As a sports fan in general (other than basketball) and a football fan in particular, I have been to several games. I've seen professional football and baseball games to include minor league baseball. I've seen NASCAR Winston, Nextel and Sprint, plus a Nationwide race and a few jet boat races. I've seen college baseball, football, soccer and basketball and even some high school, church, youth, and city league sports. I once held season tickets to my alma mater's football season, but since it was a free perk of joining the alumni society I didn't go to many games.
Before getting married and joining the army I was a fan of the NFL, but after getting married and joining the army I started to follow college football, too. Even before that, I watched the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day because I knew it would be a good game. Long before I could tell you the teams in the Southeastern Conference, I knew it was a conference full of great teams. I have attended many SEC football games, but two weeks ago I had my first opportunity to attend an SEC vs SEC matchup, UAT vs UT. The Tennessee/Alabama rivalry has been one of the great rivalries in Alabama football history. Some fans would even say that the rivalry was as great as the Auburn/Alabama rivalry, I disagree for a reason I'll reveal in a minute. I was really looking forward to the event.
Now, I am not a fan of Tuscaloosa. It is number 2 of the top 3 cities in Alabama I cannot stand. Mostly this is because of the fact that it has been so close to where I was coming from or going to in Alabama that I was either on the road good (and didn't want to slow down) or I was close enough to my destination (and didn't want to slow down). Previously I had only stopped in Tuscaloosa 5 times: 1) for gas, 2) for a job interview, 3) to visit my brother-in-law when he attended the university, 4) for a professional conference, and 5 to see Alabama play Hawaii. When I stopped for gas, it was at a station three blocks from the school, but the rivalry in Alabama runs so deep that 3 blocks from the highest concentration of Alabama fans the gas station STILL carried Auburn paraphernalia. No Tennessee garb, but Auburn garb.
To be completely honest, another factor is that before I got my master's and realized my 3 time alma mater UAB couldn't buy a fan so I became one I rooted for another team. When it comes to professional college athletics I still root for Auburn. While my friend didn't mind that both times I was one of only 3 people in the stands to wear blue, he appreciated that I didn't actively cheer either for the opponent or against Alabama. In fact, at his father's funeral I actually spoke and told the crowd that while it meant little to them (because they say it regularly) I never say it but would for Mr. Calhoun "R-T." That's as close as I can come to saying it even in typing.
Mr. Calhoun took me to the infield of Talladega. His RV was inside the fence that you can't enter with an all access pass because it was next to his friend Carl Yates' trailer. I've watched a race on Carl's TV. I went inside Victory Circle at Talladega and dodged champagne after Dale Jarrett won. Incredible memory.
The first football game I went to was a New Orleans Saints game in 1979. There were 70,000 people in attendance and no exaggeration 20,000 of them wore paper bags on their heads. Memorable sight.
The first NASCAR race I went to claimed to have 180,000 in attendance. It was the year the Intimidator had been Earnhardt-ed and died, so on the third lap 150,000 people shut up and held up three fingers. Impressive memory.
During the Rudi Johnson years at Auburn he would always break one REALLY good run. The game I attended when I saw him play we sat in the end zone and his run was directly at our seats. Awesome view.
I've seen Dale Murphy, Marcus Allen, Archie Manning, Mo Vaughn, Alex Rodriguez (when he was a teenager), and the immortal Ken Griffey play. Great players, great sportsmen.
The crowd at the Alabama game was announced as 101,000+, a number I disagree with, but it was still in the upper 90s at least. Every time Alabama made a first down at least 50,000 would cheer R-T. Magnificent support of the home team.
We left after the start of the fourth quarter. On the way back to the vehicle we rode the shuttle bus. Along the way there were places that three hours before had been full of people now deserted. Tents with 50 empty chairs. RVs with table, chairs and grills set up. Many still had their televisions on outside the vehicle with no one around to watch. Eerily calm. Nearly post-rapture-like.
Many of the games I have attended have been with people who had season tickets. A neat phenomenon with season tickets is that these people, from all over only see each other on weeks their team plays at home, but they are the best of friends. They have been there for the good, the bad, and the ugly games. Before the game, the HUGE screens at either end of the field played some stock footage of games past. These fans not only recognize individual plays, but love to watch them again, and again, and again. I heard a guy behind me say, "Watch this hit!" As I looked at the screen there was a football in flight. The guy knew what was about to happen from the scene of a football, already out of the quarterback's hand. It was a monster shot. That guy probably saw stars through the rest of the game.
While they may take offense at my saying it, Alabama fans are no different from any other SEC fans. They don't care what sport, they are loyal to their school. They may not watch gymnastics, but they cheer when the gymnastics team wins a championship.
Notice I didn't say different from any other college sports fan. Other conferences have a different level of fans, period. No contest. They are rabid fans, especially of football, but they are not on the same level. One anecdotal piece of evidence is the Washington/Washington State rivalry. PAC-12 (née 10) fans in Washington State believe that their rivalry matches the Auburn/Alabama rivalry. It doesn't, I never found any Husky garb at gas stations near U-Dub. One year that Washington State, if they won against Washington, would be invited to the Rose Bowl after a 50 year absence. They won and not only did the State fans storm the field, U-Dub fans stormed the field and helped tear down their own goal posts to celebrate. If an SEC team had a chance to go to the Rose Bowl by beating their arch-rival I wouldn't even take Tennessee over Vanderbilt. Even Ole Miss would play Mississippi State hard. And no SEC team would ever allow a visiting team to storm the field, much less let them lay a hand on the goalposts.
So what's the point of it all? God is not an SEC Team. We love Him, we support Him, we spread His word. But all 100,000 people didn't go to church the next day. Even if they went, they didn't cheer "Amen" or "Hallelujah" when the preacher made a first down. They didn't even clap when he said, "And in conclusion..." Sports, especially football, especially in the South has become an idol. A replacement. It gets respect that it isn't due, and takes the emphasis off of where our attention really should be.
Am I still a fan? Yes. Will I still attend games? Yes. If I have to trudge through snow up hill both ways to get to a game and the game doesn't get out until midnight, I'll still put in the same level of effort to get to church the next day, too. Maybe I didn't root as loudly on Sunday, maybe it was because my voice hurt from the day before (it was a good game), but I was there, and I gave it my all. Did you?