everything but locusts. Mike Dubose, mired in a harassment scandal that the
university would settle, went 24--23 as the NCAA investigated booster Logan
Young's involvement in the recruitment of a Memphis tackle named Albert Means.
Dubose resigned under pressure after he lost homecoming to Central Florida.
fled after two years (17--8) as NCAA sanctions became a crippling reality. He
left for Texas A&M, and one Alabama fan, Morgan Plott, felt so betrayed
that he went to Norman, Okla., to see A&M get whipped 77--0 by the Sooners
in 2003. "I wanted to see Coach Fran get beat," says Plott, "but I
didn't know it would be that good." Alabama brought in Mike Price, who
forgot he was in the Bible Belt and was let go after a visit to a topless bar,
having never coached a game for the Tide. Then, in a hurry, Mike Shula was
Shula, who had won a lot of games as a Tide quarterback in the '80s. But,
again, this is no business for a nice young man. Hamstrung by probation that
was an earlier regime's doing, Shula went 26--23 in four years. He was fired
last November, after his fourth straight loss to Auburn. As it became clear
that the program was losing ground, fans grew weary of players who talked big
and did not do much, talked about realizing their potential and showcasing
their talents, and then got beat on the line of scrimmage by Mississippi
are cemented into the architecture. Four bronze giants watch over the promenade
in front of Bryant-Denny Stadium. Here stand Wade, Thomas, Stallings and, of
course, Bryant. But because this is Alabama, there is space left for a fifth
pedestal. "How could it not be?" says Moore.
Fans expect Saban
to take that place. "The brick masons are probably already getting
started," says Jim Fuller, who won two national titles as an offensive
lineman for Bryant and another as an assistant under Stallings. He has never
seen the Alabama legions hungrier or more unified. Why else would 92,000 attend
a glorified practice?
"Just so long
as he knows that 91,000 of them will be kicking his ass" if things go
wrong, Fuller says.
Does he really
believe there are 1,000 benevolent Alabama fans? "Naw, I was being
They say college
football is a matter of life and death down here, but it's not. Winning only
makes life sweeter, and, once in a blue moon, losing can, too. Last winter Will
Nevin and his father, Randy, who was dying of cancer, took a road trip to
Shreveport, La., to see Alabama play Oklahoma State in the Independence Bowl.
"He got cold, and he coughed some, and we lost," Nevin says. "It
didn't matter. It was one of the best times we ever had." Randy Nevin died
on March 28. At his funeral it was noted that he loved deer hunting, his
family, Moundville Nazarene Church and one football team.
A Pulitzer Prize
winner and a best-selling author, Rick Bragg is a professor of writing at the
University of Alabama.