Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tropical Tradition

It's early morning Tuesday, (very early) the rain from the former hurricane Fay pours outside and I'm finally starting to get football fever.

Most seasons I've already worn out my collection of Alabama football CDs and tapes but this year not so much. I'm getting old and cynical.

But I was reading a blog on famous (and infamous) Alabama football openers and the 1985 Alabama-Georgia game is mentioned. This game is special to me.

In the summer of 1985 a pick-up basketball buddy of mine gave me two tickets to the game in Athens. My wife and I had been married about four years at the time and we didn't have two rocks to rub together financially. But that mattered not, we were going to the game!

My preparations were meticulous. Grill and cooler in the back seat of our maroon red '75 Caprice Classic as there was no room in the trunk. My worrisome mind fretted over the prospect of driving to Athens, Georgia on four bald tires so I cobbled together three bald spares in case of trouble. My weather eye kept close watch on the Gulf of Mexico as Hurricane Erin wandered back and fro along the Gulf Coast. There was scattered talk of canceling the game. E-gads!

Well, we made the trip without event. The hurricane held it's water. The game was a rather boring back and forth contest with Ray Perkin's Alabama squad finding itself trailing with a minute left to play. I thought we were going home losers.

Mike Shula, Greg Richardson and Al Bell had other ideas. A last minute desperation drive down the field culminated in an Al Bell touchdown reception in the end zone right in front of the wife and I. That big win in that road setting (I'll always remember that UGA scoreboard, 'This is Bulldog Terrortory!') burnt that game in my memory as one of the best games I've ever attended.

My youth was spent watching Alabama football in it's championship mode. I grew up thinking Alabama would win every game we played. It was the product of being a fan of a team coached by Paul William Bryant. Despite a bowl-less 1984 season, I was still mentally in that mode in 1985. Bryant's now been buried over 25 years. The Alabama football program that enjoyed the rarefied air of his tenure has suffered through some rough and tumble times. The losses, scandals and probation have tempered this old man's expectations, to say the least.

When asked about my game prognostication by a couple of friends at work yesterday they were shocked that I could not just fathom the prospect of an opening day loss but predict it. Fans of Alabama football have been through a lot in the last twenty five years. Last year's result only underscored the enormity of the task Nick Saban faces in rebuilding the program to the level of it's championship past.

None of that seemed to phase my friends yesterday. In them I saw my youthful optimism. The past doesn't matter. The superior opponent doesn't matter. The road trip to Georgia doesn't matter. The weather doesn't mat........

Wait. Game in Georgia. As I type this is sit in the rain of tropical storm Fay with tropical storm Gustav brewing in the Caribbean. Could that 1985 game, it's location and the weather circumstances that surrounded it be a favorable omen for the Tide's 2008 football fortunes? Certainly not! I'm too old for that kind of childish thinking!

But, just in case, if you know anyone with a 33 year old Chevy for sale.......

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Crimson Tide's #1 Fan, John Mark Stallings, Dies

It is being reported by Pat Smith and Ryan Haney of WJOX Gameday and Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News this morning that the son of former Alabama head football coach Gene Stallings, John Mark Stallings, has passed away. He was 46. It is believed he died of complications due to Downs Syndrome.

John Mark became a beloved figure in the Alabama family during his father's tenure as head football coach with Alabama. Despite his condition he was a very high profile figure around the program and obviously a huge fan of Alabama football. Many fans remember the television footage of he and his mother, Ruth Stallings, excitedly watching as his father coached Alabama to it's first and only college football national championship against the Miami Hurricanes in 1993 since the retirement of Paul William Bryant.

John Mark far outlived the pronostications of his doctors throughout his life. In an interview on the Paul Finebaum Radio Network last year Coach Stallings was ask about his son by a caller and at that time Coach Stallings admitted John Mark was struggling with his condition like never before.

Rest in peace, John Mark. And ROLL TIDE!