"It was fun, and we're definitely glad we're here."
"Here" of course is Shreveport, Louisiana, where the Tide squad is practicing for Thursday's bowl game against the Iowa State Cyclones. But on Christmas Eve thoughts of football were put aside for fun with friends and family. "Yesterday's party was very nice," said Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione. "I think the kids enjoyed it a great deal. The gift exchange and dinner and the whole evening was very special."
The players drew names, so everyone was responsible for picking out one gift. And for the most part at least, everyone seemed satisfied with the results. "There were a lot of different gifts," explained freshman guard Mark Sanders. "Danny Martz got a golf bag drink holder. I got a camouflaged hat--an Alabama camouflaged hat."
Not surprisingly, music CDs and video DVDs were the most popular item. Carlos Andrews received a Bible--Crimson-colored, of course. One lucky outdoorsman got a fold-out Alabama camping chair.
"I got a camouflaged pullover," Watts related. "It was real nice. I liked what I got. I wouldn't want to trade.
"The gifts were just supposed to be something low key, from 10 to 20 bucks. I gave my guy two cameras and two photo albums to put pictures in--disposable cameras."
A fan of rock-and-roll music, Special Teams Coordinator Mark Tommerdahl came up with a unique gift for the kickers and tight ends. "There was a surprise for us," senior placekicker Neal Thomas explained. "Coach Tommerdahl gave us all a Bruce Springsteen CD. He gave it to 18 of us, the tight ends and specialists. Bruce Springsteen's greatest hits.
"He's a big fan. He said that was the best gift he could give us."
Of course for the man with no time to shop, nothing says "Merry Christmas" quite like cold, hard cash. Thomas explained; "We had a limit of $20, and a lot of people just gave money. Like $15 or so, something simple. I got money, which was perfect for me."
Coach Fran wasn't left out of the Christmas giving, but he preferred to keep his gifts private. "Me? Just a few presents from the family."
Along with the gift exchange player-to-player, Coach Franchione presented the athletes with two more bowl presents. Each person received a leather travel bag along with a white-paneled football for collecting autographs from teammates.
"It was fun for everyone," Watts said. "I don't think there was anyone left out. Nobody got any rocks or coal or anything. We had a real good time."
Of course the happiest recipient may well have been sophomore wideout Lance Taylor. Inside his package he found a brand new, full-color 2002 Anna Kournikova calendar. Whether he valued the gift for its organizational value or the 8x10 glossy photos of the comely tennis player is an open question, because teammates report that Taylor was too busy admiring the gift page by page to say one way or another.