Game's Importance Remains

It's times like this, in the aftermath of catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina which rocked the Gulf Coast on Monday, you will see sports writers muse in opinion columns about how unimportant sports are in the grand scheme of things - matters life and death.

It's true. After all, it's pretty hard to miss the scenes of lives lost and homes destroyed. It also gives pause to think about the months of clean-up and years of economic implications that will be suffered because of Hurricane Katrina's winds and rain.

Memories of Katrina will span generations, just like memories of Hurricane Camille, which hit the Gulf Coast 36 years ago and marked the region prior to Katrina. For those in its path, the storms will never be forgotten.

But it's important to note that support for nearby disaster can co-exist with our love of sports, particularly college football. Practice and planning will continue, as will the build-up and excitement of the opening of football season.

It is with all due respect and without detracting from the destruction and hardship its victims have undergone and will continue to face, that days like today also serve to remind some folks of the value and importance of sports in every day life – during good times and horrific times.

Alabama receiver Keith Brown couldn't take his eyes off of the cable television news channels, his only source of information on Tuesday, and he couldn't take his mind off of the destruction and uncertainty about lack of contact with his mother, who fled his hometown of hard-hit Gulfport to Hattiesburg, Miss. as the storm neared.

But Brown and other Alabama football players had the team to support them, and a morning walk-through and afternoon practice helped to momentarily take their mind away from the worrying.

"This morning when I woke up it was on my mind," Brown said, "but when I come out to practice I have to let it slide for a minute at least; stay focused on playing football and getting ready to play Saturday. Afterwards, it's whatever from there."

The "whatever" will be continued worry and trying to contact family members to make sure they are safe. It will be checking on friends, homes and other important places.

"Folks are going to pray for them," Brown said. "I've got the team praying for them, hopefully the rest of the world, too."

They will.

And rest assured, there will be more than one Alabama fan in Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday whose home was damaged, perhaps lost in the storm. I can only imagine that, to them, the game will mean a lot more than it did a week ago, and be memorable regardless of the triviality of the final score.

Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula, defensive coordinator Joe Kines and pretty much everyone around the Alabama football program added their sentiments, thoughts and prayers to those affected by Katrina.

"We want to keep those people in our thoughts and prayers and hopefully for a speedy recovery and everybody get back on track as fast as we can," Shula said at during his opening statement at Tuesday's news conference.

"That being said, our football team is ready to go. We've had a real good training camp. We've had a lot of good things happen. We're getting back healthy. We're probably as healthy as we've ever been. We've got a few nicks and bumps but our team is excited to go play against somebody else."

Kines said Tuesday that it was "odd to be talking about something like a game when there are so many folks hurting this morning."

He was right. It is odd. But hopefully, the excitement for coaches to coach, players to play, and fans to cheer won't be dampened by the effects of Katrina, but accentuated by the perspective brought by the storm.

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