For me, the evening was preceded by a hunt for something to signify my desire for an Auburn victory. Pushing through my crimson-and-white golf shirts, I found an old tennis shirt that had faded to a passable Auburn orange.
To say the least, we were disappointed by Auburn’s loss to Florida State by the maddening, what-if inspiring, narrow score, 34-31.
We did not experience the intense cascade of emotions: anxiety, thrills, sense of imminent doom and flat-line depression relieved by a joyous spike of elation as we would have if our first loyalty were playing.
But we did care out of loyalty to our state and the Southeastern Conference, the vaunted SEC, which has made a habit of winning the national title in recent years.
Alabama is a hard state to love. It has been often on the wrong side of history, past and present, but it is my native state. To deny one’s nativity is to suffer the consequences of confused identity.
So, despite her cussed contrariness, I do love my state.
Football is a game of feelings, which can sometimes overwhelm judgment as did the woman at the Sugar Bowl who made a vivid contribution to the stereotype of Alabama. An online video, which has gone viral, shows her assaulting an Oklahoma student and a short while later, gripped by a cocktail of emotions, shows her making a flying tackle of the young man and kicking at fans trying to subdue her.
How does one put into words the roots of such strong emotions? If you will forgive self-plagiarism, I couldn’t think of a better answer than an e-book I did before the 2012 title game.
“Why do we care so intensely about a game, hold our breath until a pass is caught or dropped, experience hours of tension so intense as to cause headaches? The fan is exhibiting a form of patriotism, which is no simple thing.
“For each fan the feeling is singular and original; the team, in its distinctive colors running onto the field, awakens a cluster of emotional memories. All packed together, it is family, home, grade-school classmates singing ‘God Bless America’ joyously off key, the anxiety of the college freshman too soon becoming the nostalgia of an old grad. It is all of life’s experiences that produce bursts of exultation and fits of despondency that define us — as football fans.
“Irritating though the Auburn fans’ yells of ‘Punt, Bama, Punt’ may be, I prefer them to the smug superiority of those who disparage the game. There is about them the suspicion that life has coddled rather than tested them.
“Those who have not known disappointment or defeat, who haven’t experienced frustration and the pain of good, hard, repeated smacks — they live on a plane above common humanity. I never met one I truly liked; they make me wonder what they know of life. What do they have to teach, what do they feel, what moves them?
“Give me the raucous fan who bleeds Alabama crimson or Auburn orange and blue or Notre Dame gold and blue; they are real. You know where they come from and the church where they worship.
“The congregants are bound to one another through faith in a presence larger than self, which for the truly devout allows them to believe they are blessed, enlarged by their faith. It is not an ecumenical religion.
“The liturgy is sect-specific and exclusive: Those who worship at the shrine of Saint Bear never utter the prayer, ‘War Eagle!’ Neither do those martyred in service to the Apostles of the Plains allow a ‘Roll Tide’ to pass their lips.”
For hardened football fans such as Josephine and me, agnostic about the fortunes of Alabama basketball and baseball teams, the months ahead are a desert until late August when fall football practice begins and anticipation rises.
As I said, football is a game of feelings.
H. Brandt Ayers is the publisher of The Star and chairman of Consolidated Publishing Co.