Make ‘Bama Fans Remember State College Fondly
I was in Tuscaloosa last year for the Penn State game. I’m fortunate enough to have an awesome cousin, an Alabama alumna, who brought me along. Being from Boston, I had a natural instinct to go there and try to start a fight. I was obnoxious. I wore all blue, lest white get confused with crimson and white. I’m not stupid; I wasn’t going to overtly taunt 101,000 Alabama fans, but I definitely wanted to poke the
bear elephant. But you can be sure that I wanted to leave no doubt in the minds of those around me as to which side I was on. All those tied-in-the-wool Alabamans must have kept thinking, “Who does this kid think he is?”
When I was 14, I wore a Red Sox shirt to Yankee Stadium. It wasn’t even a Red Sox game; I just wanted to stir the pot. After the game, three very large, drunk New Yorkers gave me more than a piece of their minds. Mission accomplished.
Not in Alabama. I’ll never forget how nice everyone was to me there. Everyone. I tailgated all afternoon on the Quad, one of a few clusters of blue treading water in a sea of crimson. Decked out in by blue t-shirt and bandana, I braced myself for incoming finger-pointing and jeers. But everyone invited me to take a seat, offered me a drink, and we started talking as if we’d known each other for years. Going into Bryant-Denny Stadium, as I stumbled, trampling over the feet of everyone in my row to get to my seat, no one seemed to mind. It seemed like a treat for them to sit next to an opposing fan. Everyone would talk to me about all aspects of Penn State, curious about the school, and kept telling me how much respect they had for the program and for Joe Paterno. They wanted to know, what was State College like? Was Beaver Stadium really loud with 110,000 strong?
So, after having experienced then and there the real meaning of Southern hospitality, I abandoned my plans to invite punches from every crimson-clad person I saw. I was embarrassed and ashamed that I’d been so obnoxious before, and between cringes at the scoreboard and our team’s less-than-stellar performance, I traded remarks and conversation with the Tide fans around me. I caught a little heat for the Nittany Lions getting so thoroughly dominated, but I knew that was deserved and I’d expected much worse anyway. “All I want is for us to score. I don’t want a shut-out,” I told the man sitting next to me. I kept telling them how surprised I was that no one was railing on me for being a Penn State fan. Their response? “You’re not from the SEC; you’re fine.”
But I couldn’t help but thinking in the back of my mind what a shame it was that they wouldn’t get the same treatment at Penn State this year.
You’ve heard a lot this week about showing respect to the Alabama fans, and it’s hard to take this to heart when a bunch of people you don’t know preach it at you, and when you see the Crimson Tide fans as “the enemy.” So I’ll offer you this: when you see Alabama fans in State College this week, talk to them. You’ll see for yourself how nice and outgoing they are.
I’m not telling you, by any stretch, to make it easy for the team. During the game, in the student section where they can’t make out what you say, you can make enough noise to shake Beaver Stadium, or yell at Nick Saban with the foulest language known to man. Show them the craziness that the Beav’ is all about. Here’s a tip, though: all things being equal, a deafening, 110,000-person “We Are” chant will do a lot more damage than just the students chanting “Bama Sucks.”
But here’s my main point: at your pregame tailgate, or in the bar after the game, don’t yell it to someone who came 750 miles to watch two great, storied teams play football. And if you strike up a conversation with one of them, you’ll see why.
But above all, make sure you’re contributing to an environment where everyone has fun. That’s why we’re all going to be there on Saturday, those of us who make the fifteen-minute walk from downtown State College and those who made the fifteen-hour RV trek from Tuscaloosa.
Wouldn’t it be great to have the Tide fans talking about us the way in the Penn Staters who made the trip to Alabama last year rave about them? Let’s make it a memorable trip for them—in a good way.
This post was also published today in The Crimson White, the student newspaper at The University of Alabama. Check them out for an opposing perspective on Saturday’s game, and to see what’s happening in Tuscaloosa.