- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
CARSON TINKER WALKED UP AND down the Alabama sideline, smiling as he gazed into the Jordan-Hare stands on Nov. 26 at Auburn. It had been six months and 30 days since a tornado had ripped through his life, but now, late in the fourth quarter of a 42--14 rout in the Iron Bowl, Tinker's joy was evident as he nodded to friends and family in the crowd. They all knew: This was a moment to savor.
"I don't allow myself to have bad days," said Tinker. "When people hear my story, maybe they think I should have this poor-me attitude. But I'm the complete opposite. When I see the huge banners around town that say, WE'RE COMING BACK, it fires me up. Because we are."
Indeed, this autumn Tinker was a little bit like Tuscaloosa: The player and place have been healing after the tornado that killed 50 people (including six Alabama students), destroyed or damaged 5,749 homes and businesses and left more than 6,000 without jobs. "It will take years to rebuild," said Tuscaloosa mayor Walt Maddox in late August. "Those seconds that the tornado was on the ground changed Tuscaloosa forever."
They changed Tinker, too. It's not often that an undersized long snapper is a team's most admired player, but that's what Tinker became during Alabama's second national-title run in three years. "Carson walks around here with a smile on his face every day," says Brandon Gibson, a senior wide receiver. "He's an example of coming back and being strong."
Hours after the SI cover story on the tornado was published last April, I started to receive hundreds of e-mails, voice mails and letters from around the globe. I heard from a man in Japan who said that his heart ached for the people of Tuscaloosa. He himself had survived the March 11 tsunami that had decimated part of his country. "One moment everything is normal and the next everything is gone," he wrote to me. "It's so hard to understand and come to terms with."
I heard from Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, who thanked SI for the "contribution" the story made to the recovery. And I heard from a woman in Germany, who tearfully told me over the phone that she'd never been to Tuscaloosa or even the United States but now wanted to know how she could help. (Donations to the recovery effort can still be made to the Red Cross by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS.)
To date the athletic department has donated more than $2 million for tornado relief. "My big hope is that football, at least for a few minutes, can make everything feel normal again in Tuscaloosa," Nick Saban told SI during the 2011 season. "Hopefully we can do something special to bring some smiles to people who really, really need it."
Mission accomplished, Coach.