I learned to hate Alabama early in my career at Auburn. Being from Atlanta my main concern before arriving on the Plains was to beat Georgia. It all changed my first November in the Iron Bowl (Auburn 23, Alabama 22). The passion the players on both teams (most of them growing up in Alabama) displayed in the game was at a level of intensity I had never experienced. It was deeper than Georgia vs Georgia Tech (the rivalry I grew up watching in my backyard).
As our fans tore down the goal posts that afternoon I began to understand that this game was a build up of 365 days of waiting. It was what both Alabama fans and Auburn fans pointed towards the whole year not just in the football season.
After graduating from Auburn I eventually made my way up to Nashville, Tenn. Life would throw its share of curves at me and I ended up divorced and in an apartment eight years ago. And isn't God funny, he would give me a new neighbor, Jim Farmer, the former great Alabama basketball player.
Jim and I bonded immediately. He was an athlete who understood what it took to be great--he had dealt with life after sports and he had had his share of failed relationships. We'd joke with each other about the Iron Bowl, but as former athletes we both appreciated and respected the investment each player on both teams had put into the game.
For the most part we were unbiased in our observations about good play and bad play for our respective teams. I served as an usher just a few years ago in Jim's wedding, and wouldn't you know it, I had to walk down the isle with another usher, Mark Gottfried (Yes the head coach of Alabama and Jim's former roommate).
It was around this time Jim and I played in a celebrity golf tournament in Destin. At this tournament I would meet a guy who would become one of my closest friends, former Alabama running back Siran Stacy. Siran's smile lit up the room as he talked with me and others. He radiated a joy few people have.
Yes, he played for Alabama and I played at Auburn, but that failed to register in our long conversations that would follow over the last few years. We would talk about our families, our careers, and most importantly, our relationship with God. The good and the ugly. Our failings and struggles.
We were very much alike, and if most men are honest, like most men. We both were not satisfied with where we were in life, but assured each other that life is a process and that there is mercy and grace given to all. We became brothers. One black, one white, one Auburn, one Alabama. It didn't matter.
You see, Siran and I understood each other at a deep level and were able to encourage, laugh and challenge each other to move closer; closer to God, closer to our children, and closer to his wife (and for me closer to healthy relationships with women).
This has been a very difficult week for me. My Bama brother has experienced what I would not wish on my worst enemy. He has lost his beautiful wife and four of his precious children. He and his daughter Shelly are hanging tough in ICU. He will face enormous loss in the days, weeks and years to come. I don't know the words I will speak when I see him. I don't know if I will have the strength to help. I will pray that God in His great mercy will provide all Siran needs to make it through each day.
You see as we approach the Iron Bowl I'm lost for words. I don't really care any more who wins the game. I care more about my friend, who once was a rival before I knew him but now is my bother in the darkest hour I can't imagine and in need of much love and support.
Roll Tide, War Eagle, but most importantly, God be with Siran.