She might as well have been sent straight from central casting.
She was fifty-something, a beautician or some kind of county court clerk if I had to guess, five foot two and 110 lbs if she was an ounce. Her nails were painted a glossy Crimson, her skin was leathery brown, probably from a few too many sessions in the tanning bed. Her hair was bleach-blond, her brown dirt, brunette roots proudly showing through. She wore a Bama tank top, grey sweatshorts and Roll Tide flip-flops. She was loud, salty and full of sass, in a Steel Magnolias, Ouiser Boudreaux sort of way (although I can assure you, she was no Cajun).
And she wasn’t drunk. I have patients who come in drunk nearly everyday, and I know the signs–I can smell alcohol even when someone tries to mask it with copious amounts of Old Spice (or Chanel) and breath mints. No, the volatile mix of frustration, hopeful expectations and memories of good-times-gone-but-not-forgotten was all her own, and it welled-up like a pent-up geyser from deep within her soul. She was the occupant of seat 14, Row 37, Section GG. Her name was Amanda, she hailed from Jasper, and she was The Greatest Alabama Fan in the World. She had been born for this night, and she was, to put it simply, on fire.
I didn’t notice her at first since I was busy visiting with the couple who had sold us the tickets and some of the other season ticket holders sitting around us. One gentleman there with his 10-year-old son noticed where I was sitting and said, “Believe me, you’re in for a real treat.”
I thought he was talking about the amazing 50-yard line view, or that long-awaited sight of Saban and boys sprinting onto the field for the first time, or that inaugural “Rooool Tide, Roll!” which would baptize the opening kickoff and the beginning of a new era of Bama football. Little did I know that he was talking about the diminutive, whirling dervish who was making her way down our aisle, her arms loaded with concessions, crimson and white shakers and a large, handheld “Alabama Fan” to help sweep away the stifling evening humidity.
“Hey evrabody!” she loudly proclaimed. “It’s time to party–Roll Tide!”
Soon the pregame introductory film started rolling. All day long, everyone had been abuzz with the gameday rumor of a new film this year, one that had been edited to exclude the yesteryear highlights of the 12, count ’em, 12 National Championships and the gravely invocations of The Bear and Gene Stallings as they waxed on and on about the importance of Tradition. Folks had worked themselves into quite a lather over it, and now all eyes were glued to the Jumbotrons at the north and south ends of Bryant-Denny Stadium, waiting for a sign that Tradition still mattered after all.
Not to worry, Tradition was alive and well, and hardly anything had changed. What was amazing was how the whole crowd, including Amanda, had it memorized. They cheered every touchdown, every bone-crunching hit, every goal line stand as if it were taking place in real time. Amanda was my personal narrator, and from time-to-time she would grab my arm and call out what was coming next.
“Ooh, ooh, watch now, look at George go, oh, here comes Tyrone, check out this catch-YESSS! Lookit, lookit, you don’t want to miss this one, here comes a good hit–BOOOOOOM!”
At the end, Saban appeared, making a few remarks about the time-honored Tradition of Crimson Tide football and about how it was now time to build on that and carry forward into the future. Amanda watched in awe, nodding her head in approval.
“That was perfect, juuust perfect.”
The Tide won the coin flip and made the unusual decision to receive. After a nice return, we settled in for the opening drive. As high as expectations were, nobody in their wildest dreams could have anticipated what would come next.
Tailback Terry Grant took the toss from quarterback John Parker Wilson and headed toward the right sideline, carrying the entire Western Carolina defense with him. Suddenly, he cut back left against the grain, and juking past a couple of Catamount defenders in the secondary, began a 47-yard scamper into the end zone. A touchdown on the first play from scrimmage–it’s hard to imagine a more auspicious start to the Saban era. Somewhere up there, The Bear and all the houndstooth-clad angels in heaven were rejoicing.
It was also hard to even hear yourself think. You think tornadoes sound like a freight train a’comin’? Well then, just try standing in Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 1st, 200
7Saban when a decade’s worth of disappointment and spleen is vented and swept-clean in an instant by a towering, cresting, all-consuming Crimson tsunami. Just try singing and keeping track of your part in a 92,000-member choir, only to have it swallowed up and lost in a cacophony of pure, unadulterated joy.
I grabbed Number Two Son and screamed, “Can you believe that?” but he could only see me mouth the words. I turned toward Amanda, who was now jumping up and down like a jackhammer on crystal meth, her mouth chattering away in some kind of strange, never-before-heard goal line glossolalia. It would be the only time that night when she wouldn’t be heard above the crowd. I looked more closely, and I could have sworn I saw an aura flitting about her head. My God, I thought, the woman has been Transfigured.
But the Roll Tide Rapture was unfortunately all too short-lived. On the next Western Carolina offensive series, somebody didn’t hear the defensive call (heaven help the boy when Saban finds out his number), and the Catamounts suddenly appeared to have knotted the score with a 67-yard pass and nifty run into the north end zone. But wait! Wasn’t that an obvious hold at midfield?
Amanda saw it too, and the Jasper Jackhammer went into overdrive. “Did you see that, did you see that?” she screamed.
Yes, ma’am, I sure did.
“That ref was runnin’ right beside him and didn’t even see it. I could see it from way up here! That was a hold! You can’t just grab a man and keep HOLDIN’IM and HOLDIN’IM and HOLDIN’IM!” she protested, illustrating her point by grabbing my right arm, tightening her grip and shaking it violently.
No, ma’am, you sure can’t.
But after scanning the field more closely, we saw the yellow flag, and the balance of the universe was restored. The Catamounts kept the ball at the point of reception since the hold occurred afterwards, but they would never strike pay dirt again.
It is a time honored tradition that every loud and proud Greatest Fan will choose a whipping boy from the opposing team on whom to focus their ire. For Amanda, it was Number 21, Western Carolina tailback Willie Harper, who played well and was actually one of the few highlights for Catamounts on Saturday night. Ever the beautician, Amanda felt like Harper’s long Medusa-like dreadlocks which hung half-way down his back covering up part of his number just weren’t fittin’ for a football player. At one point, Tide linebacker Rolando McClain, making a start as a true freshman, stood Harper up with a jaw-jarring hit, knocking off and apparently damaging his helmet. As Harper started off the field to get a new one, Amanda started in.
“Look at ‘im. Did he just flip his hair back? I believe he did. Look. He did it again! Did you see that? Quick, somebody call a beautician to the sideline. That boy’s having hisself one bad hair day!”
Amid the laughter, one of her friends spoke up, “Now Amanda, you know what you always say, ‘That’s somebody’s baby out there.'”
Amanda backed off just a little. “I know, I know, and if his mama was sittin’ up here, or he could hear me, I wouldn’t be sayin’ that.”
But she didn’t stay backed off for long. Cupping her hands to her mouth and turning in a circle, she yelled, “Is Number 21’s mama sittin’ up here? IS ANYBODY UP HERE NUMBER 21’s MAMA? I didn’t think so.”
Another time, Number 21 was down with an apparent injury. After being attended to by the trainers, he trotted off the field, apparently okay.
“Aha!” exclaimed Amanda. “I knew he was fakin’ it! That’s the oldest trick in the book: Fake an injury and get an extra time-out.”
But Amanda wasn’t without a soft spot. In the third quarter, with the game well in hand, the crowd was just getting into a very impressive Wave. Even the Greek section in the South end of the stadium, notorious for being too stoned to even care, was getting in on the act. At first, the crowd was unaware of a different Western Carolina player who was down with an injury–as in a “grab a stretcher and backboard, call the John Deere Gator” kind of injury. Amanda was the first in our section to notice and to recognize that now was not the time to being doing The Wave.
“Hey, y’all, I think he’s really hurt. We can’t be doin’ The Wave right now. EVRABODY STOOOOOP!” she pleaded. Our section was the first to cease, followed quickly by the entire stadium. The crowded waited in respectful silence, and soon we were relieved to see that the player was moving his head, arms and legs. As he was carted off, he was serenaded with a round of appreciative and well-wishing applause.
Amanda kept up her non-stop commentary and chorus of “Go, go, go, go GO BAMAHHHs” well into the fourth quarter, but I did notice a little hoarseness starting to set in toward the end. She saved enough in the tank for one last loud, “Rammer Jammer,” though, and then she watched silently as the final seconds ticked away on the 52-6 smackdown.
As the game ended, I turned toward her, held out my hand, and said, “My name is Mike, and I just want to shake the hand of The Greatest Alabama Fan in the World.”
Amanda smiled and said, “Pleased to meet you, Mike, and thank you. Some people don’t like me too much, ya know.”
“Well I sure do,” I reassured her. “You helped make the evening a night to remember.”
Amanda fairly beamed. Then she sighed, and in one of those truly Southern Fried moments, the kind dripping heavily with a delectable coating of good old-fashioned irony, said:
“Ya know, I’m so damn happy I don’t know what to say.”