I intended to write about something different, or at least to write about this from an entirely different angle (this is something I've already addressed), but it's become clear to me that there are some lingering misconceptions when it comes to what the Sabans want out of the fans. They have made several comments over the years, and all of those statements ultimately amount to saying that the fans play a role in "The Process", and various examples have been given in terms of how the fans can have a positive impact. Despite that, I've still seen numerous people assert that the Sabans have no place, no right to comment on the fans, and even a claim that this was all an attempt to seek adulation on the part of the Sabans.
I reject both of those assertions. Nick Saban has every right to concern himself with everything that happens inside Bryant-Denny stadium. If he thinks the playing surface is bad, I'm sure he'll address it, if he noticed an equipment issue, I'm sure he'll address that, and if he sees the fans doing something that is having a negative impact, he has every right in his role to address that. Furthermore, we have many examples of how fan support and enthusiasm has an impact. Nick Saban credited Alabama fans with helping him get the first #1 recruiting class, and I find it amazing that some fans so thoroughly refuse their part, despite Nick Saban having shown he is the preeminent expert on recruiting and winning in college football.
To be completely clear, Alabama fans are fantastic fans. We're a good fan base, we are one of the best. However, the Sabans are showing us how to be championship level, how to up our game, how to reach the lofty level that the Alabama football team itself has reached. We shouldn't resist this, we should embrace it! But, despite Kevin Norwood saying that the crowd should be like it was for the LSU game, every game, despite the #1 QB recruit in 2015 citing A-Day attendance (good thing he didn't notice Auburn had more at their spring game) when he committed, despite a supposed desire to do anything to keep the Sabans around, some people just refuse to take the hint.
Well, I'm going to try to spell out specifically how we, as fans, at the games (including A-Day) have an impact.
One thing that makes maintaining a "big game" atmosphere throughout four quarters very important, is how it impacts preparing the players for that sort of environment. Alabama struggled mightily at Texas A&M earlier in the year, and for some of the players this was their first time starting in that sort of environment. Previously, their experience in games had been late in blowouts and by then the Alabama fans (or opposing fans) had long since headed for the exits. Some Alabama players also had issues with the noise at the Miss. State game. The louder it is as Bryant-Denny, and the longer that the fans maintain this, the more prepared the players will be for that sort of environment when the game is on the line.
Bryant-Denny is not known as one of the tougher places to play, and this has nothing to do with the stadium itself, or the number of people in it. Alabama fans just have a habit of being more apathetic than fans at some other stadiums. However, during the A&M game last year, Kevin Sumlin noted that it was the loudest five minutes he could recall, and during the LSU game this year, the stadium was literally rocking. These shouldn't be isolated incidents though, and if Alabama fans recognize their role and embrace it fully, Bryant-Denny can become one of the scariest places in the nation to play.
If you are a recruit considering Alabama, you understand that you are not likely to become an immediate starter. This means playing at A-Day, and playing in third and fourth quarters at most for a while. When Alabama fans don't show up for A-Day, or hit the exits early, they are undermining recruiting efforts. The players there are left with an impression of apathetic fans, who don't really care about the backups and have better things to do. If we want to positively impact recruiting, then we should do our best to impress the recruits, and part of that is staying in our seats for four quarters and showing our respect for all the players.
I was very disappointed to see the stadium never fill up for Senior Day this year, and was equally disappointed to see the stadium start to clear out early in the third quarter. This was Senior Day for one of the most successful senior classes in all of college football history. To miss out on that, to not want to be a part of that was just sad. Was getting home a few minutes earlier really more important than one last Rammer Jammer with those guys?
Alabama fans are their own worst enemies when it comes to making a game at Bryant-Denny a great experience. It's not fun to sit there quietly, to sit there surrounded by empty seats, to act like you're in church. That's not enjoyable, it's fun to get up and cheer, yell, laugh, and smile. It's fun to be in the midst of the crowd, and see the enthusiasm of those around you. The issue is, we dictate how enjoyable that experience is. I hear so much talk about how avoiding traffic is important, and all this stuff, but you went through all of this, you paid all of this money, and you're going to shortchange yourself and those around you? We all lead by example, and if we cheer and enjoy ourselves, those around us are more likely to, and if we leave, those around us are most likely to. But, what we're doing when we do that is make the game less enjoyable for the players, and the fans that we are turning our backs on.
There are two types of Alabama fans really. One group cares about Alabama football, and the team, and wants to do their part. For those people, the comments from the Sabans should be taken to heart, and once it is explained to them, I think they are going to try to do their part. The other segment? The part that only wants to be entertained? That only enjoys themselves when Alabama has a chance of losing? To be honest, I think they probably don't enjoy championship level football at all, and some of them seem to actually be annoyed by the assertion that they’re part of the process.