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College Football Tour: Bama vs. SC

Posted by cuorange on November 5, 2009

 This article was submitted by member “madindi4”.  If you would like to contribute a story about an away game (or any other game) please contact me at

Alabama Road Trip by Man of Steele

56 Bowl Appearances    

25 Conference Championships    

12 National Titles

 Some people play football – in Alabama, they live it.

Our youngest daughter, Katy, matriculated at the University of Alabama in August 2005.  Being good parents and ones who enjoy the college football experience, Lisa and I have tripped to a game every fall.  When the schedule came out for the 2009 season, I quickly decided the game on October 17 was IT – homecoming verses the Gamecocks!

This year we were joined by our oldest daughter Molly and son-in-law Tyler.  Thanks to Southwest Airlines, it’s only 4-hours door to door, rather than an 8-hour drive.  Inevitably, you run into other fans at the Louisville airport in Bama attire, which you greet with a smile and a “Roll Tide!”  This year we also encountered several UK fans heading to Auburn (more on that later).

Heading to Tuscaloosa from the Birmingham airport on Friday morning we saw the first of literally hundreds of motor homes tooling down the interstate.  Some call them “The Fleet,” others call them the “Crimson Armada.”  Either way it is one of the unique aspects of a Bama home game.  They descend on Tuscaloosa from all directions, and park all over town – in University parking lots, in the DCH hospital lots, lots downtown, by the Black Warrior River, along Perimeter Road – they are EVERYWHERE!  bama football 003Many pull golf carts or small cars to get around when the RVs are parked.  Small communities pop up and take on personalities of their own making.  Damnedest thing you’ve ever seen.  Hotels are completely booked.   In years past, we have stayed at a flea-bag  named the Master’s Inn, which advertises rooms for $29.95 per night on its marquee – except for home football weekends, when the rate is $99.99 per night, 2 night minimum.  At least there’s a Waffle House across the street.  Kind of makes $100,000 for an RV affordable after a while…

We unloaded at Katy’s apartment and headed to a Tuscaloosa landmark for lunch – the City Café in North Port.  It’s open at 4:30am for breakfast and lunch ends at 2:00pm; your basic “meat and 3” kind of place.  It’s not unusual to sit in a booth just vacated by Coach Saban or Governor Riley or just your ordinary truck driver.  Today it is PACKED as usual – a 30-minute wait.  Then it’s on to the Super Target for beer and to reload Katy’s pantry (all on Dad’s credit card of course).  Katy is a senior majoring in Athletic Training and is assigned to work Women’s Soccer this semester.  At 6:30pm, we head off to the Bama-UK soccer match.  Interesting to note Bama’s Women’s Soccer Coach, Todd Bramble, came from Clemson 2 years ago.  Bama wins 2-0, and back to the apartment to warm up, drink beer, and watch football.

Since the Bama-USC game is at night, we have the day to do whatever.  Except I need to take in the Clemson-Wake game beginning at 11:00 a.m. and Tyler needs to take in the Purdue-Ohio State game (he’s a Pharmacy grad from Purdue).  So Dr. T and I head out to explore Bama tailgating at 8:30 a.m. and the girls head to the Mall. 

It’s homecoming weekend and the Greeks have displays in their front yards.  bama football 008Bama is 35-40 percent Greek – the houses are built and owned by the University, leased back to the chapters.  It’s all very Southern, very traditional – Katy tells me it costs about the same to live in the houses as it does for an apartment, but the dues run as much as tuition!   Another unusual aspect of the Bama experience is the vendors – they line the streets leading up to the stadium selling food, Bama wear, etc.  We bought a t-shirt for brother-in-law Bob (USC fan) which says, “Spurrier is a Cock” and one for a UT friend:  front asks, “Why are there no prostitutes in Tennessee?”; the back says, “Because they’re all Volunteers!”

The Quad at Bama is a unique tailgating venue.  The Quad is a huge open grassy area bounded by the main library at one end and the Denny Chime Tower on the other – I’m guessing 4 acres total.  Years ago, there was a University President named Denny who was beloved by the students; Denny announced he was leaving the University.  bama football 011The students were so distraught  they began taking up a collection to entice him to stay.  President Denny was so moved by the students efforts, he agreed to stay on, and they used the money to build the Chime Tower in his honor (Barker should be so lucky).  At the base of the Tower are a series of concrete footprints and hand prints of every Bama football Captain since the late 1940’s.

Signs are posted saying, “No moving onto the Quad until 6pm on Friday.”  These signs are generally ignored.  Some people, affectionately called “readers” by the students, actually begin staking out spaces on Thursday mornings by sitting in lawn chairs and “reading” to kill the time.  Since no vehicles are allowed on the Quad, special “dropping off” areas are staged behind and beside the library where folks unload their tailgating paraphernalia onto carts that they push/pull to their respective areas. bama football 004 They unload the carts, set up tents, TVs, generators, tables, food, coolers, whatever else, and then return the carts and park their vehicles wherever.  For the first time this year, I noticed some venues being set up by a catering service – all-inclusive: tent, chairs, bar, food, TV, the works!  Some folks have more money than they know what to do with.  Many of these people will not attend the game – they just come to tailgate (and be seen) and watch the game on their TVs.  Another unique Bama tailgating tradition – if a student comes into a tent and says “Roll Tide”, they must be fed!  Finally, there are tall permanent lamps/light fixtures criss-crossing the Quad, all of which have electric outlets.  The University also furnishes three LARGE mobile generators for tailgaters on the Quad to tap into.

Dr. T and I spent the afternoon listening to the Clemson-Wake game via internet radio link, and Dr. T kept up with the Purdue-OSU game as well – a good day for both of us!  Drank and ate until 4:30 p.m., then started dressing for the Bama-USC game.  Temperatures were in the mid 40’s with 15-20 mph winds… we weren’t packed for that!   Nevertheless, off we go.

Bryant-Denny Stadium is wedged between one end of the campus and part of the downtown area known as “The Strip” (think bars).  The stadium seats 92,000.  bama football 013Obviously, that’s not big enough – they are adding another 10,000 of upper deck seating in one of the end zones.  Katy hit up some foreign students for our tickets – we sat (and I use the term loosely) in the student section. 

Students enter the stadium through only ONE gate; the students occupy lower level seats from the goal line, around the end zone, over to the other end of the same goal line (got it?).  As weird as it sounds, this section is cut off from the rest of the stadium – if you are in the student section, you can’t leave and go visit your Mom sitting on the 50-yard line.  One way in, one way out.  Student tickets get you into the section, then it is open seating – first come, first served.  We arrived 1 ½ hours before kickoff  and got seats about 30 rows up adjacent to the “Million Dollar Band.”  The name goes back to the 1920’s.  Bama was playing GaTech in Atlanta in a driving rain storm, and they weren’t playing well.  The next day, the great sports writer Grantland Rice wrote in his column something like “the Alabama boys played like crap, but the band looked like a million dollars.”

Things start rocking at precisely 20 minutes to kickoff.  As the teams leave the field from warm ups and the band is moving onto the field, the sound system starts a song…  1  2  3  4  Lynard Skynard starts the famous guitar riff; in unison, the student section shouts “TURN IT UP!”  bama football 005And the sound of  “Sweet Home Alabama” takes off – the place goes crazy!   This is truly my favorite part of the Bama football experience.  During the refrain, the crowd shouts “ROLL TIDE ROLL”.   Awesome…

The students stand the entire game – a quaint notion unless you own a pair of 55 year old knees in 40 degree weather.  Perhaps the loudest cheer of the night came midway through the 4th quarter when they announced UK had beaten Auburn 21-14.  No love lost between those two rivals.   It was an ugly, ugly game we were forced to witness.  Bama prevailed 20-6 on the back of Mark Ingram’s 256 yards rushing – he is a LOAD!  After every victory (regardless of the sport), the students serenade the losers with a rendition of “Yellow Hammer Bammer Jammer.”  And with that, we headed back to warm up, catch up on some beers, and take in the late game on TV.

Leaving Katy behind Sunday morning, we drove off to catch our flight home surrounded by the Fleet.  The neatest thing happened on the flight home – I sat across the aisle from Ricky Thompson, currently TE coach for the Colts and a Bama grad.  He had a Super Bowl ring on his right hand that was the size of a golf ball!  Nice guy – played with Dabo at Bama on the 1992 National Championship team, and remembers him fondly.

Great trip.  Great weekend.  If you ever have a chance – GO!!  Just don’t be on the opposing side.


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