“In the Southeastern Conference, it just means more,” the clever marketing gimmick tells us.
That is a claim based on the belief fans of SEC schools go beyond that of just ordinary sports team loyalists and take it to a whole other level.
There is some truth to it. In what other sports league would Nick Saban, the head football coach of the state’s namesake university, the University of Alabama, be set to earn $8.7 million this year, 172 times that of the state’s median household income?
Most of the people in this state are OK with that.
Alabama football is a treasured part of the state’s culture that dates back to the 1926 Rose Bowl. Wallace Wade and the Alabama Crimson Tide traveled across the country to play in Pasadena, Calif., and defeat the Washington Huskies, 20-19.
It was not only a signature win for the state but one for the entire South, which was still reeling from the Civil War that ended 61 years earlier.
College football became an equalizing force for this part of the country. The backward, rural South could compete with schools out west, back east and up north on a level playing field.
And after that win, the University of Alabama decided it would make football one of its priorities. A multigenerational fandom ensued. With no direct connection to the University of Alabama other than residing in or near the state it was named for, Daddies raised their kids as Alabama fans. Those kids raised their kids as Alabama fans.
It was a source of pride for the state and has been ingrained as a part of Alabama culture ever since.
Last week, however, before the kickoff of the Iron Bowl, Saban questioned the premise it could mean more.
In response to a caller during his “Hey Coach” show, Saban rejected the attitude of some Alabama fans that just winning was not enough. Instead, the victory had to come with a significant margin.
“When I came here, everybody was happy to win a game. Now we’re not happy to win a game anymore,” he said. “We’re not happy to win a game at all. We think we should win games by whatever [amount of points], and I don’t think that’s fair to the players either, because our players work their [butts] off to be the best that they can be and to get criticized for what they work hard for … so that you can be entertained, so that you can enjoy and have pride and passion for what they accomplish in what they do. And they’re not perfect. They’re just college students!”
Fair enough. We probably all know someone in our lives who will still find something to gripe about no matter the outcome.
Saban took it a step further, calling out those greedy fans and comparing the emotional states of the actual football players and the fans after a loss.
“You should be proud and happy to support them, and appreciate what they do, and have some gratitude,” he said. “You know what else? Nobody wants to win worse than they do. Not me, not you. I don’t care what kind of fan you are. Nobody wants to win more than the players that play. Nobody. So, for all you self-absorbed folks out there that can’t look past your own self to appreciate what other people are doing …”
The rant got seal claps from all the places you might expect, including some Alabama fans and sycophantic sportswriters.
But he is wrong. It probably should not be that way, but it is.
Alabama fans care a lot about the success of their team. The fact Alabama fans, boosters, etc., care so much is why an outstanding football coach like Nick Saban can earn more than $8 million annually.
The fact people care so much, even if it comes as an ugly and uncalled-for emotional response, is why it is justifiable the University of Alabama can offer the amenities to football players it does.
Sometimes it triggers someone to do crazy things like poison oak trees in downtown Auburn, Alabama.
It is not all bad, either. It creates an economic boom for the state. It boosts Alabama’s brand, not just the university but the state as well.
It just means more, even if it is sometimes borderline irrational, and we are going on 100 years of it meaning more.
If it did not mean more, Nick Saban might still be coaching the Miami Dolphins right now.
Furthermore, football players are coached to put the losses behind them and gear up for the next game. They have to compete based on the circumstances before them and not dwell on a loss. Sure, they struggle with it, but they sometimes learn from it, grow from it and become better for it.
Fans of any team or sport do not necessarily have the same motivations to move on. They take their team’s loss harder than they should.
Such an illogical reaction builds toward correcting it, and that is why University of Alabama football is the juggernaut it is today.
Signed, an Auburn fan struggling with a 24-22 Iron Bowl loss.
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