Monday, January 7, 2013

Dealing with Success

Alabama footballs fans have a rare problem. We have to learn how to deal with success. It might not seem like a difficult task, but many take things for granted if they seem to come easily. SEC Championship Football I was born in 1981. Bill Curry is only a vague memory. I remember some, but fortunately I don't remember much of his time at Alabama. I remember Gene Stallings tenure well. The rough start his first season, and the loss to Florida in his second. By the 1992 season I followed closely. I watched the polls, and I remember the blowout against Tulane helping propel Alabama into contention. It was partly coincidence that my heightened awareness of Alabama football coincided with a championship season. It also spoiled me.

The Alabama fans that had been through Ray Perkins and Bill Curry had to have appreciated Gene Stallings. For me, I had the national championships and the legend of the Bear, along with Gene Stallings' success. I hate to admit it, but I grew tired of Gene Stallings and his low scoring offenses. I wasn't upset when he left. I assumed who ever replaced him would do what ever he did, and with a better offense.

We then suffered through DuBose, Franchione, Price, and Shula. The NCAA had a lot to do with what happened, but Stallings' on field record of 70-16-1 was so far from The DuBose-Shula record of 67-54. That's almost unimaginable, Alabama lost 38 more times and won 3 less times over that period. That's over three full seasons of losing every single game that we had to endure in comparison. It helped me appreciate Gene Stallings much more and I'll gladly cheer myself hoarse each time I see him.

I just missed the legendary Bear Bryant, I have no childhood memories of his teams playing. I didn't get to sit in the stadium and see him on the sideline. I didn't fully appreciate Gene Stallings time at Alabama either because I let the success ruin my perception. I am enjoying every moment of Nick Saban at Alabama, and I recognize the likelihood that it could be another decade, or longer, before Alabama finds their next statue worthy coach after he departs.

A frustrating aspects of Nick Saban's time at Alabama is that he is arguably the best coach, and arguably the best recruiter, but we can not lay claim to being the best fans. Elite? Some of the best? Certainly, but by what measurement can we claim to be the best? We're not the loudest fans, we don't buy the most merchandise, we don't have the largest attendance... Our claim to fame as fans has been our A-Day attendance, but we don't hold the record for that and despite winning a national title, Alabama finished second in spring game attendance this year. Nick Saban gave the fans credit for the A-Day attendance in his first year at Alabama, and said it helped bring in his top ranked recruiting class. In doing so, he gave the fans partial credit for a national championship, yet we haven't matched the attendance since then.

Do we really appreciate what is going on? My father was alive through Bear Bryant's run at Alabama, but passed away before Nick Saban arrived. Bear Bryant was the great Alabama coach of my dad's lifetime. Nick Saban is likely the greatest Alabama coach of my lifetime. Why are people passing up the chance to bring their children, to come into the stadium, and see Nick Saban walking the sidelines for free? Don't they realize the fragility of this chance?

My wife asked me if I wanted to go to the Sugar Bowl in 2008. I was upset about the Florida loss and mumbled something about it not being important. The players seemed to feel the same way and the embarrassment of the loss to Utah still lingers. Would my going have changed anything? No, it would not, but I went to see Alabama play Michigan St. in 2010 and took that one seriously. Thankfully the team did as well and it seems we all had a great time. After Alabama's loss to Texas A&M, many fans acted as though the season was over. For the first time during Saban's tenure, there were unsold seats in the stadium. They were returns from Western Carolina but in the past they have always been bought by Alabama fans. They even included free food with the tickets. Some Alabama fans missed out in a chance to show up and support the team after a loss, and for some missed a chance to say they saw the 2012 Alabama football team play live. These moments are ones we could remember forever. Are we taking them for granted?

When it comes down to it, there are three things that could cause Nick Saban to leave Alabama. One is simple boredom, but competing in the SEC and with Johnny Football to deal with, I suppose that's out of the question. The second is age/health. It's bound to be an issue sooner or later, but I don't see why he can't coach until he's at least Spurrier's age. The third is troubling to me, and that is if expectations becoming too high. If we come to expect perfection to the point that it barely elicits a golf clap, and to the point that we go into an uproar over every loss, then we could make his stay at Alabama unbearable.

Bear Bryant couldn't beat Notre Dame in the championship game, and yet he has a wonderful legacy. I hope, and expect Alabama to win tonight. But, we know something as simple as a missed extra point could change the outcome. The bounce of the ball, a bad call, a single turnover. Short of those lucky enough to attend the game and have their cheers heard, we can not have any impact at all on the outcome. What we can do though, is be part of the process. Support the team win or lose, fill up the stadium for A-Day, cheer loudly for four quarters ever single game.

We are witnessing something special, and we are part of something special. It could end at any moment though and we won't be able to turn the clock back and relive it. I hope we're all making the most of it because there's no telling how long this will last, or what will come after.


Grey Thompson said...

The price of tickets has prohibited me from going to more games. When you win, especially for this long, everything from drinks to hotels to the game itself costs more money.
So then there's A-Day, which is free. I always go to A-Day. I love it.
But last year there was a tornado the day before. Barely a week later was the big one, but I was in Tuscaloosa for the tornado the day before A-Day. It was the worst storm I had ever been in. Coincidentally I was under Bryant-Denny Stadium itself. 100,000 tons of steel and concrete was probably the safest place in the state.
But my grandmother's home wasn't. Her house and that part of town were hit hard, as were parts outside of Tuscaloosa. I can't say for sure how much that had to do with it, or how to explain this year, but having the second-biggest stadium in the nation and selling-out beyond what the old stadium was capable of I don't think is so bad. We used to have 92k, and we filled it up. Now we have 100k+ and we fill it up to about 99k. The student section I can't explain, but the scalped tickets, well, I can't afford to go to games like I used to be able to, even when Saban first started.
When I was at the 2011 A-Day game we all assumed Sims was going to be the starting QB. He was quick, had a stronger arm, and could run if he needed to.
I can't explain it. But I think there's a difference between having good fans, having lots of fans, and having fans at the game itself. Students who have graduated since 2007 are now raising families instead of tailgating-----we can't afford to spend $500 or more on tickets. My grandfather almost never missed a game. Now he wouldn't have a choice. But I think there's a difference between a sellout crowd at Bryant-Denny and attendance being bad. I don't live close enough to Tuscaloosa anymore to be able to grab up lone tickets from opponents' teams at the last minute. But I also agree you have to enjoy success while it lasts and there isn't anything wrong with enjoying it no matter how long it lasts...but it can't last forever. I was there during the Francione era, among others. I actually liked Shula. We were bad, and the penalties were huge, and the coaches were a nightmare, especially off the field. But the games were still huge crowds, and Tuscaloosa was always on fire for gamedays. I dunno. I don't want to cry about games not completely selling out, but I feel bad for any fans who miss games for any reason, especially the rising prices of tickets and everything else that goes into getting to a game, even the ones away from Tuscaloosa (I live closer to Knoxville now but even with UT being bad the tickets are crazy expensive, three times what they were in 2007).

Philip Shirley said...

I could have expressed it a bit better, but the main thing I wanted to make is that we need to appreciate this. It starts to feel inevitable, but it's not. Sooner or later it will end and it's likely that there is a period of suffering before anything like this happens again. To me, people who could go to a game, and choose their flat screen TV are missing out on history.

It's also about support. I've heard people argue they only want to go to the big games, but perhaps I'm missing something. I'm there to see Alabama, I'm there to support Alabama. I'm not there to cheer for Texas A&M. If players have the same cheer for a couple quarters, leave in the third attitude some fans have, the team wouldn't be champions. So, I have to think we can do better, and until we fill up the stadium every time it is open, and cheer for four quarters, we can do better.

Having said that, I know not every fan can afford to go to games. I appreciate the fans that go to A-Day, but can't afford other games. And, A-Day for many is cheaper than going to the movies. You can get cheap food before the game, you can get free parking. I don't get why more youth groups or the like are not there actually. You could bring a bus load of kids to the game, with free parking and free entrance to the stadium. Show them around, all of that and what are you out really? Gas? I'll be disappointed if the stadium isn't packed because there's really no excuse. Talk your church, or local organization into loading up a bus and give some kids a chance to see something special.

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