The Rising Tide
Fed up with mediocrity and losing to Auburn, the Alabama faithful welcome Nick Saban as a coach tough enough to bring back the glory of the Bear
Posted: Tuesday August 21, 2007 9:33AM; Updated: Tuesday August 21, 2007 9:33AM
They say college football is religion in the Deep South, but it's not. Only religion is religion. Anyone who has seen an old man rise from his baptism, his soul all on fire, knows as much, though it is easy to see how people might get confused. But if football were a faith anywhere, it would be here on the Black Warrior River in Tuscaloosa, Ala. And now has come a great revival.
The stadium strained with expectation. The people who could not find a seat stood on the ramps or squatted in the aisles, as if it were Auburn down there, or Tennessee, and when the crowd roared, the sound really did roll like thunder across the sky. A few blocks away 73-year-old Ken Fowler climbed to his second-story terrace so he could hear it better and stood in the sunlight as that lovely roar fell all around him. He believes in the goodness and rightness of the Crimson Tide the way people who handle snakes believe in the power of God, but in his long lifetime of unconditional love, of Rose Bowl trains, Bobby Marlow up the middle and the Goal Line Stand, he never heard anything like this. His Alabama was playing before the largest football crowd in state history, and playing only itself. "We had 92,000," he said, "for a scrimmage."
It felt good. It felt like it used to feel.
They came from Sand Mountain, the wire grass, the Black Belt, the Gulf Coast and just wide places in the road. They came in motor homes, private jets, $30,000 pickup trucks, $400 cars and dime-store flip-flops to see Nick Saban walk the sideline of Bryant-Denny Stadium in April.
They have welcomed him as Caesar, as pharaoh, and paid him enough money to burn a wet dog. Now he will take them forward by taking them back to the glory of their past -- the 21 Southeastern Conference championships, the 12 national championships, the Team of the 20th Century (as The Wall Street Journal called the Crimson Tide in 2000).
Saban has not promised them so much -- "I don't believe in predictions," he says -- but they believe. It may take two years, three, more, to be in the discussion again when people talk about the best teams in college football. But they know he will take them home.