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A few years ago, a picture was taken at the University of Alabama.
Gathered were some 80 boys and their parents. The young men all had the same first and middle name, Paul “Bear” Bryant. There were many more throughout the state.
These boys and parents gathered to share their devotion to the legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. In the 1968 presidential race, a portion of Alabama delegates stood up at the Republican convention and cast their votes for Paul “Bear” Bryant. Bryant had no political aspirations.
It's hard for an Arizonan to understand the devotion, fanaticism, compassion and maybe obsession for a college football team. We root for the Sun Devils, Wildcats, and Lumberjacks and we do have some crazy fans. We don't have an ESPN television commercial about a college team. It simply infers that every greeting and action in the state of Alabama is followed with the phrase “Roll Tide.”
For some, you have to see it to believe it. Maybe a slight indication might have occurred four years ago. When the financial crunch hit the country, governors and state legislatures scrambled to make ends meet. One of the worst political decisions was suggested in Alabama. It was suggested that there might not be enough funds to support high school football in the state.
Within 24 hours, pollsters informed legislators and even the governor, that they would be recalled or defeated in the next election by a wide majority. For some reason I can't picture Gov. Jan Brewer and members of the Tea Party in Arizona fearing the same retribution.
I picked on Alabama because they have the best program in the country today. But this devotion is no way restricted to one state.
A few years ago I had the pleasure of visiting a couple of places in the French Quarter of New Orleans. It was around Halloween and every establishment shared a similar theme. A highlight film from 1959 was flashed on the screen. It was LSU's Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon returning an 89-yard punt return against the University of Mississippi. That's not too unusual. But when this highlight was shown everybody stood and sang the LSU fight song, “Hey Fightin' Tigers.” I paused in my seat, but my friend gabbed my collar and pulled me to my feet. “Get up boy, or they'll beat you up.”
I wish I could remember the name of a lovely sports reporter from KYMA. She was an excellent athlete herself, but the story she told and the sincerity in which she expressed it has always stuck with me. She told me that Bobby Bowden, the legendary coach at Florida State, had recruited her brother. “Coach Bowden came to our house, and sat in our living room. Mother and Daddy had us put on our Sunday clothes and sit on the couch with hands folded, we were only to respond, ‘yes sir,' or ‘no sir.'”
She went on to tell me how tense everyone was all week in the anticipation of Florida State game. “We lived for that game.”
On the road, 20,000 Husky fans loyally follow the University of Nebraska. By car, RV or plane, there in always a sea of red. On a Saturday home game, Lincoln, Neb., becomes the most populated city in the state.
Columbus, Ohio, is a mad house and 105,000 fans will sit through snow, rain or freezing temperatures to watch their beloved Buckeyes.
Notre Dame has an exclusive contract with NBC. The Irish even go worldwide and play to a packed house in Dublin, Ireland.
It may be that college football is the only thing to root for in some states. It may be that people live in states for generations and their traditions run deep.
Whatever the reason, next time you watch a college football game, a large portion of our country is watching with baited breath, and some maybe saying “Roll Tide.”
John Blabe is the former athletic director and football coach at Antelope Union High School. Contact him at email@example.com.