It’s not hard being an Alabama football fan these days.
How could it be with the Crimson Tide sporting a perfect 13-0 record and a 25-game winning streak after Saturday’s 54-16 win over the Florida Gators in Atlanta in the SEC title game? The Crimson Tide now move on to the College Football Playoff to face Washington in the semifinals as they go after their 17th overall national championship and their fifth in the past eight years.
In my early years, I was a Georgia fan and remained so until Nov. 12, 1960 when I saw my first Alabama game in person and from that point on was hooked on the Crimson and White. Alabama played Georgia Tech at Grant Field in Atlanta that afternoon and trailed 15-0 at halftime only to come back in the second half, scoring 16 straight points with Richard “Digger” O’Dell kicking the game-winning 26-yard field goal at the buzzer for a 16-15 victory.
It was the only field goal that O’Dell kicked in his entire career at Alabama. I didn’t attend Alabama, but it became my team after that win. You don’t have to graduate from a school or attend a school to be a fan. In fact, my first year of college was at Georgia, but in actuality, it was the UGA extension in Macon which was then housed at old Dudley Hughes High School.
I know Alabama fans who graduated from Georgia. Twins Doug and Russ Head from Thomaston, who both finished college in Athens, are huge Alabama fans and were at the Georgia Dome on Saturday cheering on the Crimson Tide. Their allegiance to Alabama is partly due to the fact that one of their closest friends and high school classmates, Pete Cavan, was a running back for the Crimson Tide back in the mid-1970s.
Their affinity for the Crimson Tide actually started when they were 9 year olds, while watching the 1965 Orange Bowl. It was the first night game in that bowl’s history, between Alabama and Texas, and it was won by the Longhorns 21-17. I still think Joe Namath scored on a quarterback sneak that would have given Alabama the win, but the officials said he was short.
As an Alabama fan, I have enjoyed more good days than bad, but times in Tuscaloosa have not always been rosy. Head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant took over his alma mater in 1958, and three years later, he won the first of his six national championships. He also won national titles in 1964, 1965, 1973, 1978 and 1979.
Even though he had those outstanding teams, he went through a couple of bad seasons. He was 6-5 in 1969 and 6-5-1 in 1970 before installing the wishbone offense in 1971. During his final 12 years, the Crimson Tide were 124-18-1.
After Bryant’s retirement in 1982 and subsequent death, Alabama went through eight head coaches prior to Nick Saban’s arrival in 2007. That group included Ray Perkins, Bill Curry, Gene Stallings, Mike DuBose, Mike Price (even though he never coached a game), Dennis Franchione, Mike Shula and Joe Kines (interim).
In those 25 years, Alabama won one national championship (1992), two SEC outright titles and one SEC shared title, which is well below their fans’ expectations.
Saban is now 65, and it is unknown how long he will remain as the head coach of the Crimson Tide, but one has to wonder who will want to follow him on the sidelines. It was an impossible task to follow Bryant as Perkins and Curry learned, and I think it will the same for the man who takes the baton from Saban.
But no matter who is the coach, the fans will remain as loyal as ever.
Contact Bobby Pope at firstname.lastname@example.org