While I really don't like being away from home, there are things about it that are gratifying. I am constantly reminded how lucky I am to be associated with the Alabama Crimson Tide. In a message board thread I recounted the enjoyable dinner my wife, Lynne, and I had with the publishers from Oklahoma. From the moment we joined them the conversation was almost totallly about the wonderful time they had in Tuscaloosa, and particularly the high regard they (and all Oklahoma fans) have for Alabama fans. Of course I repaid the compliment with all sincerity, because it was an enjoyable series–except for the outcome of the games.
Throughout the week as I was introduced to people, there was a distinct measure of awe–not of me, of course, but of Alabama football. When one small group learned that I had been sports information director at Alabama under Coach Bryant, I felt like they considered me to be a celebrity just because I had worked for Coach Bryant. Although I sometimes worry about boring people because I enjoy telling stories about the most remarkable person I've ever known, this crowd was an appreciative audience for those stories.
Time and again ‘BAMA Magazine and BamaMag.com were held out as good examples. And that is because of the tradition of the Crimson Tide and because of the loyalty of Alabama fans.
I wore several Alabama theme shirts over the week, including an "A Club" shirt, a regular "Alabama" shirt, and a "BamaMag.com" shirt. Inevitably as I made my way through the casino, I'd get a "Roll Tide" from someone. And when I wore a white dress shirt that had only a red elephant logo, I had to tell the story of how the elephant came to be a mascot for the Crimson Tide several times.
Standing in line for dinner, we met two couples from London, England. When they asked where we were from and we said Tuscaloosa, Alabama, one of them said, "Oh, football."
A cab driver asked where we were from and I answered "Alabama." He said, "L.A. or some other part." When I told him Tuscaloosa, he said, "Well I know you don't like Auburn, then." He also commented on our uncharacteristic poor season last year and got a chuckle when I said, "We've become a drinking town with a football problem."
When the publisher from Stanford left to go to the airport and walked by us, he gave us a thumbs up and said, "Roll Tide!" I didn't even know how to respond. "Go Cardinal"? I just said, "Thanks."
This attention to Alabama did not go unnoticed by several other publishers, notably those from SEC schoools (all of whom are friends of mine).
Just some things I picked up...
Even though everyone at Auburn knows that David Housel has given his professional life to Auburn, the beleaguered lame duck athletics director has roughly the status of an untouchable, both in and out of the athletics department.
Everyone agrees that Georgia is going to be the runaway favorite for this year's Southeastern Conference championship, and many believe the Bulldogs should be favored for the national championship.
LSU is considered the favorite to win the SEC West, but despite having a number of excellent players returning the defending national champions aren't getting the respect that might be expected.
Auburn is considered the most likely challenger to LSU in the West. Mississippi is generally picked fifth and Mississippi State sixth. In the middle the tough teams to figure are Alabama and Arkansas. Everyone likes Matt Jones as a huge play-maker at quarterback for the Razorbacks, but wonder if the Hogs can overcome so many losses–some 18 starters.
The jury understandably is out on Alabama. The questions for me usually started with "Will Shula make it?" My answer was that there is no way to know for sure, but it's certainly too early to judge him considering the situation he came into. Everyone understood that. They wanted to know if I liked him and if he was easy to deal with. I assured them "Yes" on both counts. They wonder if Alabama can get through the year without the injuries of last season, and suspect that injuries at any of a number of positions could be devastating because of scholarship deficits. And they wonder if Brodie Croyle will become the quarterback he was expected to be.
And unlike the past couple of years with this group of essentially the same men and women, there is much skepticism about the credibility of the NCAA as it relates to the investigation and prosecution of Alabama.
As you have certainly noticed, I have been unable to do much on this site this week. And while I return to Alabama with a renewed commitment to have the best possible publication and website, it's going to be a few more days before I can be the workhorse I need to be. An appointment with the surgeon's knife early Monday (nothing major, I'm assured) will keep me at halfspeed for another few days.
But I promise to get back to giving you the coverage you deserve as quickly as I can.