tim Tebow’s tears were enlarged on the Georgia Dome’s jumbotron.
As much as I enjoy watching the Tide dominate an SEC opponent, another factor set this matchup apart from the nearly 144 games I’ve attended.
Dre Kirkpatrick looked into my eyes.
The 6’3 defensive back sauntered down the sideline before kickoff. Weighing in at 192 pounds and known as the “King of Swagga” after his iconic Signing Day comments, he possessed an intimidating, yet nonchalant, presence. Like Julio Jones before him, Dre seemed like the kind of person who could beat you up without blinking. He was more than a football player. He was a superhuman entity thinly disguising himself as mortal.
My squinty green eyes locked with a pair that were round and deep. On the second row, I was only feet away from him, thanks to a mere 4-foot barricade separating the students from the student-athletes. It was then I knew that this game would be like none before.
I thought Scott Cochran was yelling at me as his booming Louisiana accent carried to the stands. I found it impossible to close my mouth when I realized I was close enough to read Jesse Williams’ tattoo-covered arms. When Michael Bowman motioned to the crowd for more noise, my high-pitched voice bellowed as I stomped my crimson cowgirl boots against the metal bleachers. Near the game’s end, I spotted Trent Richardson and Barrett Jones laughing and talking with each other. The image of the stocky running back flashing his white smile as he looked up to the 6’5 offensive lineman is seared in my brain and always will be.
Everything I had dreamed about the Crimson Tide was a reality. The coaches pushed their players as the players listened intently, showing their love for the game. As the team glanced up to the stands for approval after defeating the Gators, they displayed their love for the fans. While the players interacted and joked with one another, they confirmed my hope. These kids are more than teammates; they’re friends.
Games are about more than wins; they’re about the people who work together to earn those wins. Though this game didn’t end in a trophy ceremony, the emotion between fans and players was something more.
Analysts call it the intangibles, but I call it ‘Bama football.