Football has for ages been a favorite game with savages . . . . I am not decrying football—I incline to the view that an occasional rough-and-tumble scrapping match in which there is imminent danger of black eyes, and even of broken bones, is good for a boy. . . . It is a mistake to assume that an intellectual divertisement must be popular with an intellectual people. The highest culture is but a film cast over a fathomless sea of savagery.
William Cowper Brann (the Iconoclast)
“The Public Pedagogue: Making Wise Men by Machinery”
Standing six-foot-four and approaching 220-plus pounds, freshman receiver Julio Jones in no hothouse flower. However, when word of his being named a starter at receiver and possibly also at kick returner, the Alabama fanbase took a collective gasp.
Imagine your grandmother when she first heard a hip-hop album—that slow mix of confusion and fear settling through her yellowed face like the clouds in a glass of Belgian beer—that’s about it.
How bizarre that the formerly most expectant, nay—demanding, fans in the country should be so timorous in displaying the latest youthful, athletic bauble to don their school’s colors. Although it was not on his list, instilling confidence in a gun-shy populace has become another item on the Great Leader’s agenda.
Attribution? Alabama has been so snake bitten (apologies, Kenny) in recent years that you can forgive the fans’ coy appreciation of new talent.
Furthermore, the old guard hold that for every freshman a team starts, that’s a game the team will lose—if not immediately, then eventually. But that was before sophomores were winning the Heisman and scholarships were doled out like meat rations.
Once upon a time (as we are beginning a fable here), the citizens of Alabama looked to the football team of Alabama for proof that they were worth a damn. Nowhere else on the planet, much less in collegiate athletics, is such value derived from a team’s accomplishments throughout its faithful.
It is martial, it is religious, it is delicate.
For the opponents of the team, or this view itself, the visceral threads between the team and its fans make an easy target. Such is the case for all ludicrous behavior—but it’s a sad man who goes to the opera in order to mock the hats.
Not quite a decade ago, the state of Alabama was in the top ten in teenage pregnancy rate. Between then and a decade before that, the nationwide rate fell by almost 25 percent. Alabama lagged behind. Being the gaudy, rodeo-trophy buckle of the Bible belt, Alabama discourages preventative measures for such dalliances—to say nothing of operative measures.
The fear of playing freshmen is that they will see things move at a rate too fast for them to comprehend. From there, mistakes are inevitable and, in the worst case scenario, their confidence gone, they lock into reactionary behavior from which they, and the team, cannot recover. Worse than the loss of a game, the loss of potential is the real casualty.
If you are wondering, we may have stopped discussing football somewhere in there.
But for tomorrow, against Clemson, in front of the nation, Alabama will field its young and hope not to eat them too. The odds say they may as well stay in the locker room.
The odds also say that the child of a teenage mother has a greater chance of serving prison time than earning a college degree. But, hell, you never know—one of them might grow up to be President.