Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Vindication

So I got tears in my eyes, sue me.

But don't blame me, don't you dare blame me. Not after 17 years. Not after seven coaches. Not after seven straight losses to Tennessee, six straight to Auburn. Not after two different stints on probation. Not after all of that.

I was born into it, didn't have a choice. My daddy is an Alabama fan, born and raised in the Heart of Dixie. Therefore, when I came into this world, I was to be a fan of the prestigious Crimson Tide. Didn't matter that Momma pulled for Notre Dame. Hell, didn't matter that her entire half of the family was from New England. Daddy grew up rooting for The Bear. Son was gonna cheer for the boys in Crimson, too.

I was raised on bedtime stories about Paul W. Bryant and his legendary championship teams. Tales of Goal-Line Stands and guys named Snake and Broadway Joe. Tales of national titles and regional dominance.

But I wasn't privy to that. Bear died a little over a year before I was born. I was about five when I really started to understand the game. I was eight when Gene Stallings brought home Bama's 12th National Championship. Watched the game in my mom's living room. Even wrote a "what I did on Winter Vacation" essay for my 3rd grade class about the Tide's Sugar Bowl whuppin' of Miami.

But I was eight. It was fun, but I didn't know what it really meant to me. Coach Stallings left in 1996, I was 12. Then came Mike DuBose -- and with him came the black clouds of hell. Losing seasons, off-the-field scandals, probation, coaching catastrophes, public mockery and humiliation. Being a Bama fan, it was mighty painful.

Growing up in Maryland, it was hard to explain my love of the Crimson Tide to my peers. To them, it was a scary prospect to go to a college 800 miles from where we grew up. To me... I was going home.

I came home in 2002, got a 10-win season right off the bat -- even broke that nasty losing streak to the hated Vols of Tennessee. But it came crashing down, and came down heavy. We lost in embarrassing fashion to Auburn, and before we could figure out what hit us our coach had taken a red-eye to Texas A & M, leaving us without a coach and on probation to boot.

Mike Price didn't even last a game. Mike Shula was in way over his head. Auburn took advantage, so did everyone else. I was there for the loss to Northern Illinois. I was there for the five-overtime loss to the Vols. I had tickets to every home game for the 4-9 season. I made two solemn, silent, 180-mile drives back from Auburn.

I watched Auburn go undefeated. I watched LSU and Florida win two national titles each. I even partied on Bourbon Street before some little, upstart, mid-major team kicked our ass good in the Sugar Bowl.

So you understand why I got queasy when a true freshman started throwing touchdowns last Thursday in Pasadena. When visions of blown leads came flooding back into my head. When memories of heartbreak after heartbreak just wouldn't go away. When it seemed like a goddamned Hollywood movie was being played out in front of my eyes. The star gets hurt, in comes the kid that no one knows, scared shitless -- then boom, he transforms into the hero and brings home the title.

Yeah, there was a Hollywood ending alright. But it wasn't Rudy, it was more like The Empire Strikes Back.

The Evil Empire in the blood-tinted crimson jerseys dashed the hopes of the bright-eyed kid. Ol' Nick "Satan" -- Darth Vader incarnate -- left the folks in white searching for answers to all of their "what if?" questions.

When Saban lifted that crystal ball high into the Southern California night, a generation of desolation vanished with the Pacific breeze.

Then, with that crystal ball glimmering in the moonlight, "Slick" Nick smiled. Smiled a smile that vindicated every member of the Alabama family. Freed us from all those losses, from all the mockery, from all the pain.

On January 7th, 2010, "The Process" paid off. We were finally back. Back to where we were in all of Daddy's stories. Back on top. Back where we belong.

As it all sunk in, I raised my hands to sky. I hugged my friends, friends who'd gone through it all by my side. I celebrated deep into the Tuscaloosa night. I painted the town crimson.

And yeah, I got tears in my eyes. Who can blame me?

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