The Alabama guy, grinning from ear to ear, offered a quick reply. “Where I’m from,” he smiled, “It’s a way of life!”
He wasn’t kidding. My husband, Paul, and I moved to Huntsville, Ala., during Coach Bear Bryant’s glory days at the University of Alabama.
The football team at my school had been fair to middling, so I was not prepared for the fervor of Alabama fans.
We’d been in town only a few weeks when a new friend asked us to her daughter’s wedding. Glad to leave our one-bedroom apartment with marginal heat, we arrived early.
An unusual congregation welcomed us to a lovely old church. Well-dressed men in pews were tethered to ear pieces, wires running over their suit lapels. As we waited for the bride to walk down the aisle, the men concentrated on hand codes to signal other wedding guests.
Dead serious, they held up fingers as their friends nodded. More than a little puzzled, I whispered in my husband’s ear: “I hate to tell you, but we’ve moved to a town where most of the men are deaf!”
He laughed. “No,” he explained. “They’re sharing football scores.”
In a time before smart phones or text messaging, Alabama fans, hooked up to transistor radios, had found a way to listen to the game, counting touchdown and extra point tallies on their fingers.
It’s a wonder Bear Bryant followers chose a wedding instead of the game. We learned quickly all local calendars revolved around Alabama and Auburn football schedules.
No one was surprised when Huntsville’s first Symphony Ball and debutante presentation went head to head with an Alabama game and lost.
It may be an urban myth, but a story still circulates, pitting team loyalty against family devotion. The story goes, parents informed their daughter her wedding date had to be changed because of an Alabama skirmish with the University of Tennessee. Sounds far-fetched, but I’d bet the invitations were sent back to the engraver.
By the time we left the Arctic temperature of our first apartment and moved to a house, we had been to a few games. It was a stroke of luck to discover our new next-door neighbor was an Alabama graduate who supported the college’s scholarship program, receiving good season tickets and sharing them, first with us and later with our children.
Jack Hay was a wonderful neighbor and friend whose idea of a good day was to fill his boat-sized station wagon with children and another dad and head to Birmingham for a game.
His small crew enjoyed modest game rituals, tailgating (deviled eggs and chicken), but it was the big RVs, rolling into the parking lot at Legion Field days before, grills in tow, coolers filled, stretching out a good time over a long weekend, win or lose.
Once in a while, I muttered: “There’s more to life than football.” That wisdom was basically ignored, but it spoke to evenings when women in sparkly dresses killed time while a tribe of young husbands in tuxedos stared at a TV set, watching an Alabama game in living color.
Now, at an age when I can’t recall the songs the band played while nobody danced, I’m thankful my sparkly dresses have gone the way of high heels and football nights ask for nothing more than curling up on a sofa.
On game afternoons, our children call each other and check in with their dad. They are together in spirit during four quarters of Crimson Tide plays. This year, three generations were cheering.
I joined in when our 7-year-old grandson, his two front teeth missing, managed a rousing: “Roll Tide,” lisp and all!
Judy Elliott is an award-winning columnist from Marietta.