Five Things I Learned on Football Eve in Tuscaloosa
I love college towns, and Tuscaloosa seems like a pretty great college town.
I’m typing this from the air-conditioned comfort of a frozen yogurt shop on The Strip, the section of University Blvd. that most resembles our College Avenue. Outside, it is really, really hot — 94 right now, apparently — and really crowded. Driving and trying to park on or near campus is a nightmare, and this is the day before the game. Not sure how bad it’ll be Saturday, but I’m not looking forward to finding out.
Those complaints aside, there’s a great vibe on and around campus; the university and town seem to merge seamlessly. A point made to me before I came down, and which visiting Penn Staters will see for themselves, is how much everything here revolves around Alabama football. State College on a football Saturday is intense, but the immersion here is at another level; it seems like every other car has Bama license plates or window flags, and the team’s script “A” logo is painted in the middle of all the intersections — and again, this is the day before the game. A lot of that has to do with the fact that, in a state without a major pro franchise, college football is king, and the Tide are true royalty.
It makes for a great scene, and I spent a couple of hours this morning and early afternoon soaking it up. Here are five things I learned. (Click on any of the photos to enlarge)
1. These folks appreciate their history. When you claim 13 national championships and a coaching icon like Paul “Bear” Bryant, I guess that’s to be expected. Want to own a piece of it? This made-in-China replica of Bryant’s iconic houndstooth hat, on sale at the on-campus bookstore, will set you back 27 bucks.
2. They appreciate their history with Penn State. Here’s the front of today’s student paper:
And here’s the button they were handing out in front of the student union.
3. They take their tailgating seriously. They just don’t actually “tailgate.” You can’t miss the tents, which started going up Friday morning all over campus. Because Bryant-Denny Stadium is set up almost in the heart of campus, and because Tuscaloosa is built up around the campus, there aren’t acres of open, rolling fields for proper tailgating. So, they tent.
That’s Ted Powell, and despite looking sort of grumpy in this photo, he might be the friendliest man I’ve ever met. His grandson is an Alabama student, and Ted is minding his grandson’s tent. It’s set up right in the middle of campus on a patch of grass near the student union.
“They’re not supposed to go up ’til 11 this morning,” Ted told me, “but we knew. My grandson called and said, ‘Grumps, you better get up there.”
By noon Friday, there were hundreds of tents set up all over campus, and pretty much all of them are set at half-mast. “In case of the wind,” Ted said. It’s quite a sight.
That’s from the edge of The Quad, which would be roughly equivalent to seeing the Old Main lawn covered with tailgaters. To get a sense of the relative proximity, it would also assume Beaver Stadium was dropped on top of Pollock Commons.
4. Bear Bryant is stoic. Alabama has a rule: If you coach a team to a national championship, you get a statue. Nick Saban’s hasn’t gone up yet. Bryant’s is probably the most photographed spot on campus. As in life, the man is solid.
5. SEC speed is overrated. Walking through the quad, I came up behind these two guys and realized they were Alabama football players. (The guy on the left is wearing his Rose Bowl backpack.) I stopped and took a picture.
A minute later, I overtook them and passed them. SEC speed is a myth.
Ryan Jones, senior editor