I'm not a hater, abhor the word. But my issue with the Crimson Tide, my hate, came naturally as a result of one game, one day, January 1st, 1979. That was the day that Bear Bryant and the much despised Crimson Tide, stopped my Penn State Nittany Lions four straight times from the one yard line, stopped our dream of a first National Championship. I was in New Orleans that day. I was there with my roommates, Tim and Glen. It was supposed to be our day, a day of celebration, for the glory of old Penn State. But Bear Bryant and his damn Houndstooth hat ruined everything.
To be honest, I didn't hate Alabama because they beat us. I mean, that was bad. But my antipathy grew because our drive back to Pennsylvania took us through the heart of Crimson Tide country. In a driving rain. We had to endure a seemingly endless stream of cars, rolling past us, windows open, drunk 'Bama fans hanging in the wind shouting that most annoying of football battle cries: "Roooollll Tide." You can see, dear reader, why my hatred might be justified?
Fast forward 36 years. A grayer, heavier, more mature, more accepting version of me is in Tuscaloosa, the home of the University of Alabama. I'm visiting my dear friends and 'Bama alums, Jim and Betsey Harmon. They are treating me to the "Bama experience: tailgate parties, fraternity mixers, Alabama cheerleaders (they were clearly drawn to my Yankee animal magnetism). Oh, and a "Bama football game (against some team I never heard of).
As a guest of the Harmon's, I was also an honorary Crimson Tide fan for the day. That meant I was obligated to say "Roll Tide" countless times. You don't say hello in Tuscaloosa, you say Roll Tide. Goodbye? Roll Tide. Thank you? Roll Tide. Please? Roll Tide. A first down during the game? 100,000 fans shout Roll Tide.
I thought about that rainy, depressing New Years Day, 1979, driving through Dixie, seething every time I heard "Rooollll Tide" from a passing car. It's funny now to look back on that time, to consider how much emotion I invested in a football game, as if its outcome could somehow change the course of my life. And surely, that younger, more stupid version of me could have never imagined that one day, in the distant future, an older, slightly wiser version of himself would be in Tuscaloosa, of all places, partying with the enemy, having the time of his life. Rooolllll Tide!