The computus of the Alabama Crimson Tide’s liturgical year has brought us to the end of practice and upon the eve of A-Day, our last moveable feast of the spring. Although it is the final scrimmage of the spring, and the only one open to the public, it may well be the most worthless one for the players on the field and the coaches still evaluating them.
Were there another practice or scrimmage any sooner than autumn, a player’s performance tomorrow might recommend him for more repetitions up the depth chart or an increased role in the game plan. But, as a finale, the A-Day scrimmage is, as Cecil Hurt noted, little more than a beauty contest.
That is not to say it is worthless. Far from it.
Four years ago, in Nick Saban’s first A-Day, a new phenomenon was born. Alabama had always had a, for the times, high fan turnout for the scrimmage, meaning about thirty thousand people or so. Just enough to open one side of the lower seating section of Bryant-Denny Stadium.
But on that day, as the team continued their pre-game stretch and their coach walked among them, the staff opened the gates to the other side of the stadium.
Then the end zone seats.
Then one of the upper decks.
Then the other one.
Then the fire marshal showed up and turned people away.
Even now--after two undefeated regular seasons, a conference title, a Heisman trophy-winning tailback, and a goddammed nation title--the coach still says that first A-Day was the “most positive” experience he’s had at Alabama. Hell, maybe the most positive experience he’s had in football. And a key selling point in his recruiting pitch that Alabama is place where people care, deeply, about football.
There would be a lot of people who, if they were in his shoes and saw those thousands and thousands of people showing up for a scrimmage, would think “what the holy hell have I gotten myself into?” And who could blame them? God knows Fran was one those people. Probably Price too. But Saban’s a different cat.
Back on that spring afternoon, he barely acknowledged the crowd. He just kept pacing in and out of the rows of players. When the PA system crackled that the stadium had reached capacity and people were being turned away at the gates, the crowd roared. Saban looked up, just briefly, as if to say, “what took you so long?”
Now, of course there are those loons like yours truly who can be counted on to attend these things. We’re addicted. This is worse than a disease for us. A-Day is our last drop of succor before the dry, pallid football-less months of summer bore in on us. But surely there’s not a hundred thousand of us.
So one would naturally suspect, as the novelty wore off and curiosity sated, the numbers would return to pre-Saban levels. But the following year, the crowd returned. Last year was a bit of a disappointment: roughly 75,000 in the rain. And as each year goes by, and the devoted keep showing up, one must realize--it’s not curiosity; the disease is spreading.
Let us repeat the articles of faith:
We believe in one Coach, the Bear, maker of championships and Joe Namath, and of all things victorious and houndstooth.The service is ended. Go in peace to love and serve the team. See you at Egan’s.
And in one Lord, Gene Stallings, the only-begotten Son of Bear, very drawl of very drawl, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Coach in Junction, Texas; who, for our salvation, came down with Eric Curry and John Copeland, and was incarnate by the clock management of Homer Smith, and was made victorious.
He was crucified for us under Bob Bockrath, and suffered; and, according to the Scriptures, ascended into Texas, and sitteth on the right hand of his deluxe, late-American leather sofa, occasionally calling Paul Finebaum’s radio show, sponsored by Craneworks and Metro Truck Rental.
From thence a coach shall come again, with glory, to recruit the quick and the deadly; whose Process shall have no end.
And in the Great Saban, the Coach and giver of Heisman winners, who proceedeth from the Rose Bowl with crystal football trophies, who with the Bear and Stallings together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets, a’ight?
And in one holy catholic and apostolic Crimson Tide; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of NCAA violations; we look for the resurrection of the program, and the life of the championships to come. Amen.